contemplative spirituality

Surfing on Grace, Restoring the Soul

I recently returned from two weeks at Restoring the Soul in Colorado. This was a rich time of intensive spiritual direction and soul care with the amazing Kelley Gray. We slowly and gently peeled away the layers of my false self and stood in awe at the beautiful Soul that is my true self – a bit shy and wounded, yet resilient and determined to unfold like a butterfly in my second half of life.

The kind of intentional, soul-awakening and inner growth ministry I experienced in CO just reinforces how badly I want to be part of a church that offers similar growth experiences. My spiritual director/therapist said, “You have no idea how many pastors sit on that couch and tell me how envious they are that I get to actually do this deep soul work, while they spend most of their time running the church and leading services.”

Yep, pretty much.

But unlike most pastors on her couch, I refuse to settle for the standard model of church that isn’t bearing the spiritual fruit and deeper transformation God desires. I desire to bring spiritual direction back to the heart of a pastor’s vocation. That’s why our church has spent the past year casting our 2020 Vision and slowly shifting away from a “Sunday worship-centric” model of church, and beginning to offer more focused discipleship teaching and soul care resources, and providing spiritual growth opportunities through soul care seminars with Pastor Bill, and more exciting ministry pathways still to come!

Why did I just invest so much time and money in this intensive soul care experience? Because the secret storm raging within me is often greater than all the storms battering the world around me. If you think a global pandemic, racial unrest, and political divisiveness is a lot to handle, try living one day inside the soul of a person at war with themselves, and fighting off constant waves of doubt and depression and anxiety, and battling moods swings that have everyone you love surfing on your emotional waves against their will.

Jesus has was able to sleep peacefully in the middle of the storm that battered his boat only because he was filled with so much peace within. Every atom and molecule of Jesus’ being was immersed in an ocean of grace. Jesus surfed on the endless waves of a constant union with the Father. I am doing the inner work (partnering with the Spirit) in order to find and remain in that peaceful place of union with God.

I am moving ever closer to it, and getting ever more frequent tastes of it. What is the pathway or vehicle to this inner peace?

It is all about grace.

Here’s a quote my friend and soul guide Bill Johnson recently shared with me that describes this experience of GRACE. It’s long and deep, but so good!

From  The Shaking of the Foundations by Paul Tillich:

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace.

After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

In the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life.

We experience the grace of understanding each other’s words. We understand not merely the literal meaning of the words, but also that which lies behind them, even when they are harsh or angry. For even then there is a longing to break through the walls of separation.

We experience the grace of being able to accept the life of another, even if it be hostile and harmful to us, for, through grace, we know that it belongs to the same Ground to which we belong, and by which we have been accepted.

We experience the grace which is able to overcome the tragic separation of the sexes, of the generations, of the nations, of the races, and even the utter strangeness between man and nature. Sometimes grace appears in all these separations to reunite us with those to whom we belong. For life belongs to life.

And in the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to ourselves. We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater than we. If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self-complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life.

We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say “yes” to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.

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