Contemplative Christian Spirituality.

This regularly updated site from Josh Pinkston centers around Christian Spirituality, contemplative awareness and practice, and some social consciousness.

The Eye of the Beholder

The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
– Ecclesiastes 1.8

Years ago, my Dad was recovering from Lymphoma and months of chemo with radiation. His health and strength were returning and I found my role as caretaker fading. This was strangely bittersweet. On one hand, seeing my Dad win a battle that seemed impossible gave us all a measure of relief that goes beyond description or expression of gratitude. While, on the other hand, the purpose, meaning, and significance of my own life had never felt so clear, and that was going away. Being there for he and my Mom in their time of absolute need had been the most spiritually satisfying experience of my life. I knew from that point on what I will spend the rest of my life trying to attain again.

One morning, I was walking and realized that the experience of love and selflessness I stumbled upon was exactly what I had been searching for my entire life, subconsciously. It was the most whole and complete I had ever felt! When I looked back on my life, I saw how badly I’ve used and manipulated friends, family, religion, and strangers to try to meet this internal craving. It broke my heart. I never want to return to that way of living. Ever.

I saw that I had been trying to find an external solution to an internal problem. That was where change needed to take place in order to ensure my never returning to my selfish behaviors. I needed to rewire my mode of operation, if you will. Or redirect my rushing stream of consciousness.

Love is an internal condition. As is peace. And joy. And gratitude. And gentleness. And kindness. Not to mention, the kingdom of God. These are all things that find their manifestation within. But we go about our entire lifetimes trying to construct them externally.

The most wonderful secret about this is, once love has taken up residence internally, you see it everywhere externally. Once the kingdom of God is maintained and nurtured internally, you see it everywhere externally. You know that saying, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I believe it. And I believe it applies to Christ. When Christ is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder sees Christ everywhere she/he looks.

When our internal needs and demands are met or transformed, we experience an amazing liberation from subconsciously demanding everyone else to satisfy them for us. We see our friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and enemies differently, more purely. It creates the ability to truly love.

As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.
– Proverbs 27.19

If you or I are chaotic, restless, or agitated, it is only a reflection of our heart, our internal condition. Let’s start there rather than blame those around us for our behavior or emotions. When we decide to do this we finally encounter the kingdom of God within.

People can't observe the coming of the kingdom of God. They can't say, 'Here it is!' or 'There it is!' You see, the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17.21/22

Tearing ish up...

Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom.
– Matthew 27.50/51

This has always been one of the most intriguing details of Christ’s crucifixion to me. Seemingly miraculously (it is important to note that, although it says “suddenly", it does not say miraculously, so to interject that notion is admittedly an assumption), something the Pharisees would believe to separate an unworthy humanity from the very presence of God is torn apart. The symbolism of this message is passionately meaningful. The curtain tearing was not a way of saying the “Holy of Holies” isn’t the dwelling place of God, but that everywhere is. What stands out to me the most about this is how it wonderful summarizes Jesus’ life.

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Constantly, Jesus tore apart the things we believed to be so sacred that not everyone could take part in it. He did this when the Pharisees asked him to tell them when God’s kingdom will come. He said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’ For you see, the kingdom of God is within you.” In this instance, here and there are the veils which the Pharisees hung up between us and the kingdom of God. It is not here, neither is it there. Those veils need to be torn apart. They are false and delusional.  Anything and any thought that we believe separates between us from God is false and delusional. The residence of God is within you.

So, now we can see and understand that you and I are the "curtains of the sanctuary”. We try to make our lives and beliefs about what’s on the other side appear beautiful, but the best thing we could do is draw back. Allow our identification with emotions, things, and people groups to be pulled away, even for just a little bit, so that the kingdom of God within might be revealed. This “drawing back” is what Jesus is describing when he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves.”

We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3.18

We do ourselves and our relationships a huge service by taking time to remove the veils and curtains in our lives. Whenever and wherever we see our religion putting up more of them, be strong and courageous and just walk right through them.

At the Pace of Trees

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…
– Jesus, Matthew 13.31

Today, Brook Fonceca and I took to the hills and ended up at an amazing retreat center on Mt. Herman called “Fasting Prayer Mountain of the World”. That’s an intense name, but the environment is hardly that. It exists mostly in harmony with the forest and is meticulously landscaped. Little hidden treasures are tucked away in massive hollowed out trunks where Redwood giants once stood. Life is growing, crawling, and sneaking around everywhere. Sometimes it even walks up and tries to help me be more present!

As I was walking around in nature of it all (the original cathedral), I was reminded of a phrase that has been with me since my early days of taking up a daily practice of Silent Prayer: At the Pace of Trees. Have you ever sat and watched a tree grow? Even just for a few minutes? It is maddeningly slow. Yet, its roots can destroy concrete and its limbs can break apart houses and cars. Just because we can’t watch its growth doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Something is definitely happening.

Jesus consistently tries to draw our attention to nature in order to see how it reveals God’s nature as well as our own. “Consider the lilies of the field,” he says. Adding, “Consider the birds of the air.” But how often do we as Christians actually do this? Maybe instead of trying to answer that question we should just use that energy to start doing it now!

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” is a revelation of our own nature (spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical). It. Is. Such. A. Slow. Process.

Our lives operate at busy pace: wake, shower, maybe eat, out the door, drive, work, lunch, work, drive, dinner, home, tv, sleep, and repeat. Retreating to nature helps so much to reveal what’s really going on beneath all the busyness: Life. At the pace of trees.

As I look around and see the diverse condition of nature, I wonder, what’s the condition of my life? How is it being tended to and maintained? What am I doing to honor what and who I really am? Is the “mustard seed” within me being cared for? Or is it having to fend for itself because there isn’t someone tending to it?

Taking a personal retreat and acquiring a daily practice of Silent Prayer are two of the greatest things I have done for myself and my growing family. The healthy trees create a radius of health around them. People are exactly the same way. Nature is best when it’s being nurtured. I wish the practice of taking personal retreats and Silent Prayer were more a part of Christian culture and believe they slowly will be out of necessity.

At the pace of trees.

My "Shepherd"

The Lord is my Shepherd.
– Psalm 23

The 23rd Psalm leads off with a statement of profoundly humble intimacy. If I’m not careful, overfamiliarity to the imagery of God as a Shepherd and myself as one of his sheep can rob me of any sensitivity to the Divine Reality that is being revealed. It’s only been by silently sitting with this passage and slowly reciting it within my heart that it has unfolded with meaning. Or perhaps it would be truer for me to say that my heart is what unfolded, enabling me to discover meaning.

This passage has never meant much to me, after 30 years of exposure to it (and being obligated to memorize it in Christian school). But that says more about my insensitivity than it does about the famed 23rd Psalm.

As I’ve heard this passage be addressed in many different churches, it seems like pastors tend to fixate on the dependent-or-doomed relationship between wise Shepherds and dumb sheep. It’s true, sheep are not known for their intelligence, but this perspective does little to encourage my spirit and enlighten my perspective. Yeah, I get it: I am a hopelessly stupid human being and God lovingly puts up with me like we lovingly put up with dumb animals. But whenever I read a description about us (the human race), it must always be put in the Scriptural context that we are made in God’s own image. Looking at this through that foundational lens, the tone is changed.

The Lord is my Shepherd,” is a statement of trust, trustworthiness, and intimacy.

Trust: By calling the Lord “my Shepherd,” I am saying there is no truer Guide or Source of life, joy, wholeness, satisfaction, or happiness than God. My every move is made fuller and steadier as I consciously move and breathe and have my being in union with Him. Not only do I “know” this, but I live accordingly. My life is comprised of this single experience of devotion; in all and through all. My ears always attuned to his voice. My eyes ever ardent for His presence. I trust; no desire which can arise in my heart is not able to find its satisfaction and full realization in my Shepherd.

Trustworthiness: God will never fail in being this Guide and Source in all its fullness. Never. My vision or sensitivity to it may fail, but He is not capable of failing. Just as I am made for relationship with Him, He has made Himself for relationship with me. He has made us for relationship with Him because He is made for Relationship; Connection. God is Love. Love is fully realized in Relationship.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
– Jesus, John 10.10

When I say "The Lord is my Shepherd" with the understanding that we are made in God's image, it means that God is both my motivation and trajectory. This relationship reveals the fullness of my identity and helps me to realize it with each moment. This is the nature of Contemplative Christian Spirituality: no moment is not sacred or spiritual.

That God would be my Shepherd means that there is following. Following goes beyond simply knowing; it also goes far beyond worshiping. Jesus never instructed us to worship him, but he did invite us to follow him. Worshiping can be done from a distance, but the opportunity to “follow” that he presents brings us so close that we become intrinsically connected.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
– Jesus, Matthew 11.29-30

The yoking he is addressing is that of two individuals locked together. It is an intimate relationship where condition, direction, and effort are all shared.

Original Sin vs. Original Blessing

When people say they don’t like Christianity, I get it. For most of my life, neither have I. There were many seasons when, if I’m honest with myself, I stuck to it out of fear of what would happen if I didn’t. I admit that now and see how incredibly unhealthy and severely unchristian it is. I also notice signs of this behavior run rampant throughout the Church in general. I can identify it because of my ability to identify with it. Fear has no place in our faith. If at any point our interpretation of Jesus’ words or the Scriptures produces fear, we’re missing the point.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
– 1 John 4.16/18

My faith was not sustainable with fear; and neither was I. It was turning me into someone constantly desperate for affection and affirmation. My friends and family were being reduced to mere means of my attempting to satiate this subconscious and endless need. Obviously, this damaged many of my relationships. There needed to be a turning point; either a complete about-face away from our religion or at least a pivotal change in direction.

Needless to say, there was a pivotal change. And there continue to be pivotal changes on a regular basis, but I wanted to share one that came up in conversation with a friend battling with depression the other day.

So often, I hear people defining themselves with their mental conditionings. We say things like “I am angry” or “I’m just ADD” or “I’m just in a bad mood” or “I'm just naturally anxious” and so on. We speak as if we have no say in our identity and allow whatever we feel about ourselves to also be what we believe about ourselves. Our feelings objectify us instead of learning to objectify our feelings.

It is commonplace in churches to see people over-identified with their faults. We over-identify ourselves and others with what we believe are faults. This is missing the point. For far too long, my faith made me look crappily at others and look crappily at myself. This resulted in feeling rather crappily, as well. Not to mention, it also bred a pretty crappily view of God. Everything and everyone was looking at an uphill battle to become “good”.

I’ve found this to be profoundly unchristian behavior. Jesus didn’t look at anyone this way, yet it’s exactly how we’ve used him to look at ourselves and others. This is deeply rooted within our history too. At some point, we began identifying the human race more with “original sin” than with our “original goodness”. Because of this, we find a religion that doesn’t bring us any closer to God, but keeps him at a distance. 

Before anything we’ve done, God’s already doing. You are made in God's image, so your knowledge of God's identity is the revelation of your identity! You are Love. You are Kind. You are Gentle. You are Forgiving. And so on! These are your truest attributes, personality traits, and characteristics. Behaving otherwise is actually unnatural for us and why we are so exhausted and short all the time. You are also made to live in the wholeness of an abiding conscious relationship with this Great Reality of Presence (the Residence of God within you).

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness … So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
– Genesis 1.26/27

Mama Shawna

For God wanted them to know ... this is the secret: Christ lives in you.
– Colossians 1.27

It’s a countdown to parenthood here in the Pinkston household. Our due date is just a couple weeks away which means he could be arriving at any time now. The thoughts and emotions are almost so much that I’m unable to get any of them out onto digital paper; something I like to call the "Stooges Effect”. That’s when there is so much trying to come out at once that nothing is able to make it through, not unlike when the Three Stooges all try walking through a doorway at the same time and end up getting stuck.

One thing that has stayed with me over the past nine months has been Shawna talking about how often she has had to remind herself that she is pregnant. When our baby isn’t trying to Jackie Chan his way out of her stomach, she would often find herself going about life as she normally would (an increasingly rare occurrence as the due date nears). Then, walking by a window or mirror and seeing a reflection she would remember with a sense of shock, “OMG, I’m PREGNANT!

Especially early on, it was easy for her to behave or feel as if there wasn’t a new and fragile life inside of her. She would want to do something as natural as lie on her stomach and then suddenly remember how that might not be the right thing to do because she is pregnant. She had to keep reminding herself about this new life within her and shared with me about the striking similarities between this new experience and knowing the kingdom/residence of God within. This has been one of the most amazing parts of our being pregnant, for me.

We are all housing a Life beyond our own. Even right now. It might even be said, especially right now; because the present moment is the most significant time to be conscious of such a reality.

Some folks live in the past, others just worry and pray for the future, but there is no more important moment than the one we are being given now…whenever that is.

Our immature consciousness has weak eyelids. Like a new born baby, it is difficult to keep our eyes open for too long. After a few seconds of looking around, our eyes close and we forget where or who we are. A daily practice of Silent Prayer helps create an endurance with this awareness. Without some kind of consistent discipline or exercise, the skill and mental muscle can’t progress and complaining about our weak consciousness without doing something about it is like an overweight guy complaining about his clogged arteries while eating bacon maple donuts. We all need to learn to be intentional about being awake!

So remember, you’re pregnant. Don’t forget it. There is a life within you that is beyond you while also giving you an opportunity for a fuller and more abundant life. Do what you can to give it the sustenance and conditions it needs to thrive.

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
– Romans 8.22

Listening.

 

Reporter: When you pray, what do you say to God?
Mother Theresa: Nothing. I just listen.
Reporter: What does God say to you?
Mother Theresa: Nothing. God just listens, too. And if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you.
—Mother Teresa of Calcutta 

When you pray, do not keep on babbling.
– Jesus, Matthew 6.6-8

I’m running into more and more Christians who like the idea of silence, which I find so encouraging. It is deeply comforting to know the practice of Silent Prayer is no longer foreign in Christian circles. Unfortunately though, I’m also finding so many people who speak highly of silence, but then stop there. They’re comfortable talking about Silent Prayer and maybe utilizing it in times of crisis or sacredness, but then don’t go any further than that. What I’ve noticed about this phenomenon is its similarity to Jesus’ description of the seed scattered on the road in Matthew 13.5/6:

It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

Isn’t that a wonderful analogy for when we encounter something or someone new, get all excited, and then only moments or days later, feel completely bored? What is so sad about this to me is how often we experience this type of temporary encounter with life and then decipher that this was all that "the seed" ever had to offer us. We never return to discover the greater, endless reality hidden within by allowing the roots to reach into our depths. … Where are your roots?

What concerns me when people treat Silent Prayer this way is how they become no less anxious, no less afraid, and no less distracted in life; neither do they become any more humble, any more peaceful, or any more intimate with God or other people. At best, they become more educated about methods of prayer. This familiarity with Silent Prayer without digging any roots into it breeds numbness.

People will say things like, “I just get so distracted,” or, “I just get so bored,” as excuses for avoiding a practice of Silent Prayer when those are exactly the reasons for a practice of Silent Prayer! If we are unable to focus on God’s humble and often silent presence within us for any real duration of time when our eyes are closed and our mouths are silent, what makes us think we’re focused on him while it’s busy and chaotic? If we can’t worship, love, and listen to God when it’s silent, are we really worshiping, loving, or listening to him when it’s loud? Any internal hurdles we have to be simply present to God in the kingdom of God within are a revelation of how our external lives are shaped and formed to avoid this intimacy with God, ourselves, and others. 

When we create a regular practice of Silent Prayer, we discover a baseline of awareness, consciousness, and intimacy with God. Once we stand firmly on that baseline by returning to it regularly, the ups and downs of life no longer dominate our emotions or way of thinking. We come to know and being known by a peace beyond understanding.

Silent Prayer is an invitation to depth and intimacy with God, ourselves, and each other. I can’t imagine anything more worthy of just 20-30min of our time and efforts.

The Spiritual Discipline of Seeking

Seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
— Deuteronomy 4.29

Sometimes, I get the feeling that the church in general has stopped seeking God and started only seeking answers to “problems.” For instance, we know that the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, but instead of focusing on the Spirit, we seek the fruit. We reduce the Spirit to a means to an end rather than the end Itself. It’s like we’ve learned all the right answers on a math test without having to do the work to solve the problems for ourselves. It makes us no more intelligent or ready to put a skill into practice when we have an answer without a personal understanding of how it works.

It is in the deeply personal and intimate activity of Seeking that our identity and character are discovered, recovered, and refined. The process of seeking is also where a life of Relationship lives; not so much in finding, but in seeking.

In truth, the entire Christian journey could be summarized as a devotion to seeking, not finding or knowing. Our job is seeking and God’s is the finding! The earliest scriptures instructed us, “Seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” And this is not a one-time event! So many times we reduce God down to an idea of god. We think that once we capture the right idea, we will have God. This is so painfully deceptive. It wouldn’t work in a marriage to reduce your spouse in such a way and it won’t work in a true relationship with God either. God is bigger than any and every idea, location, denomination, and theology.

Just because we are given a wonderful perception does not mean we should stop seeking God! Jesus himself tells us, “The one who seeks finds.” We’re given a faith that tells us God is all and in all and over all, yet we compartmentalize our seeking to certain areas of formality, crisis, or behavior. The whole of our lives, from every area of normalcy to those of extreme significance, should be given room for seeking God’s presence and participation. We see so little of God in our lives and in the lives of those around us only because we do not implement any effort in finding him. Some Christians become content with only seeing God in an idea of the afterlife, resulting in a religious and yet Godless life.

Our minds are crowded with the idea that we are right, we see everything there is to see, and we know how things should be. There is no room in them for seeking God. What if we took Jesus’ instruction to deny ourselves and follow him to this level? We'd give our minds a break from the over-stimulation of opinions and perceptions. By doing this we're creating space in our crowded minds for a seeking of God’s presence in all and through all. Life becomes much fuller and abundant this way.

What Robin Williams Taught Me...

The news of Robin Williams’ death seems to have struck so many people. I have numerous conversations with people who’ve commented in one way or another that they’ve taken it "surprisingly hard.” It’s strange how we can feel such a deep emotional connection to someone whom most of us have never met. It almost feels silly to say that with Robin’s death, I became more sensitive to my own fragility. But I know that many feel this way. It is truly a gift.

Reading everyone’s experiences of Mr Williams has really made me start thinking about my own. Of course, his portrayal of characters like Peter Banning/Pan, Patch Adams, Mrs Doubtfire, and as psychiatrist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting have played a role in my developmental thinking. But what really captured me about him was his standup comedy.

For years, I had been intrigued by standup comedians. I find what they do to be outstandingly artistic and courageous…When done well, of course. Robin Williams especially peaked my interest because he had become such a successful actor yet continued to perform standup. That seemed odd and outstanding to me because most comedians-turned-actors used standup as a means to an end rather than an end. Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, and Eddie Murphy all stopped doing standup once they made it big, which says something about the grueling nature of standup. It also gives me profound respect for people like Seinfeld, Louis C.K., and of course, Robin Williams. He had always seemed to me as someone who was an especially conscious artist, who gave a great deal of consideration and thought to his life and work. I’m drawn to those types of people because of how clearly I feel it portrays the nature of God, even when what they’re creating may not resemble anything we’d consider to be God-like (the same could be said about some of God’s own creation, so it’s best to look harder).

In 2002, Williams released Robin Williams: Live on Broadway and I purchased it right away. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times, studying his rhythm, phrasing, and subtle nuance. One of the most captivating bits for me is when he begins talking about Jesus, religion, and his being Episcopalian, which he jokingly refers to as “Catholic Lite: You get all the religion, but with just half the guilt!” Knowing him to be such a thoughtful, creative, and artistic person, I was enthralled to know more about his faith. He goes on to spout out funny and poignant observations about our faith at a rapid-fire pace, but that wasn’t enough for me. I began listening throughout his entire act (and body of work) for expressions and indications of his faith.

While he was telling and acting out sex and fart jokes, I was listening and looking for signs and expressions of Williams’ faith and relationship with God. Most adult Christians I knew wouldn't sit through it without being repulsed and offended, but he helped me to learn to seek and be present to what is below the surface. This may be one of the greatest lessons and works of my Christian faith and I've never stopped striving to mature in this way. How can we love and be present to a God who is all, in all and through all (Ephesians 4.6) if our practice is to constantly avoid people, circumstances, or behaviors?

Monday evening Shawna and I turned on the evening news for the first time since we got cable over a month ago and newscasters were speaking about Robin in the past-tense. It seemed illogical that he would’ve died so I asked out loud, “Was? Had? Did he die??” And a few seconds later, it was clearly stated. A few moments after that they announced it was being investigated as a suicide. He was 63. Was. It still hurts to write in the past-tense.

I still return to the lesson he taught me. While his suicide is heartbreaking and genuinely tragic, I keep wanting to find something beneath it. Now, being in a position to so clearly see how severe his life-long struggle has been it puts all of his extravagant generosity and kindness to others in a new light. I am still inspired by the man’s faith and relationship with God and so devastatingly heartbroken over his relationship with himself.

Thank you, Mr Williams. May you rest in peace and your family recover with the memory of your love.

Consider carefully how you listen...

It’s amazing and humbling to look at Jesus’ words and still find hidden messages of wisdom after years of familiarity. Sayings like, “Enter through the narrow gate,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “The kingdom of God is within you,” can all be numbingly commonplace to those of us who’ve been or been around Christians for considerable amounts of time. When I’m overly-familiar with something or someone it results in my no longer giving intentional consideration, simply because I don’t need to. “I get it,” I think, and so stop listening or looking closely; whether it be with my spouse, friends, nature, God’s presence, or my responsibilities, the illusion of familiarity numbs my heart and mind.

This reflection was taken while I was on personal retreat at San Damiano Franciscan Retreat Center.

When I stop really listening and looking, I miss so much wonder and uniqueness and consequently lose intimacy from my life. It is in this way that I feel like familiarity is one of the major culprits within Christianity. We’re too familiar with Jesus, church, Scripture, and the use of the term “Christian.” 

One of the most refreshing experiences in my relationship with Christ is when I’m reading Scripture and something strikes me as being totally unfamiliar. This experience happened when I was reading Luke 8:

Consider carefully how you listen…

Jesus goes on to say more, of course, but I was stunned with the implication of this simple instruction before I read on:

Do I consider how I listen? Sure, maybe I consider what I hear; but do I consider how I am listening?

How I am listening really dictates what it is that I hear.

  • Am I fearful? Then Jesus words will sound scary, condescending, or give the terribly arrogant “turn or burn” impression to compensate for our fear.
  • Am I angry? Then I will understand Jesus’ words with an irritable tone, subconsciously justifying my own unresolved aggression.
  • Am I bored? Then Jesus will sound like an uninspired 80 year old professor, just counting his days until retirement.

In each case, I am not truly hearing (or reading) Jesus but a projection of my own emotional condition. This can have disastrous effects on my life, faith, relationships, and maturation.

The goal, I believe, is to be fully and purely receptive. To truly hear and see Christ we must:

  1. Learn to let go of what it is we might be afraid to hear or see.
  2. We must also learn to let go of what it is that we might be hoping to hear or see.
  3. Lastly, we have to unbind ourselves from opinions and things we’re so convinced of that we've stopped needing to listen to God and others. This way they can be permitted to grow, change, and mature.

Taken at Half-Moon Bay while on a day-cation with Shawna. We dug a hole in the sand so she could lay on her pregnant belly.

This third step includes our use and understanding of Scripture. Used correctly, it is an indispensable guide to intimacy with God and others. Used incorrectly, is a terrible disabler of relationship and intimacy with God and our neighbors, namely because it is used in place of intimacy and relationship. Christianity should only ever bring us to continuously and increasingly loving God, our neighbors (whoever they may be at any given moment), and ourselves. If it is not doing this, we’re not truly practicing Christianity.

When I listen to Jesus’ instruction to consider carefully how I listen, I can see how once we’ve released our fears, entitlements, and over-identification with opinions, we will be able to truly listen to God and our neighbors, without a self-centered filter. God is infinitely creative and finds ways and, being made in God's image, so should we.

How am I listening to God? How am I listening to my neighbor? It might be helpful to consider it this way:

Listen to the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And listen to your neighbor as yourself.”

2014 Copyright.