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Faithfulness 2020

What is your faithfulness?

This is a question I’ve learned from the Quakers this year in my spiritual direction training. It’s a gentle question that orients me in confusing situations, carries with it the whisper to look to the triune God for all, and welcomes me to drop into my unique selfhood. It isn’t a mandate, another link in the chain of “should” that weaves and pulls through my life. It is a question asked in trust and respect, honoring the wisdom I’ve gained, acknowledging the weaknesses and limits I have. There is space in it.

As my social media has exploded with proclamations of goals, “#oneword” inspirations, and calls to get on board with jubilant intentions, I’ve struggled to plot my way forward and declare it with confidence. I’m just not clear on it yet. I could easily take one of my numerous ideas and force feed it into production. But I wish to live intentionally into the paths and patterns, the values of God’s kingdom as they take their shape within my particular life. That is not a haphazard endeavor. At this time a settling needs to happen before I can move forward in faith.

This late fall and early winter I’ve been attracted to the gentle laying down of leaves and snowflakes that softly cover everything. Perhaps because it was a lovely counterpoint to the scattering whirlwind of assignments, family schedules, and work responsibilities that persisted week after week, I found myself often staring at a new spill of brilliant yellow gingko leaves, or the emerging tracery of  whitened tree limbs. The soft surrender of leaf and snow released new beauty. Invariably, my shoulders lowered, my breath expanded, and I’d remember God’s presence to me. Like the surrender of leaves or snow, these January days my faithfulness is to still and wait the change of the year, allowing the blanketing leaves of the previous to settle and fertilize the coming one.

 

 

Snow Tracery

By Kimberley Mulder

One of my greatest agitations disturbing this surrender has been that I have not been consistent in writing to you on this blog, and yet I have not found a way to manage it with the other claims on my time. I’ve felt guilty, troubled, and sorrowful about it. I feel my lack of consistency with shame, yet I cannot muster more.

I brought this to the Lord and we had a talk about faithfulness and finitude. As 2019 progressed, I encountered unexpected needs in my family that required my constancy and creativity. I had to make choices between taking care of my body and soul or pushing through to write another post. I chose the former out of respect for my limits–a lesson in humility. He impressed upon me that:

In each moment, I can only be faithful with one thing.

Given all the factors, I had done that to the best of my ability. And with this realization, I released the guilt. New beauty appeared as I saw my life through the loving eyes of God. Then He asked if I had found him steadfast. There were so many, I felt like Elizabeth Barrett Browning in How Do I Love Thee?, “Let me count the ways!” 

And so, as I settle under the blanket of steadfastness from 2019, I can declare my intention to keep asking “What is my faithfulness in this moment?” When I do write, it is with God, and I trust it feeds your soul. When I don’t write, it is with God, and I trust his fidelity to draw you to him to discern your own present moments of faithfulness.

Take the question with you for your new year:

What is your faithfulness?

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in 2020, friend.

Kimberley

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 1 comment

Finding God in Your Everyday

prompts for Instagram #noticeGod

Before I embarked on my second year of seminary and to debrief from the summer I recently spent three days intentionally in silence and solitude. Most of the time I spent noticing the moment I was in. It slows and focuses me to be attentive.

Initially, I notice the taut muscles in my shoulders, the breeze washing my feet, the mossy air I breathe in. From there I progress to birds laughing at jokes in the trees, squirrels cricking the walnut shells open, and the kazoo chorus of invisible insects. I try to think of words to describe the thin and sudden scents that share the air, and I drink with my eyes the mundane splendor of bouncing greenery, rumpled roots, and rippling light. The intermingled life I’m noticing holds a million doors to God, and I hold the master key, we all do—it’s wonder. Noticing brings us to the doorway, wonder walks into the party.

When we spend time entertaining our curiosity, our hearts stir. Something about that bird’s sprinkled song caught your attention—why? What effect does it have on you? A smile, a desire to see the bird, a wish it would be quiet? What does it communicate to you? Is there thankfulness stirring, or did it make you think of something else? Like a cello string thrumming to a bow, emitting its song, the things that strike our hearts bring forth life because they strike at the way we were made to sound, tuning us to the song within, and into joining the song the Lord is singing over us. It is how our story joins in his larger story.

An example from my life comes from my summer class. Our teachers released us in a small rose garden to notice something. Honestly, I was tired and dubious, doing it because it was required. I half-heartedly wandered over to a rose that looked like a sunset wrapped in taffeta. I felt a little foolish just staring at it, gently touching its cool soft petals, and slowly sniffing the light scent. Slowly my attention meandered down to the artery of its life guarded by thick thorns to the profusion of glossy deep green leaves darkening the background. I realized as I lingered, there was a metaphor for me in it.

There would be no glorious blossom without the support, patient growth, proper channeling, and pure usefulness of the overlooked stem. We notice the bright, beautiful, shocking instinctively. But without the careful commitment to linger upon it, we will miss the underlying messages that unlock understanding and life for us. It spoke to me to persevere, remain committed to the slow process of growth, and remain connected to God.

There are wonderful things embedded in every day, but so often we miss them. Something might catch our eye, our ear, and a flutter of feeling arises, but we breeze past it. In the quick clamor of our overstimulated lifestyles, the slow drift of a cloud or the light lapping of water goes unnoticed. We end up attuned to the jarring noises of screams, notifications, honking, and crowded, reverberating bars.What might happen if we paused instead? What within us would rise?

Practicing noticing develops a habit that cultivates patience, receptivity, and creativity. As we name what we notice what gives us life or what doesn’t, we become wise about ourselves, the world, and most importantly, more aware of God.

So for seven days, starting on Sunday, September 8 on Instagram I’m posting and inviting you to post on what you notice that day on the following topics:

prompts for Instagram #noticeGod

 

Join us on Instagram to practice finding God in our every day. Use #noticeGod to find each other and use it to tag your post. Join anytime!

 

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Why should a Christian practice “being present”?

For some Christians, practicing being present sounds too other religion-y, too “out-there”, too vague. To Christians who love the “go” of the gospel, who find purpose in a mission, and joy in activity, being told to “be present” is too inactive, even a trap of the devil to stop the forward motion of the kingdom. Aren’t we supposed to be looking forward to Jesus’ coming and the full expression of his kingdom? Yes, we are. Aren’t we supposed to turn from our old selves? Yes, we are. But these are not the only aspects of following Jesus. We follow him today, too.

So, why is it important for a Christian to be present? And what does it mean?

First, although God spoke the Bible into being in the past, His word is alive and active today. He has also embedded every “today” with his presence. In Hebrews 4:7, 9-12a, it says:

God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David,…

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish… For the word of God is alive and active.

When you read a certain passage and it strikes you as especially pertaining to you in the moment, that is the Holy Spirit speaking today.

To those who are compelled to go and tell, do and act, it is important to recognize daily that Jesus does not only live in the future of heaven, but in today. Let that future inform the present, but not take its place. In our eager anticipation, let us not gloss over the realities of today.

Second, our creating, life-giving God is making today and gifting it to us who live in it. He has purposes for it and for us. God speaks in Isaiah 55:10-11:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

All time is in his hands, for he made it. In Isaiah 46:10 he says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Yes, he has created us for eternal life and called us into His promises, but He is giving us life today to live that out now.

Third, to be present means three things for a Christian:

1) to be attentive to God in the moment,

2) that we are called to be his disciples today, not living nostalgically for a real or imagined past, or living with disdain for today because we think the future is the only place we will find happiness and fulfillment,

3) that we are able to attend and minister to others without our own thoughts and concerns taking precedent.

The biggest difference between the practice of being present within other spiritual traditions and Christianity is that a Christian is seeking and experiencing God in the moment as His beloved creation. We are listening to God in the moment.

Jesus left heaven with its lack of time, to enter our here and now at a very specific time. He did not live longing for the past, or ignoring the importance of today because of the future. He lived in Mary’s now, and Joseph’s now, and Peter’s now. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our present help in the todays that followed in which we now live. In John 14:26 He says, “The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.”

I will elaborate in another post how practicing being present helps Christians minister to others. For now, may I merely point out that when we are present with God regularly, our worries and preoccupations dim because we are able to leave them in his hands, thus making more compassionate space within ourselves to minister to others.


Now, I am by no means an expert on other religions, but I wanted to make an effort to point out some important lessons we can learn from others who practice presence far more frequently, as well as some fundamental differences.

In yoga, it is an exercise, a practice, meant to waken you to yourself on the way to perfection. While Christians do not share the same belief that self-awareness will make us perfect, there are some lessons we can take from yoga. For example, “Yoga uses the simple clarity of the body as a means to bring the mind into presence. Rather than just dictating actions to the body, the deepest yoga practice teaches the mind how to listen to the body in the pure light of awareness without judgment or expectation.”

This stance of listening without judging or expectation is necessary for Christians too. Jesus listened deeply, and he did not cast judgment, reserving that for the Father when He deems the time right. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” John 3:17.

While Zen Buddhism recognizes that we are limited beings, it denies God, certainly a personal, loving God. But it does recognize that the problem lies within us. Christians go further and name it sinfulness.

“It’s how our mind handles those external forces [like interruptions, conflict, pressure and chaos] that is the problem.”

This is true. We try to solve things on our own, without God. No matter how brilliant we are intellectually, how emotionally intelligent, we are still sinful, including Christians, so our natural bent is toward broken, independent-of-God solutions.

Practicing being present, which really puts us in touch with the experience of being a creation and beloved at the same time, helps us to humbly accept this again, and find God in the here and now.

In Buddhism of a more general nature, practicing being present is a way to be released from suffering, from the attachments we make with our expectations and desires. Ultimately, Buddhists deny any permanent, essential soul and self, so practicing presence is a way of losing those attachments that create the illusion of self. This is very different from why a Christian practices presence!

Christians recognize the permanent eternity of our souls, that God created each and every unique one, and when we are present we are allowing ourselves to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is much like paying close attention, so close that we forget our own concerns and preoccupations, to a dear friend.

To those who acknowledge the inspired word of God, the historical humanity of Jesus’ divinity on earth, and base their lives on God’s past actions and the promise of His future actions, it is important to be open to His presence and action in today.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 1 comment

On Being Present Today (When You’d Rather Be in Yesterday or Tomorrow)

I am currently in a temporal vortex of sorts having just returned from a fantastic, fulfilling mission trip that lingers in my happy memories and draws me back from today, yet driven forward by the hope and plans of the future that require a time investment today. So here I sit in the heart of the year, in the heat of today sandwiched between two mountains gazing at their tantalizingly cold and clear summits. In the hazy swirl of the valley lies my today, the heavy traffic of an eight-member household, a job, hobbies, and responsibilities all bustling about me, confusing me with their incessant demands to decide now, today, on this and that. Like a helium balloon that cannot but rise because of the nature of the gas inside, my spirit rises above the smog and noise of today to those summits behind and before me.

How can I tether my spirit to today? How can I keep my attention on these busy, tiring, immediate moments in this six-week long valley when I just want to escape into the summit of yesterday or run headlong into the trails of tomorrow? How can I even enjoy being present now when I find today taxing, boring, unpleasant, and tedious? I even ask why must I?

The simple reason is that Jesus is in today. He made today; he gave it to me and to you, and he weaves his love and purposes into it, especially into its unwelcome circumstances. He does not flee the difficult, the despairing, the darkest of days. He does not live like a hermit on mountaintops. He lives now in whatever rain or sun, haze or clarity, storm or serenity surrounds us. Jesus holds my ballooning spirit in the here and now.

Jesus grounds me. He keeps me present even as he calls me forward into his promises and plans, even as I remember with nostalgia his bold presence in the past.

If you find it hard to wrest yourself free of a happy past to face the trials in today, or you are looking forward in anticipation to a hopeful tomorrow, entrust those times to God, and look for Jesus today. He is “I am”. He is holding you today. He is speaking today. He is present today. And he wants you to be present, too. As you pay attention to him in the moment you will find that He has grace for you today. He has guidance for you today. He has love for you today. He has purpose for you today.

When I stopped lingering my gaze on the mountaintops, I found Jesus ready to help me navigate an intense conflict, I found him urging me to pray with someone, I found him bringing joy into simple things around me, I found grace for my fatigue, I found wonder in his word.

My present circumstances require grace, focus, lots of decision-making small and large, and they easily tire me because they require my weaker skill sets. Even in this, I can base my day on the promise that in my weakness, he is strong.

In my weakness, I want to escape, float off into the past or the future, but His strong hand holds me here as He walks me through each day, aided and anchored, until I have traversed these busy streets into the quieter mountain trails foreseeable in my future adventures.

So, if you, like me, are finding your present days arduous, are tempted to mentally stay in the pleasant past, or are eagerly anticipating a future that dulls your today, join me this month as we focus on being present in the present to God and to others. Let’s discover the gift of Jesus in our todays together.

Here on the blog each week I’ll be putting up another post on being present, so be sure to look for those. You can also follow me on Instagram for more frequent, shorter encouragements and thoughts at @writerkimberleymulder. I share my posts, thoughts, and those of others on my page on Facebook @kimberleymulderwriter.

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments