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HERE: The Practice of Awakening to the Presence of God

Sermon series based on Brian McClaren’s book Naked Spirituality

Preached:  January 27, 2013
Scripture:  Exodus 3

Over the next three months, we will be entering into spiritual practices that Brian McClaren has outlined in his book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words.  It will take us through the liturgical reflective season of Lent into the joy of resurrection on Easter and beyond.

Whether people call themselves spiritual or religious, most people I know are seeking deeper meaning in their lives, accompanied by a deeper experience of God.  We are looking for some kind of sacred space where we receive glimpses of the eternal divine – what could be classified as the unnameable mystery.

Brian McClaren defines the etymology of religion as:
re:  again joined with lig (ligament) connect, unite together in wholeness.
Latin- RE-LEGARE, re-connectiing, or actually re-tying together the human family.
Good religion is about connecting us together again.

 Author, speaker, and theologian Brian McLaren lays out four stages or seasons that include three spiritual practices each – offering twelve spiritual practices in all.  He describes it like a spiral that grows wider every year – and that we revisit these stages throughout life, and that they are more fluid than simply passing through one stage and moving into the next.  I find it to be a useful framework for my spiritual journey as a way to encounter the loving presence of God.

Brief Synopsis of seasons from the book Naked Spirituality

Stage I – Spring – Simplicity: The Season of Spiritual Awakening
Beliefs – everything is known and knowable.  Black and white answers reassure.
You see the world in dualistic terms.  You’re either for us or you’re against us.
It’s US/THEM. We’re the good guys who have the right answers. They’re the bad guys. Deep sense of identity/belonging in the in-group.  Relationships dependent on a leader. God is ultimate authority figure or friend

 Stage 2 – Summer – Complexity: The Season of Spiritual Strengthening
Complexity builds on Simplicity.  You’re moving along in life, and all of a sudden things don’t turn out quite how you planned or believed it should. Cognitive dissonance enters in, and you realize there is more than one way of understanding life.
The focus shifts from Dualism to pragmatism;  No longer right vs. wrong.
It becomes effective vs. ineffective.  Faith shifts from right belief to right practice.
Identity is found in achievement.
Stage 1 leaders taught you the rules of the game.  Stage 2 leaders coach how to win it.
God becomes guide or coach.  Purpose driven life; lists, steps, reasons, goals.

Stage 3 – Fall- Perplexity: The season of Spiritual Surviving
Great pain or great love tend to push people out of Stages I & II.  `              `
More than being right, more than being effective, the focus is honesty and authenticity.
Belief system used to be everything is knowable.  But now very little is knowable.
In this stage people may begin to doubt their faith and may even abandon it for a while. People become a bit more cynical in this stage with commitment & enthusiasm waning.

Stage 4 -Winter: Harmony: The season of Spiritual Deepening
Harmony transcends & integrates the other stages.
Through the hard labor of becoming, enduring, never giving up, and never letting go, life becomes more about releasing and receiving.
Belief – some things are known; many are mysteries. God is knowable, yet mysterious.
Focus – Fulfill potential.  Serve, contribute, make a difference. Depth;  awe and wonder; Deeper connections.  Ability to hold truths in tension.
Instead of finally arriving, we realize that arrival has never been that point.  Journey.

Here: The Practice of Awakening to the Presence of God –
You will find stability at the moment when you discover that God is everywhere, that you do not need to seek God elsewhere, that God is here, and if you do not find God here it is useless to go and search elsewhere because it is not God that is absent from us, it s we who are absent from God.  Anthony Bloom

Remember in school?  The teacher would call your name and your response – HERE.
By calling “here”, it signaled to the teacher that you were present, ready to learn.
Here is the simple word by which we show up, and become present to the present moment.  But have you noticed how difficult it is to always be present to where you are in any given moment?   It seems we are always tempted to be partially somewhere else.

If we desire authentic spirituality,  we need to show up to where we are now; to resist escaping, and tell God, “Let’s start here. Now.”

As Moses led his flock. 2The angel of the Lord appeared in a flame of fire out of a bush; Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight.”  God called, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

The spiritual practice of Here helps us declare ourselves present to God’s presence already with us.  Here I am in the presence of a mystery.  Here I am, in the Presence of God who transcends, surpasses, and exceeds every attempt of description.  When God calls out and we respond, “Here I am!” It actually helps us to show up and come out of hiding.  We let ourselves be found.

As we approach God in the present moment of here, we begin as being known by God, not as knowers of God. Like Moses and the story of the burning bush, we are named before we name, and called before we call out to God.

We can also call out to God “Is anybody here?”  Invocation.  Literally evoking God’s presence.  God has been here all along, even though we may have been too busy or distracted to notice.  Through Invocation we are summoning ourselves to wake up.

Moses responds to this encounter with God by presenting himself to the mysterious presence who has called his name. He also argues, quarrels, questions, and doubts.

We can pray, “I’m here, God. You’re here. We are here together.”
Here I am in this whatever kind of day I might be having, in this predicament, in this catastrophe.
Acknowledging where we are is how we begin to awaken spiritually.

Here. Now. Just as I am.  Here I am, in the presence of The One who transcends and surpasses every attempt at definition and description.

Here is the way we declare ourselves present to God’s presence.  Feeling God’s presence as the Celtic blessing puts it…God above me, before me, behind me, beside me, beneath me, and within me.  Affirm that to be here with God is to be at home, wherever you are.

 There is a story from the Washington Post almost six years ago.  A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time,  it was calculated that 1100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up.  A minute later, the violinist received his tip: a woman threw money in his case without stopping.   A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pulled the child along, but the boy continued turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed or applauded.   The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world playing on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.  Two days before playing in the subway, Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats average $100 each.

This scenario of Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Let us take a moment to rest and pause before God right here, right now, and allow receive the gift of God’s presence to expand into our hearts.

God is always coming to us in the Sacrament of the present moment – Evelyn Underhill