Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Advent meditation on guidance

Interactive thoughts on divine guidance

The Christmas story is amazing on many levels, but I find it particularly compelling on how it relates to divine guidance in human time. Consider the story again for a few moments, and ask yourself these questions:

What does this story show about how God reveals His presence and will in human time? How does God get through to us; how does God lead a life?

Consider these questions and hear the story in your spirit, as I share what it means to me, regarding guidance. And, after you read the article, please take a moment to add what it means to you, ok? Perhaps we can journal some helpful thoughts together…principles of God's guidance!

Revelation through words of the spirit

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

God gives Mary a word to her spirit, through angelic visitation.

I class this as a ‘word to the spirit’ simply because it is a spiritual word with angelic means. The angel speaks to the spirit of Mary, and Mary responds in kind: ‘I am the Lord’s handmaiden…may it be done to me even as you have said.’

Both word and reply were spiritual in nature, and confound our natural understanding.

I class it this way because many people say, “Well, I’ve never been visited by an angel!”

I would just reply: “How can you be so sure?”

Have you had any impossible dreams lately? Have you been touched by a calling and vision beyond yourself, which carries a hint of divine intent…a mystery which troubles and perplexes you, yet fills you with higher things?

The divine story is still going on. Yet we have inundated ourselves with so many things that even were an angel to come, we could not see it right away. Our eyes have been covered over in layers of worldly things, which Mary did not allow in her life.

So she saw the angel and received the words in clear form. And agreed with them, though they were impossible...

All that to say: The spirit words may be there, deep in your soul. Follow them for greater revelation!

Revelation through revealed word

“Where is He who is to be born King of the Jews…?”

Most people don’t realize it, but the Wise Men had high level access to many Hebrew Scriptures: When the magi show up in Judea asking, “Where is the King of the Jews?” they are not just pulling words out of the air.

Persian magi received parts of Jewish Scripture hundreds of years before Christ, during the Jewish captivity in Babylon [from 602 BCE and on]. During these years, Hebrew Scriptures were shared at the highest levels of world study. Several world edicts even reflected this Hebraic wisdom. For hundreds of years the Persian magi had the Torah and probably several of the prophets. These wise men definitely had the prophecy of Numbers 24:17:

I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel...

A Star will rise from Jacob’s house, a Scepter out of Israel…

Linking this knowledge of Scripture with their incredible knowledge of heavenly movements, the stars and natural sciences, they deduced the time of Messiah, or the promised regent King of Israel, ruler of the world.

A deep awareness of Scripture informed their natural knowledge.

And so they came to the courts of Herod, with this information: The King of Jews is born! Where is He? They naturally assumed that the present rulers would know about this holy birth, and support it. But surprise! Herod was furious…he was far more interested in his own rule than the plan of God.

So Herod called in the priests and sages and said, “Where is the prophesied King to be born?”

The Jewish priests had access to more Scripture than the magi, and they said, “Bethlehem!” They quoted Micah 5:2:

That is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’

When Herod heard that, he turned his mind to destruction: “Go find him, and bring me word again, that I may worship Him also…” he told the magi. But, as we know, he intended to kill the Christ all along.

Here we have two very different treatments of Scripture: The magi sought Scripture as a treasure, and used all the Scripture they had to find God. Herod used Scripture as a tool, to create his own way and destroy the will of God in the world.

There is a third way to treat the revealed word: ignore it.

But on this continuum, the world finds itself: Some treat it as a tool for their own ends, and twist it; some treat it as a treasure, and use it in relation to God; others ignore it as outdated and archaic.

Lesson: Scripture is supernatural revelation. We ignore it or twist it at our own peril. We are safely led by God as we humble ourselves to Scripture as a “pearl of great price.”

God guides us through the revealed word.

Revelation through natural signs


“Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” “We have seen his star when it first arose, and have followed it to worship Him!”

The magi were guided by a star that brought them so far, to the land of Judea…

Now, was this star coincidence or real guidance?

For millions of people living then, the star was coincidence. But for certain faithful persons who sought the will of God and saw the heavens with eyes of the spirit, the star was guidance.

Lesson: God is in the details of human life. God’s hand can be seen throughout the natural order, but we must have eyes to see. When God acts, do we see it? Are signs merely coincidence?

Or is there a divine hand, and sovereign guidance?

The reverent heart can see the revelation of God in signs of nature and natural life.

I once met a man on a golf course who told me that his life had been saved when an oak leaf stopped internal bleeding in him. Doctors were amazed: an oak leaf had somehow ingested into his system, and this leaf wrapped around the aneurysm. I mentioned divine thankfulness -- he, with a shrug, mentioned coincidence: “Just lucky.”

Question: Are my eyes open to the presence of God in natural elements?

When others see ‘just a star,’ am I led to the King?

Revelation through relationship


Here the Christmas story gets really personal.

Herod had Scripture and now the proof of the star and proof of the magi. Herod had the same revelation as the wise men, yet he wanted to destroy the Christ child!

Lesson: Scripture is not enough. We must enter a vital relationship with God: communication and communion: learning the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus uses the metaphor of the shepherd to paint a picture of obedience. It is the picture of a shepherd calling to his sheep in the midst of massed herds, and having his sheep hear and follow!

There are many, many voices out there. We live in an era of information overload. The average teen spends almost 6 hours a day in electronic media: TV, movies, computer games and messaging, etc. The average adult approaches this level on weekends…after being crushed by voices on workdays.

To hear and know the voice of God is a matter of relationship. Herod had revelation handed him, but still ignored the voice of God.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Woe to you who light your own fires, who create your own light!” “You will lie down in torment.” “But all you that follow righteousness, who look to the Lord…you will be comforted.”

Divine guidance comes through divine relation. The natural state of humans is to create their own way, to follow other voices, to “light their own fires.”

But as we seek God through Christ, and respond to grace, God heightens our relation to him.

C.S. Lewis talks about levels of relationship and learning to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit, through all the other voices that call. Growth in awareness of the Spirit voice of God is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Lewis gives an example of this kind of relation. One day he sensed the Spirit of God nudging him to visit his barber. But he argued against it: It wasn’t rational. It wasn’t time to visit the barber and he had other things to do. But the voice came again: “Visit your barber.” By now Lewis had walked with God long enough that he recognized the voice of the Spirit [vs. his own impressions]. So, he put on his coat and went to the barber. As soon as he walked in the door, the barber exclaimed: “Oh, I had been praying that you would come!” “I urgently needed to talk.” Lewis said that a day later and he would have been too late. But in divine relation, he was right on time!

Relation is built through prayer and obedience.

P. T. Forsyth says that progress in prayer is progress with God. “In every act of prayer we have already begun to do God's will.”

Pascal talks about doing what is right before God, and having God grant higher faith in the process.

The magi came to Judea through obedience to the divine voice, and gained the Christ.

Similarly, we gain high guidance in walking with God in Word and Spirit: Divine relation!

Revelation through dreams and visions


Both Joseph and the magi were led by dreams…dreams that played a vital part in protecting Jesus, the Christ child.

The magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they quietly departed to their own country another way [i.e. fled from Herod]. Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt, where they were safe from both Herod and Herod Achelaus, the sadistic son of Herod who took over his throne.

Such guidance hearkens to the prophecy of Joel, which the apostles later referenced:

And it shall come to pass…that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions...I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show signs and wonders in the heavens and in the earth...

This role of dreams shows the importance of feeding our conscious minds on good things.

If the last thing we see before sleeping is the news, etc., and first thing we read upon waking is the newspaper, we will dream dreams of human occurrence [most are]. But if the last thing we see is heavenly news -- prayer and Scripture mediation -- and the first thing upon waking is divine praise and order, we can dream divine occurrence. This will inform our understanding of human news.

In this light, the magi are a great study in divine guidance.

They rigorously applied themselves to knowledge and Scripture, within a working relationship with the God, and a humble acceptance of God’s presence through other daily means of dreams, visions and encounters. So God guided them in human time.

And lest we think that was ‘just back then,’ I beg to differ.

I believe that ‘God is no respecter of persons,’ and will guide all those who open to His person and ways. I’ve experienced this guidance in ways of extreme grace. And, maybe here to share a story which will encourage you…

Some of you know about the day that my friend Tim drowned...

They say a drowning person only comes up three times, but that day Tim went under and came up at least seven times.

We were there at Girl’s Dam to cool off on a hot summer day -- Tim, my brother and I. Tim was there to save us. We could not swim, but Tim said he could swim. I tried to save him, but couldn’t reach him…nearly drowning myself while he struggled in deeper water.

Gerald and I prayed on the shore: “God, save Tim!”

But after what seemed forever, it was over. He floated near the top, underwater, face down, hands flung out. Drowned. Gerald and I wept aloud: “Tim is dead! Tim is dead!”

Little did we know, at that moment, back at our home in Josephine, a vision appeared before my father – a vision of a person drowning. He and my mother immediately went into intercessory prayer for us. Meanwhile, little did they know, but seven miles away at Girls Dam, Tim started to move under the water. Never breaking the surface, he moved to us as if on a rope, and we pulled him out, alive.

Neither of us knew CPR, but there was no need: There was no water in his lungs: He began breathing normally. In instant answer to prayer, God preserved him alive.

I’ll never know why God acted so quickly and clearly then, when at other times and other prayers He chose not to reveal himself so clearly.

But I do know that on that day, I saw first hand a God who controlled space and time, who has the power and intervene and guide human affairs.

I don’t know why God showed himself that day so strongly, but I know that He did. I still go back to that in referent, and let that inform my relation today…and sometimes, mysteriously, I find that the same God who guided then is still guiding now in just as strong a way, if not stronger…though unseen.

He is the one who chooses the moments of light, the moments of clarity, for His good purpose: As Pascal said, ‘Partial light, partial darkness…’ for our high sake and for His glory.

Most of us have not had that dramatic of an intervention, but we all can have a relationship that will bring divine guidance in moments of need.

Advent lessons of guidance: We can take the signs of natural order from a level of coincidence to guidance by honoring revealed word [Scripture] and higher relation with God. Our dreams and visions can reflect God instead of fallen society.

We can come to the Christ and be led by the Christ in human time!

Alleluia!

P.S. What does this meditation bring to your mind regarding divine guidance? In considering the Christmas story, what would you add concerning God’s leadership? Please feel free to share, and make this article an interaction on His intervention! :-)


6 comments:

Patrick O'Hannigan said...

There's a lot here, Loy. Thank you. On the personal, relational end first: I was once saved from drowning by a group of scuba divers whom my friend Laurel had shouted for as she was treading lake water next to me. While underwater, I didn't have the strength to surface, but I do remember hearing her pray even as I flailed about.

Your examples of guidance are wonderful, but for myself, I wouldn't lean as hard as you do on God's word to Mary's spirit. The Angel Gabriel is spirit, to be sure, and he spoke to Mary on multiple levels at God's direction, but God's invitation is accepted by Mary whole and entire, not just in spirit.

I'm sure you don't mean to slight what we Catholics call the Incarnation, and it's to keep myself from that mistake that I find it helpful to remember the awesome reality of that pregnancy. Some of Mary's blood coursed through and intermingled with the the blood of Jesus.

One thing I like about Saint Luke's account of the annunciation is how much it reveals about God's perfect knowledge of human nature. So after Gabriel announces
what He intends for Mary -- which must have been mind-boggling, even for a woman of her faith -- the angel also provides reassurance in the form of what's already happened to her cousin Elizabeth.

It's as though God had invited Mary to jump from a cliff's edge, and then shown immediately that He was able and willing to catch her.

Loy Mershimer said...

Thank you Patrick, for those wonderful thoughts.

I love your quote, "It's as though God had invited Mary to jump from a cliff's edge, and then shown immediately that He was able and willing to catch her."

Exactly!

That is a great picture of what is going on: The angel Gabriel comes and tells Mary supernatural facts of divine purpose, "This is what is going to happen!" But he first says, "You have found favor! You are highly favored..." And then gently ends by saying "Nothing is impossible with God!"

It's almost as if Gabriel is saying,

1. Mary, everything I'm telling you is impossible, I know;
2. But God is calling you to the impossible, through the Holy Spirit,
3. Oh, by the way, nothing is impossible with God: go visit your cousin Elizabeth!


It is so beautiful!

As to your concern that I am overemphasizing the spirit aspect of this guidance [or, underemphasizing the Incarnation] please remember that I am drawing out the guidance aspects of the story. The Incarnation is the physical effect or fulfillment of the spirit guidance and acceptance.

Which, as you note, is purely beyond imagination...that God would choose a virgin's womb, that her blood would course in His veins, that she would bring forth the long-awaited One, Savior of the world!

When I think of what it means for for this young virgin to be theotokos, I am humbled and amazed.

And yet, I am also thrilled! for it intimates the heights intended for humans. As Augustine put it, "God became man so that man might become God." And then, as Bonhoeffer picked up on the same theme [of human destiny and height destined in Incarnate God]: "God became man so that man might become man."

Point: We can only be what we were meant to be because of [and in] the Incarnate God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

But back to Mary: The reason I emphasize the words to spirit is that is exactly where the relation and guidance begins. Everything of Mary's obedience and surrender begins there. And this is where Mary shines a light on every human, for guidance and relation with God.

We cannot reach or imagine the levels of God's work in her, but we can learn from her relation. We will never bear God physically, as she, but we can hear God in spirit, and respond in very material ways, following the pattern if not the essence of her example.

When Mary responded in high praise to God, with the great Magnificat on her lips, this was her basis of praise: spirit life and relation. Only thus could she praise:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
And my spirit exults in God my Savior
For He has looked with mercy on my lowliness
And my name will be forever exalted
For the Mighty God has done great things for me
And His mercy shall reach from age to age
And holy, holy, holy is His name!


Spirit before matter. Will before doctrine. Heart before action.

Mary's spirit is enraptured with God. Only thus is her body enfolding of God.

And this becomes a lesson of guidance for all ages: hear the spirit words, follow the Spirit...and you will carry God in your heart.

Mary's nature was this spirit wonder and obedience: Her nature was to 'ponder these things in her heart,' to treasure up the words and acts of God as an infinite spirit treasure, and from this storehouse, to do the will of God!

Such is my emphasis.

And such, I think, is an example for every human...

Loy

Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Loy,

You're very kind. And mostly I agree. That sequence ("Spirit before matter. Will before doctrine. Heart before action") is apt.

One caveat. "We will never bear God physically, as she," you note -- and it's absolutely true, in the sense of Mary being Jesus's only mother and bearing Him for nine months.

But I'm Catholic, so the other part of my reaction is "ah, but we each of us *DOES* bear God physically, if only for a minute, and if only because Mary said yes first, when we receive him in Holy Communion." In that sense, we are all "Christophers," i.e., "Christ-bearers." The Catholic says what other Christians do not: that through the Mass, Jesus himself comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine, "body, blood, soul, and divinity."

Even before "this is My body, given up for you," unleavened bread is unrelentingly physical.

Which isn't to say that I mean to get into the "transubstantiation" vs. "consubstantiation" thing; still less into grape juice vs. wine, but in spite of its size, the whole tapestry of orthodox Catholic theology hangs together, and so I'm just a brother in the Lord saying "Look, Loy, this is really cool: when you pull on this thread, this inevitably follows."

With other Christian traditions, YMMV (your mileage may vary). :)

Loy Mershimer said...

Patrick, thank you for your thoughts...and giving them as a brother in Christ! I receive them in that same manner. :-) We are a bit off-topic here, going from God's guidance of Mary [and others] in the Christmas story to the nature of the Eucharist, so I don't want to debate the point at length.

But let me say that, even though you "didn't mean to get into" it, the essence of the point IS all about "transubstantiation," or the historic [evolved] Catholic doctrine that the bread becomes the actual body, and blood the becomes actual blood.

Let me try to encapsulate my response so that we can move on to guidance aspect: If actual body and blood, then the Mass is an undeniable sacrifice.

And this is the historic Catholic claim: Actual body; Mass as sacrifice.

But...very interesting on this...it seems to me that Benedict XVI is moving away from this theological position at least in practice.

He seems invested in crafting the Mass with an emphasis on celebration vs. sacrifice...which of course, carries vast implications for the nature of the Eucharist.

The question: Is Christ making himself known in the elements through the Spirit, with His REAL Presence, all the while maintaining the integrity of the elements; or is the bread becoming the actual body, wine the actual blood...sacrificed again by human priests at every service?

I claim the first position, as a true Protestant. And, it is fascinating as I interact and listen to Catholics...just how much they are now reflecting the language of the first position and quietly stepping away from second. Even you, in your response, “did not mean to get into transubstantiation.” I find that same sentiment across the RCC.

Recently, I talked to one high-level person filling a role of recruiting priests, and I asked him point blank: "Do you believe the cup becomes the actual blood, the bread the actual body, and thus our Lord is sacrificed again?" He refused to answer that. He replied, "I believe in the Real Presence."

"I believe that, strongly" I replied. "But do you believe that the wine is the actual blood, and the bread the actual body?"

Again, he refused to answer the question.

The third time I asked. Again, he stumbled into 'Real Presence' phraseology without affirming the actual substance.

Then I knew that I was dealing with talking points, and a quiet step-down from the original Catholic position...

And then I see Benedict XVI quietly changing the sacrificial emphasis of the Mass...and I realize the vast theological import of this...and it seems to me that the Catholic Church is perhaps being slowly Reformed by Scripture!

:-)

But...if you want to carry on this Eucharistic conversation, Patrick...why don't we do so in email, and leave this thread for people to respond in the meme of divine guidance?

I really appreciate your response and will be glad to talk further, but let’s keep this thread more tightly to the topic, ok? That way maybe others can feel more open to responding about God’s leading in their life...

Perhaps we can even open a thread sometime on the Eucharist...in an irenic manner. :-)

And thank you for your heart and thoughts...!

Loy

winston7000 said...

Dear Loy:

You certainly packed this essay with an abundance for meditation as well as much fresh thought-provoking information.

After a certain age, well, in some cases even when very young, we all have our mysterious dreams and encounters with divine guidance in the most inexplicable ways. We are counseled wisely about the limits of our human cognition, yet blessedly stimulated to look for, to seek, the hand of the Lord in the most everyday, mundane places and people.

St. Francis de Sales wrote: "Make yourself familiar with the angels and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you."

Many years ago, I was going through a very grievous divorce process. My spouse had left me with two toddlers several years before, and I was caring also in our shared home for my mother who was ninety then. My former spouse's threats against the family struck into my heart, and I left my attorney's office in a very depressed mood.

As I waited for the subway, I saw the train approaching from the other end and immediately felt an enormous urge to jump in front of it.

Of a sudden, I saw a woman out of the corner of my eye, come rushing down the station stairs. As I turned to see her more clearly due to her unusual rushing and something indefinable that drew me to look towards her, she shoved a paper in my hand. She never slowed her pace, but just pushed this paper into my hand and seemingly vanished. She was not to be seen farther down the platform.

This encounter so quickly took my mind off thoughts of possible suicide that I boarded the train and sat down to read what she had passed to me.

It was a simple but highly touching little meditation that I had never seen before:

GOD ON A TANDEM BIKE

At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like the President. I recognized His picture when I saw it but I didn't really know Him.
But later on when I recognized my Him as my Higher Power, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike ride. But it was on a tandem bike and I noticed that GOD WAS IN THE BACK...HELPING ME PEDAL.
I don't know just when it was that He suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since. Life with my Higher Power, that is. GOD MAKES LIFE EXCITING! When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points. But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, through rocky places and at breakneck speeds. It was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, "pedal."
I was worried and asked, "where are you taking me?" God laughed and didn't answer, and I STARTED TO TRUST. I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I'd say "I'm scared," He'd lean back and touch my hand.
He took me to people with gifts that I needed - gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey - our journey - God's and mine. And we were off again. He said, "Give the gifts away; they're extra baggage; too much weight." So I did, to the people we met, and I found that...IN GIVING I RECEIVED, AND STILL OUR BURDEN WAS LIGHT.
I did not trust Him at first, in control of my life. I thought he'd wreck it, but God knows bike secrets. He knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. I'm learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places. And I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion... my Higher Power.
And when I'm sure I just can't do anymore, HE SMILES AND JUST SAYS, "PEDAL."

As I read this tract, I realized, however dimly, that I had been approached and rescued by an angel or an angelic presence.

It's been over 15 years since this encounter and my life has had its many subsequent crises. I did resolve the divorce finally and for good, buried my mother 7 1/2 years later and raised my children to where they are 22 and 20--and still wih me, though my daughter is in NYC in Philosophy.

And during these years, angels have often come in the guise of humans as the three angels did for Abraham, or Rafael did in the Book of Tobias. And sometimes, they come as an inner voice that is distinctly not our own.

God chooses where, when, how and with whom to work. That He chose two very devout, yet seemingly ordinary people of simple piety and faith like Mary and Joseph only reinforces the fact that His foolishness is wiser than any human wisdom.

Like Patrick, I am a Catholic. And as such, the point of utter grace and contact is in the reception of the Lord each time that I receive the Eucharist. It struck me recently that when I take this small, ordinary piece of very fragile bread upon my tongue, that for a minute I hold there within me the Divine Force that set the galaxies spinning out and yet created a small, fragile creature whom He made in His own image simply out of His own mysterious purpose and utter love.

Loy, keep up your fine writing. For some of us on certain days, when overloaded with the world and its dark Prince, you may be an angelic presence.

For now, God bless you.

John Hetman
Niles, Illinois

Loy Mershimer said...

Wow, John...thank you!

That is a very moving piece. To hear your description of how that lady rushed down and handed you the paper, sight unseen. And then to read it, and find that kind of inspiration on it!

God is so good!

I had a moment like that, where someone handed me a sheet of paper in class, totally random...unasked, unannounced and unexpected...and the paper simply listed aspects of the true calling of God. Immediately, words jumped out at me: "A true call is impossible!"

I almost fell out of my chair.

This person had no way of knowing that I was wrestling with that exact aspect of the calling, thinking myself a fool...finding no agreement on that concept...ready to pack it all in and just forget about trying to follow the call [at least in its impossible sense], when boom! right on time, this paper was put in my hand.

I had an hour and a half drive home to think and pray about it...just blown away.

And, with you, it was even more profound! Your very life was at stake...but God was working 24 hours a day, His normal shift, lol.

Then you added balance with that awesome quote from Francis de Sales: "Make yourself familiar with the angels and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you."

Powerful, and so true!

Seen or unseen, felt or unfelt, He is here...the loving God who "makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire."

Right on time: divine time!

And...thank you, thank you so much for your words...that on certain days I may fulfill an angelic role...as a derivative messenger!

Deeply appreciated, and thank you. I needed that, and your whole post really ministered to me!

God bless,

Loy