Very Few Sharp Edges in Nature
Have you ever noticed there are very few sharp edges in nature? Great big boulders which break in half from the pounding sea over a great deal of time, become smooth sculptures from the continued pounding of the surf, wind and rain. There is a sculptor's raw and rough-edged slab which she skillfully chisels and roughs-out to the initial dimensions represented by a mere image in her head; an image that will soon become an artistic masterpiece taking center attention at M.O.M.A.. The boulders become smoother and the slab stone becomes art only subsequent to irregular edges becoming smoother - eventually worn down with the waves of the wind and rain, or the hands of the sculptor, over time. Even tree branches that snap off become smoother and worn, or footprints which betray someone who had hiked there just prior, eventually wear and wash away. They are also subject to the unrelenting softening of time. There is something to this softening of sharp edges that caught my attention as I was p(r)aying attention both to my Lord (the r added to paying), as well as to my precious loving wife...and to the jagged edges in my own life. It had become painfully obvious that a gentle softening was needed.
Ohhh jagged edges. I have a bunch of them. Some of them are good, and how God made me in the first place. While they may be intimidating to many, I enjoy doing activities and encouraging others to partake in the fun. If that means rappelling off of the side of a mountain or building, traversing a ropes course, free falling off of a 40' platform to be caught by a cable which swings ya just a few feet above a rushing stream of water as it makes its way down the windy path of the hill, count me in! Paragliding is pretty cool too. However, sometimes my excitement at doing these activities and "encouraging" others to partake, merely engenders fear in those who would prefer to read a good book or to catch some rays on a boat, rather than be the one to hike out on a sailboat in gale force winds just for fun. In fact, my "encouragement" to partake can be quite obnoxious. I guess that's a jagged edge? Yep. That's' a jagged edge. My back operation pretty much helped put an end to those activities anyway but I still need to work on the obnoxiousness!
But there's other types of jagged edges in my life. They are edges caused by wounds that have been created over the years which have infected my life. Some of them are wounds that we all have from our youth and beyond which have had profound impact. Some for me included growing up without the presence of a father in our house - or at the baseball field as I watched other kids play with their dads; a mom who while incredibly well meaning, also struggled with issues in her own life that directly effected me. We all have things in our lives we can point to that have had subtle, or even catastrophically negative influences. Over the years, some of mine have caused me to be ready to parry and forge a counter attack by retorting with an intellectual bravado and a goal to leave an opponent with no escape other than to leave with their proverbial tail between their legs. The weapons used that attempted to injure me became unwitting liabilities that instead injured those who dared step on my turf. Perhaps that's why I liked Aikido so much as a kid. Aikido pretty much waits for an attack and then uses the momentum/force of the attacker back against them. They soon would find they stepped on a landmine and that I fully intended to detonate it rather than endure any type of pain or hurt - intended or unintended. Thankfully, many of those efforts (which became habit patterns which were formed in me) to control outcomes, have been instead replaced with learning to love, as I've turned to consider more of God's love for me and for others. A relationship with God that is filled with His love cannot help but pass over into love for others. In other words, as we respond to God's love in our lives, we not only develop a relationship of freedom with God, but it also strangely warms our hearts toward even our fiercest enemies. Transformation...Spiritual re-Formation is real and possible. It has been and continues to be real for me.
I don't remember a whole lot from growing up, but as I take a look at these types of jagged edges in my life - bad stuff from my past that has influenced how I approach or respond to various people or circumstances, I do know that some of the edges have become softer. MLK Jr. has a famous quote from a 1957 sermon on loving our enemies. It is one of my top five quotes of all time. He pointed out that darkness can't drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate can't drive out hate, only love can do that. He pointed out that this is what Jesus meant when he told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who are usurious (Matthew 5:44). What? Are you kidding me? But yes, this is what Jesus doesn't just suggest I do....he commands it! How do we foster this fruit of love in our lives?
God's Grace - Our Effort
Jagged edges can be worn down into soft gentle ones that are much more inviting. Isn't this what we all seek in our lives, especially as we grow older, or with our families? This positive change is a process of training. This can only occur by God's grace and with our effort. What the heck does that mean? I recently graduated from a 2 year program in Christian Spiritual Formation. One of the faculty, Trevor Hudson, states it this way; "Don't say I'll try. Rather, train!". Have you ever tried to stop an attitude from spewing out of your mouth when you know you are justified "explaining the situation" to someone? That's trying (it doesn't usually work). Training is what we do off the spot, in order to be able to do on the spot what we normally wouldn't be able to do (cf Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard). Training does not seek to earn God's grace with our effort but, this effort or training isn't opposed to grace. The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy (a younger pastor he mentored) that we must be trained in righteousness. In the book of Philippians, Paul exhorted those who believed in Jesus that they should work out their own life with God with great attentiveness, and gravity for God because, He was at work in their lives - and is at work in ours. God is also always at work in our lives - ALWAYS! Even if you are a self-proclaimed atheist, God is still at work in our life! We can train to change our attitudes, behavior patterns and even the way we feel about our enemies by putting ourselves in places where we can grow.
Notice I didn't say we can try. To merely "try" something does not at all guarantee that I will over come for instance, anger at the person who made fun of me as a little kid. However, it can be the catalyst for softening - and change as I train. But it takes awareness, desire and then action, to actualize this softening and change. And it can take a while. But, slow and steady is good. Just like rocks, branches and leaves become weathered with time via rain and wind, so we too can overcome hate, shyness, anger, lust, racism, laziness, etc. by the good in our lives overcoming the bad - through training.. We need to put ourselves in circumstances which foster the development of new habits that will replace the old and will soften and thereby counter "jaggedness". Eventually love really does take over. Wow - what freedom.
So, the guy I had chosen to hate for many years and I hadn't seen in 40? I went up to him, looked him in the eyes and told him I was so very glad to see him - AND MEANT IT! I was literally changed in that instance to the extent that I could initiate a positive conversation and was completely free from anger and wrath, now replaced with a true love and care. That is called spiritual formation. It is the process of change - the slow process of change. Just like water which drips on a rock eventually makes a dent in the rock, so we will also change as we seek to put ourselves in places that train us to be more loving - more like Jesus every day. Again, Dallas Willard calls this training-off-the-spot, so that when we are on the spot we have the power to do what we ordinarily would not be able to do. It takes time. Sometimes a lifetime. But it works. Because it is God who is at work in us as we work out our life with him here on this globe. And it gives us confidence once we see it happening that we are walking in the truth because it leads to both a clear conscience and a sincere faith. I'll talk more about some specifics of why Spiritual Disciplines are needed today, what might they look like in real life and, how do I really train if I want to? Stay tuned for the next Parkishly musing.
I hope you find these helpful. Leave a comment if you do - or if you don't too! I read them all. I'm also open for one-on-one meetings with you if you want to discuss these topics or other areas in your life - all in a quest to love and serve our loving God as well as others. Send me a message at the bottom of this page if you do. - Park