As an infant, I was baptized in the Methodist church by my parents. When I was a young girl, I went to the Baptist church of my friend, Wendy. And I never left her church–nor any kind of event at her church–without some kind of invitation to accept Jesus. To invite him into my heart.
Perhaps some of you have experienced this sort of altar call…
I don’t know what this may have been like for YOU, but no matter how many times I raised my hand or walked forward to pray with one of the adult leaders, I never felt any different. I still felt just like me. Not a child of God. Not saved from damnation. No sense of peace or relief or joy…so I figured something was wrong on my end. That I wasn’t doing it right, whatever “it” was. I didn’t think I was saved, and it caused me great consternation, but I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, and then as I became an adult I just felt too embarrassed to talk about it. I’m certain it’s part of the reason I went to seminary in my 40s. To wrestle this out once and for all. And what happened was, I fell into joy.
All those times I raised my hand in the Baptist church to be saved, were just multiple knocks at the door to the Kin-dom of God. Each time I was getting closer to awakening to the gift of joy already within my heart. Rather than asking Jesus to come INTO my heart, perhaps I should have been told to ask him to more fully AWAKEN my heart. To be saved, you only have to ask for the gift you have already been given! Father Richard Rohr says in his book, The Naked Now, “Most people though, even people of faith, do not know that the gift is already theirs. And there is nothing you can ever do to lose this Holy Spirit within you. You can “grieve” the Spirit by ignoring this birthright of yours, neglecting the gift and not enjoying its wonderful fruit,” but the NOWness of God has always been–and always will be — within you, working toward restoring you to a fuller, deeper YOU than you already are.
Some of you may say, “How can that be true?” No part of me works half as well as it used to in my youth! Every day I’m riddled with pain of one kind or another, and I feel like I’m just trying to fill up my day with things to do until the next meal or the next dr. appt. First, let me say, that this may indeed be your truth. Like the carved angel pictured above, which is made from wood from the Black Forest of Germany, the outer part of this figure is covered with dark, rough bark. There is much roughness to the circumstances of our lives, especially as we age. “Growing old ain’t for sissies,” as they say. But this little messenger of God has another truth to reveal to us…there in the heartspace, the wood is smooth as a baby’s bottom.
So what might be the cause of this soft heart within such rough, difficult outer circumstances? When you turn her around, you can see that the softness comes from the inner wood behind the outer circumstances. We often call people “angels” when they share their hearts with us in powerfully helpful ways, right? “You’re such an angel to bring me my favorite plum pudding this holiday season….You’re such an angel to remember the anniversary of my child’s death and not be afraid to bring up the subject with me…You’re such an angel to put up with my whining and complaining and still come to visit me.”
These “angels” in our lives are able to live from soft hearts, from experiencing their own inner joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, or God within. They may not be religious people who would describe their inner selves as part of the Christ that Jesus points us toward, and that’s fine. But whether they know it or not, they are practicing heaven now by touching that joy that’s there, and letting it flow through them to the world around them.
“And heaven and nature sing….and heaven and nature sing…and heaaaaaaven…”
Ours is an experiencing God—not a God of the past nor the future as much as a God of the NOW. And this God is coming to us joyfully each moment, in each and every breath. Amen.
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