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  • cmcsullivan

“God is in control.” I hear this all the time from well-meaning people of faith. I hear it in sermons and read it on church signs.


I find it suspect.


Over six million people worldwide have died of Covid in the past two years. Russia is bombing Ukrainian homes and hospitals. Innocent Black men and women are killed on the streets and in their own homes. Poverty is on the rise. Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. And those are just this morning’s headlines, a tiny snapshot of six thousand years of human history characterized by sickness, violence, injustice, and endless suffering of the vulnerable.


This, I wonder, is God in control?


We want a God who is in control. This God would guarantee a sensible system of cause and effect – good leading inexorably to reward, evil intentions and means to just punishment. That would be satisfying, wouldn’t it? If the guilty were punished, and the innocent were rewarded?

Only life doesn't work that way. We know it doesn’t. People have always known. From ancient times, humans have tried to make sense of it, to invent a calculus of control. We make laws, perform sacrifices and rituals, all designed to impose order on the chaos of it all. We attribute to God this way of thinking. We say that God somehow wants things this way, or, we say that God let’s us go our own broken way toward damnation, if we so choose. None of this sounds to me like God is in control.


We speak of God as “almighty,” but as Good Friday approaches, I wonder, what if, what if, God is all-vulnerable? Look at the manger. Look at the cross. There is God in Jesus, the one we Christians confess to be the final, ultimate, revelation of who and how God is. Naked, crying out, helpless. God.


What if God’s way is not to control but to relinquish control? What if it is precisely in the relinquishment of control, that God is revealing how the world is saved? God in Christ models not almightiness or control, but loving self-abandonment. All God’s power, surrendered. All God’s innocence, denied. Love condemned to death.


Then the resurrection, revealing what’s been there all along: that vulnerability is our strength; that mercy is greater than guilt; that Love is more powerful than death.


Practice


- Find a quiet place to be. Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. Notice how it feels to be in your body, in this place, at this time.


- Receive God’s invitation to be together.


- Reflect on these questions:

  • What does it mean to you to say or hear, “God is in control”?

  • What does it mean to you as you consider God as almighty? As vulnerable?

  • Read Philippians 2:1-11. The hymn recorded in verses 6-11 is thought to be the oldest text in the New Testament. Spend some time reflecting on these verses. What do they reveal to you about God?

  • How might your insights inform your experience of Good Friday and/or Easter?

- When you have answered these questions in your thoughts or in writing, pause and again become present to yourself and to God. What do you notice?


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  • cmcsullivan

Updated: Feb 24

Fasting. Weeping. Mourning. Almsgiving. Sin. Repentance. Prayer. These are the themes of Lent. They sound dark and sad. They make us want to look away.


We shy from the lents of our lives. I want not to fast, but to feast, not weep and mourn, but rejoice. I want to hang on tightly to what is mine rather than to give it away. I find it easier to ignore my sin than to repent, and tempted to keep busy with everything else rather than to pray. Maybe you feel that way too.


Where does this get us? We lead lives that, by and large, go unexamined. We get up in the morning, work the day through, and sleep again. We have good moments, no doubt. We laugh, we love, we play. All too often, though, we don't. Instead we argue, we struggle, we worry. We feel overwhelmed by our tasks, lost in our responsibilities. We lay our heads down to rest, but find we can't.


We react by checking out. We watch T.V. or get lost in our phones. We call a friend to gossip. We drink. We eat too much. We shop. We make excuses for it all. Life is too hard. We need a break. Our lives continue to feel incomplete, sometimes even in the good times.


The truth is, Lent does not offer up something new; rather, it holds a mirror up to my life as it is. The remedy is not to turn away, but courageously to look at our own reflections.


Practice


- Find a quiet place to be. Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. Notice how it feels to be in your body, in this place, at this time.


- Even if you're not sure there's anyone listening, invite God to be present with you.


- Reflect on these questions:

  • When you consider the themes of Lent -- fasting, mourning, almsgiving, sin, repentance, prayer – do any attract you? Repel you?

  • When have you experienced a season of lent in your life journey, a time when you were called on to fast or mourn or give away what you would rather have kept? How did you respond?

  • What are the struggles in your life today? What are the joys?

  • How do you check out of your own life? When or under what circumstances? How do you feel when you reflect back on those times?

  • If you hold a mirror up to your life, what do you see looking back at you? How do you feel about it?

- When you have answered these questions in your thoughts or in writing, pause and again become present to yourself and to God. What do you notice?

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  • cmcsullivan

Here's one I've posted before, on an old blog, but I think it's worth repeating.


I know this is probably the last thing you want to think about.


Bear with me. This is going somewhere good, I promise. Here’s the question: What is one thing you don’t like about yourself? Just pick one. Maybe, like me, you’re thinking, “How will I choose?” It’s not important to choose the “right” thing. Any thing will do.


Here’s my example: I wish I were less judgmental. I’ve been paying attention lately, and when I tune into that channel, the channel in my head that broadcasts my judgments to me, I notice that it’s transmitting non-stop. Nothing is quite right. The weather is too cold. The meal didn’t come out the way I wanted it. The store is too crowded. The speaker is off-topic. And on and on. Non-stop.


This is not how I like to see myself. In fact, I hide most of these judgments. This is not how I want you to see me. I wish I weren’t like this.


Just as soon as I bring this awareness to mind – I’m judgmental. I wish I weren’t. – I start trying to fix it. I want to make myself stop thinking what I think, feeling how I feel. In effect, I’m saying to myself: Stop being you.


Of course, I can’t. And neither can you.


What is the thing you thought of, the thing you wish could be different about you? Notice how you feel when you think of this thing. What words would you use? Uncomfortable? Angry? Sad? Afraid? Frustrated? Amused? Resistant? How do you feel thinking about this thing about you?


I’ve got some bad news, and I’ve got some good news. The bad news you already know, so don’t worry. The bad news is that you can’t make this part of you magically go away any more than I will wake up tomorrow and find that KJUDGE radio in my head has suddenly gone off the air. Here’s the good news: Your job isn’t to change this thing about you. Your job is simply to notice it. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.


Okay, let’s not kid ourselves. The last think I want to do is to pay attention to how judgmental I can be. Maybe the last thing you want to do is to pay attention to this thing about you. Maybe you think you can’t, because it’s too painful. But you already have, remember? Just a minute ago, you thought about your thing. You felt that feeling. If you’re reading this sentence, you survived.


You already have more information. You know how it felt the last time you brought this thing about yourself to your awareness – frustrating or scary or funny or sad. You might not like that feeling, but sitting with the feeling is the key to transformation.


The feeling I feel when I realize how judgmental I can be is painful to me. I feel disgusted with myself. I tell myself, You know better, even though I can’t help that the thoughts keep coming. The thoughts themselves aren’t what keeps me stuck in them. What keeps me stuck is my unwillingness to face the pain I feel when I look at this part of myself.


The Invitation


We’re not going to pretend that this is fun or easy. But we can trust that when we bring the truth about ourselves to our consciousness, we’re aligning our attention with reality – which is to say, God. God already knows how judgmental I am. When I know that too, then God and I are encountering the reality of me in union. And God can change what I cannot.


The Practice

Notice something about yourself that you don’t like. God also knows this about you.

  • Notice how you feel when you think about this thing.

  • Sit with the feeling for as long as you can knowing that God is present with you in the feeling.

  • Notice whether anything inside of you – a feeling, a sensation – shifts as you pay attention.

  • Thank God and acknowledge your own courage in completing this practice.




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