spirituality

November Prayers | "Prayers are tools...for being and becoming." Eugene Peterson

Greetings, friends.

Like many of you, the words and life of Eugene Peterson have helped expand my imagination of a life lived well through faith. Peterson, who died last month, taught us to 'live eucharist,' to embody in our fleshly, daily lives the love and artistry of Jesus. He wrote that "prayers are tools not for doing or getting but for being and becoming." And within those words is the call to indwell our prayers, to listen to the still voice of God. He had a habit of memorizing the psalms and poetry, to literally hold the words within his imagination. 

How could our prayers transform us more into the likeness of the resurrected Christ? What habits might cultiviate a posture of listening and becoming, more than doing and getting?

Watch this short film with Eugene and Jan Peterson at their home in Montana.

GIVE THANKS WITH US FOR:

Our Capps Lecture with Jonathan Merritt. 

A successful board retreat.

PLEASE PRAY WITH US FOR:   

A dear friend whose father just committed suicide.

Jerry Capps, for physical healing and health.

Alison - for work on her dissertation.

Molly's dad as he struggles with a long term illness.

Our dear friend Ginny as she fights cancer.

Unspoken prayer requests

Share your own petition  

Seek First. Reflections by Fellow, Logan Haley '18

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 – Matthew 6:33

I feel as though I could let words of Jesus in the above verse just speak for itself. However, I suppose I should elaborate on how special and sweet, how comforting and challenging these words really are. They certainly have been that weighty for me, and I pray that they sink down deep into your soul as you read them. Take a minute… meditate on those words. Let them refresh you like a warm sip of your favorite hot drink. If you are looking for a simple life motto to live by, my hope is that perhaps this is what you can cling to.

When I reflect on my time at UVa (which I know many of us fourth-years are doing right now too), I think back through four years of fond memories: late night Cookout runs with friends, studying for exams while eating snacks at the Stud, laughing with housemates over ridiculous shenanigans, fall retreats, praying and reading Scripture in a garden by the Lawn at sunset, hugs from Miss Kathy, brother-sister small group hikes up Humpback… Then, I remember the many difficult moments as well: the nights of anxiety and immense stress; entire seasons of loneliness and depression, and the mornings where I would wake up wondering how I would get through the day. 

No matter the memory, I am overwhelmed with a recurring theme: God’s grace. His favor, which frankly, I don’t deserve. Yet there it is. God's grace is a common thread through every one of my lived experiences, even when I am completely unaware of it. Even in this moment, I zoom out to realize that I am… alive. I exist. I am breathing with the breath God breathed in me. Hundreds of millions of alveoli in my lungs are participating in gas exchange, while my heart’s ventricles and atria pump blood together in perfect harmony over 100,000 times a day to distribute oxygen to my body. (Okay, the pre-med geek in me is showing…) There are tens of thousands of daily miracles occurring to sustain our physical bodies. I wonder, how many more daily miracles sustain my soul

I so often take for granted just how good the Good News really is. When I think about it though… I was utterly dead in my sin and rebellion, which left me longing and empty; and now, I’m alive in Jesus. Because God Himself was willing to humble Himself to become a human, live a perfect life, and die the humiliating death I deserved, I am able to live in restored shalom (true peace and wholeness) with my Creator, presently and for eternity after death. Not only that – but we, as broken and flawed individuals, now get to partner with that same Creator in the greatest redemptive story of all time, sharing this reckless God-love with others. 

Wait. Stop. Really? What the heck! That is such good news! If you stop reading this post right now, but took away just how good the simple Gospel is, it would be more than enough.

I am reminded of the words my friend Jonah once told me: “The Gospel isn’t the old news, it’s the good news.”The Gospel is not simply a message that we hear once, but rather a daily reality of which we get to be a part. The Gospel is past, present, and future. The Gospel is Jesus, nothing else. Following Jesus is not a one-time decision, but a choice we get to make each morning when we wake up. We have the privilege of making the radical choice each day to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And this is something that recently has meant a lot to me. My friend Abigail put it this way: “Choosing to wake up and follow Jesus each day is always a radical decision – just as radical as the day you decided to follow Him.” My friends, the pressure is off! We don’t have to try to perform big acts of righteousness for God to get Him to love us. The Apostle Paul said at the end of Romans 8 that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. The Gospel really is that simple. Yet, it is the most profound reality in the world, taking an entire lifetime to understand and then live out.

Having a solid grasp of who God is and who we are will help us in every nook and cranny of our lives. Once we know who we are, we don’t have to worry about what to do, because we will naturally move in our identity as sons and daughters of the King. What is it, then, that makes Matthew 6:33 so significant? 

My second year, I was a part of a small group of guys that each latched onto a catchphrase throughout the year – “Seek First.” It became a way of life. Whenever we were trying to align our hearts with God or grow closer to Him as a group, we would encourage each other by asking, “How are we seeking first?” Whether it was relationships, friendships, academics, life goals, future plans, personal struggles, it seemed to always apply to everything: “I just need to seek first.” I have often pondered why the words “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” centered me so much.

Have you ever had too much to do, and not enough time to do it? Or have you ever done all you need to do, but still felt worried about how something would turn out? In most modern American contexts, especially in academic or professional settings, sorting out our priorities (plural) is a common practice due to hectic schedules and time constraints. What if it were simpler, and we had only one priority (singular) – the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? This way, our faith isn’t reduced to a To-Do List, perpetually checking off boxes like the Pharisees did. Matthew 6:33 comes right at the end of a passage where Jesus teaches about not worrying. To detach us from the subtle, yet heavy undertow of materialism, and to derail us from our cyclical patterns of worry, Jesus points us to the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. Jesus speaks to the Kingdom value of simplicity.[1]

Immediately, it is easy for me to counter Jesus’ words with thoughts like, “What about making sure I fulfill your exact calling on my life?” or, “What if I don’t make enough money?” or maybe, “I have been seeking first your kingdom and righteousness – look at all that I am doing for you!” (I don’t know if those thoughts resonate with you, too). But Jesus’ words have this way of debunking the lies and fears within me, working their way into each circumstance.

When I think of His kingdom, my mind quickly jumps to the external – how Jesus impacted others around Him for God’s glory. When I think of His righteousness, I think of the internal – how Jesus related to the Father, and of His character. Perhaps this is a helpful distinction in our pursuit of living this verse, but perhaps not. The question still remains: How exactly does one go about seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness? Is it to prioritize serving the poor and administering justice for the oppressed? Is it to serve in a church, or join a small group? Is it all about reading the Bible, prayer, and worship? Or maybe it’s to proclaim to everyone the good news about Jesus, and to make disciples. That must be it right? Theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his book Christian Discourses,responds to this by saying: “No, thou shalt first seek God’s kingdom.But then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is firstto seek God’s kingdom.”[2]

Seeking firstis more of a heart posture – a way to be. We must remember we were not created as “human doings,” but rather as “human beings.” What a relief this is! No longer is our faith only about doing all the right things, making sure each area of our life is aligned with God’s will – like trying to keep a bunch of cats in a full bathtub (which wouldn’t work very well…) If we align our hearts with His heart, we will naturally move in His will. 

However, this is perhaps the hardest part of seeking first: it’s dying to all our preconceived notions of what we think His kingdom and righteousness look like, and listening to God Himself to direct our steps. Then, and only then, will our actions be able to align with Matthew 6:33. God’s great irony (exemplified through the crucifixion and the resurrection) is: the extent that we die to ourselves is the extent that we truly live. Jesus taught this concept – humility leads to exaltation, and exaltation leads to humility (Matthew 23:12).

In my heart I have wrestled with God just as Jacob did over this whole concept. Matthew 6:33 challenges me to consider my own heart posture in everything – in putting others first, in serving the poor, in giving voice to the voiceless, in racial reconciliation, in disciple-making and reaching the lost, as well as in using my vocation and the opportunities God has given me for His glory. Having meaningful discussions this year in the Horizons Fellows Program about each of these things and more has made me more aware of that which God calls us out ofand calls us to. And it drives me back all the more to Matthew 6:33. I’ve learned so much from our Horizons Fellows community. One of the biggest things is how God’s will for our lives is not as much a linear path as many see it, but more of a green pasture to dance within – the type in which David was made to lie down (Psalm 23:2). 

Hopefully you find this as an encouragement in whatever season of life you find yourself in. For graduating fourth years especially, who may still be figuring out their next steps, or having doubts about the plans they have made, I hope this meets you right where you are. Though God may not bring perfect clarity about our futures, He brings something better – trust. Ultimately, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness is the chief means for the liberation of our souls. Though nothing is more challenging, nothing is simpler either. Though nothing demands more of you, nothing will be as rewarding either. It was the way we were created to live. Seek God, and all the rest will fall into place.

 

 

[1]Wallace, Mary. The Live Dead Journal | Day 3 – Simplicity: Seek First His Kingdom. (Salubris, 2016.)

Edited by Dick Brogden.

[2]Kierkegaard, Søren. Christian Discourses(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940) 322-344.

Holy Week: The things that make for peace

And throwing their garments on the colt, they set Jesus upon it. And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road. 

The disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" 

… And when Jesus drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!"     (Luke 19)

"Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord," the cry goes up.  People throw palm branches into the road in front of him as Jesus approaches, a poor man's ticker-tape parade.

Around a bend, there suddenly is Jerusalem. Jesus draws back on the reins. Crying disfigures his face. "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace." 

The things that make for peace.  We do not know these things, Jesus says, and God knows he's right. The absence of peace within our own skins no less than within our nations testifies to that. 

So as Holy Week begins, let us name instead the one who is himself the Prince of Peace.

Jesus is our only hope: the hope that finally by the grace of God the impossible will happen. 

Despair and hope. They travel the road to Jerusalem together, as together they travel every road we take ---despair at what we bring down upon our own heads and hope in him who travels the road with us and for us.  

Hope in the King who approaches every human heart like a city. And it is a very great hope as hopes go and well worth all our singing and dancing and sad little palms because not even death can prevail against this King and not even the end of the world, when end it does, will be the end of him and of the mystery and majesty of his love. 

Blessed be he.            (adapted from Frederick Buechner)

Mystery & Doubt. Reflections by Horizons Fellow Ben Noble '18

“No one gets a 100 on the quiz. No one.”

I sank back into a chair in my advisor’s office on a Thursday afternoon during my Third Year. “No one gets a 100 on the quiz.” My advisor’s words echoed in my mind and hit like a truck. Still, I knew that they were true. He and I had been discussing religion, death, the afterlife—light conversation for a late-August day.

Over the past year, I had been trying to make sense of a faith that no longer felt feasible to me. The months leading up to that conversation with my advisor had been characterized by struggle and skepticism. I had quit going to church. I had stopped praying. I had put Henri Nouwen on the bookshelf and picked up Christopher Hitchens instead.

Retrospectively, a lot of my doubt was born out of emotional resentment. At the time, I felt like I had been hurt by Christians. In response, I nurtured animosity towards the Church, and, over time, towards God. However, unresolved bitterness and anger eventually turned into intellectual doubt. I transitioned from being angry with God to questioning whether God was even real.

How could I know, with assurance, that the Bible and all the stuff it said about God and humanity and history and morality were undeniably true? Moreover, was it worth following even if it was true?

Having sat on these thoughts for some time, there was a brief period during the summer before my Third Year when I considered myself an atheist. I thought that giving up on belief would make me feel free—free from resentment, free from ignorance, free from God. However, rather than feeling free, I felt an internal emptiness instead. Life felt grey and dull. I felt alone, too—more alone than I had ever felt.

Fast-forward a few months.

Time passed and I eventually came around to being open to faith again—though not without some low points and a substantial amount of existential anxiety. Still, even though I was open to belief, I couldn’t shake my feelings of uncertainty and I didn’t have a strong sense of confidence about any particular belief. Despite my doubt, I wanted desperately to trust in something again.

I walked into my advisor’s office on that day hoping that he would speak some magical words that would inspire me and give me a sense of hope once more. I walked out feeling neither a greater sense of clarity nor a renewed hope.

So what’s happened since the day that I left that office?

Although I would like to say that a couple weeks passed by and then, out of no where, God arrived on a white horse and I had a profound moment of conversion where my doubt was put to rest and my faith restored, I can’t say with any honesty that that was the case. Nearly a year and a half has elapsed since that meeting with my advisor and I still have yet to experience that “Eureka!” moment where everything is reinstated as it once was.

A lot has changed for me since then. The time in between has brought new hopes, more doubts, fresh experiences, moments of deep sadness, and moments of unparalleled beauty. Still, God has yet to ride in on a white horse and answer every single one of my questions. Maybe He will, some day, but I’m not so sure that it’s a safe bet.

God didn’t show up in the way that I was hoping, but despite this, I have found God in ways that are deeper and richer than I could ever have imagined on that day in August 2016. The ways in which I experience God are nuanced and unique and everywhere. I see God in a poem or song, from time to time. I see God in a Sunday drive through the Blue Ridge. I experience God when I have a really rich, deep conversation with a friend over a cigarette (Sorry Mom!) Most of all, however, I experience the reality of God through others. The moments when I see and experience the way that people truly love and care for each other and for me are the moments when I’m convinced, beyond of shadow of doubt, that God is real and alive and present.

This may sound a bit esoteric. I won’t disagree with that. My times of doubt have created an uncertainty about God in ways that can be frustrating, but the same uncertainty that causes me distress has also made space for me to experience the mystery of God. In many ways, the reality of uncertainty has shown me that my advisor was correct when he said, “No one gets a 100 on a quiz.” At the same time, this uncertainty has made God indefinable and illimitable and has animated life with mystery and excitement in ways that I didn’t think were possible.

In an essay entitled, “Circles,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” I used to desire certainty about life. I wanted to have all the answers. I wanted to understand God and, in a way, I wanted to control God. Now, I think about things differently. I’m more at ease with the fact that I won’t ever know and understand everything. Now, I’m invigorated by the fact that God is far beyond my understanding. Rather than seeking to be the master of knowledge and truth, I tend to think of a life lived well as, like Emerson writes, “an apprenticeship to the truth.”

Each day brings with it the possibility of seeing the world and experiencing God in myriad ways that are new and fresh and exhilarating. Of course, this brings the possibility that yesterday’s way of understanding may require reconsideration and perhaps abandonment. In my experience, the “apprenticeship to truth” often entails a constant expansion and reconsideration of what I considered true one year ago or last week or even yesterday. I’m not going to suggest that this pursuit of truth doesn’t pose the possibility of anxiety and doubt and despair—that’s an inherent risk. Uncertainty is scary and there often isn’t an easy solution to dealing with it. However, despite the uncertainty and fear that the journey towards truth may bring, I am convinced whole-heartedly that the journey is vitally and comprehensively worthwhile. At the end of the day, what I think makes this way of navigating life invaluable is that it creates an opportunity for growth—personal growth, intellectual growth, and spiritual growth.

To me, for the time being, this is far better than getting a 100 on the quiz.

 

God in the whirlwind. Reflections by Perkins Fellow Dominique DeBose '19

Lately I've been feeling like I'm in the middle of a whirlwind*. A disorienting but comforting peacefulness at the core, accompanied by an eerie awareness of the fact that I am surrounded by gales of ungraspable uncertainty... I'm not sure if I should be encouraged or fearful. My vision is clouded... although what vision? The winds protect me, I suppose, or maybe limit me? I want to give my all to something, I want to go out into the world. But I don't know where. I have this mind-eating anxiety about what God's will for me is and a heart-aching desire to pursue it. Yet still, in light of all of my endless interests and passions, I refuse to think of God's will as a time-sensitive bus that I stand in wait for at a specific stop on the corner, worried that if I'm not paying attention, it will pass me by, and I will be left stranded. Instead, her will is of a daily state of mind. So, in that, I ask for WISDOM, FOCUS, PEACE, and RETENTION to go on living each day at a time. I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know where I am going. And that's okay. 

I've come to realize that God is too good to me to let me truly miss out on anything. A tolerant mother who just wants the best for me. Though in the midst of the whirlwind, I get frustrated and angry wondering why she speaks in indecipherable metaphors instead of clear answers, irritated because I cry out and hear no answer. I get annoyed because I thought she was good. But who am I but a child? Who am I to doubt her goodness that has already been so prevalent and revealed to me thus far. Life-giving friends and all the laughter and other good medicines they come with, community, and family that I would be a fool to not express my gratitude towards is what has been given to me. I am learning to live each day at a time, with all of its confusions, frustrations, and laughs. And each day at a time, I will continue to seek God's will with wisdom, focus, peace, and retention. 

*whirlwind: also, used in similes and metaphors to describe an energetic or tumultuous person