Tuesday, September 19, 2017

From Water to Wine—and our upcoming season at Spa for the Soul

Remember that? Remember how (check out John 2) Jesus went to a wedding and ended up turning water into wine? John begins that story with “On the third day…”. His narrative before that references several “next” days, but today I heard echoes from Genesis.  The book of John begins just as Genesis begins: “in the beginning…”, and makes it plain that Jesus was the Actor who brought creation into being. In Genesis, “on the third day” water and land were separated and God-Jesus created plant life, vegetation. From a world enshrouded with water to a world with the possibility of agriculture.
Turkish farmer at harvest

Which got me thinking about grapes, and how grapes make wine. At Cana, it was instantaneous water-to-wine at Jesus’ word. But from the intriguing book The Spirituality of Wine (Gisela H. Kreglinger, Eerdmans 2016), I learned that part of how grapes were created is that they just do turn into wine. Fermentation is a natural process.

Which got me thinking about Jesus’ saying that He is the true vine (John 15) and we who abide in Him are branches who, simply by abiding in Him, produce fruit. Vines produce grapes, which, in the natural course of things, turn into wine. Wine, elsewhere in the Bible, is an image of joy, of life and gladness. It is a Kingdom image. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.” (Psalm 104:15-16)

Which left me grateful. The One who created water, and grapes, and the possibility of wine, says that life in Him is like a fruitful branch on a vine that will bear fruit that He created in such a way that it will morph into something more rich and full without me knowing how to do that or having the power in myself to make it happen. A mystery of His life working in what I bear as I rest my life in Him.

Which brings me to Spa for the Soul, and our coming season on that quiet Turkish hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

October 10th will be our first availability as we again open our Kaş/Antalya home, that place we call Spa for the Soul, to anyone who desires a spacious place for rest, prayer, writing, art-making, or other pursuits that bear fruit in sheltered solitude and love.

As we move into our seventh season, what joy to reflect on who has come over the years:

·      Most of our guests come to pray and to listen for the Lord away from the crush of daily responsibilities and full schedules. To refresh their posture of abiding in Christ as the way of fruitfulness. Simple. No life-crisis. They desire shelter for rest and retreat.

·      Some guests come at a junction in life, to set apart time for consecrated decision-making.

·      Some come to study or to write, to work on special projects and preparation, to produce fruit of their labors.

·      A few take on a season of fasting.

·      Others have found Spa for the Soul a nourishing start to a sabbatical, to set the tone and find their stride.

·      There are those who flee crises and great suffering, turning to our place of shelter and safety to catch their breath, process, regain a measure of balance, and determine next steps.

·      And there is the occasional working team who come to rest and refocus together, to renew and clarify vision, purpose and deepen relationships.

There are those who seek support and direction for silent retreat. Others appreciate directed quiet days mixed in with days of recreation out of doors. Occasionally, we facilitate devotional retreats, and offer explorations of new disciplines of prayer.

Our guests come to stay 2 or 3 days, or ten, or even a month.

Our guests come to us from all over the world, and from nearby towns and cities. Lots of
nationalities, and the occasional one who does not speak English and stretches our Turkish.  

Spa for the Soul is a place to practice, and to refresh, a posture of abiding in Jesus as the source and reason of all real fruit.

For more information, and to arrange to come, contact me at jeribidinger@yahoo.com.
Cappadocian vineyard in winter

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Listeners that bridge the way to prayer

The image in my mind as I begin is of that ladder Jacob saw in his dream, the one that served as a bridge between heaven and earth. We see in that bridge a picture of Jesus, of how His incarnation, death and resurrection open a way for us to move between this life and eternity. Today I think, too, of the one who listens in the power of the indwelling Spirit, as one who serves the speaker as a bridge to prayer, whose role is to keep the way between the speaker and the Lord clear.

Once again it is Job and his friends who drew this to my attention. Earlier in this series, I wrote about Job’s friends and their “listening.” Three men who came to accompany Job, who stayed with him, who sat in silence in the ash heap, and then, when they finally opened their mouths in response to what they saw, were unwilling and perhaps unable to integrate Job’s story with their theology. Despite what they knew of Job and his life of generous integrity, they put their suffering friend in the “must have sinned” box. No compassion, no pity, no patience. No trust in Job’s integrity, in the faithfulness of Job’s walk with God. Preachy, accusatory responses loaded with falsehood and bad theology. God Himself would say to them (Job 42:7), “My anger burns against you…, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Only by Job’s prayer, would God withhold due penalty for their folly.

But how did their “listening,” which includes their responses to what Job said, impact Job? Specifically, did they, as listening, attending, responsive friends help Job to stay with his own prayer, to continue to pursue God? For that is the purpose of the discipline of spiritual listening. The listener attends to the speaker and to the Spirit so as to hold the way open, to support the ladder, if you will, so that the speaker finds whatever it is he or she needs to stay with the Lord. The listener is a companion, a helper, a supporter in the pilgrimage of another.

The Book of Job is far too long to work through in detail, but here is what strikes me about the impact of Job’s friends on his prayer, especially when I read through the dialogue between Job and the three quickly:

·      When Job first opens his mouth after seven days of silent mourning with his three friends (Job 3), he pours out raw pain and emotion, and deep confusion that God would have so “hedged him in.” Job’s words. It is not direct prayer, but it is honest, messy, unfiltered, vulnerable sharing. Countered, from the first response, with instruction rather than empathy, heavy spiritual-ese, and bad theology in the suggestion that Job must be hiding some secret sin.

·      In Job’s second speech (Job 6-7) he continues to complain against God and to pray for death, an end to his suffering. He even adds his unkind friends to his list of woes. He argues with them a bit, and invites debate in 6:24-30, and in chapter 7 mixes debate and justification of his complaints with prayer.

·      Job’s third speech (Job 9-10) mulls the vast difference between humanity and God, and his inability to touch God’s purity. He holds, however, to his blamelessness.  Job 9:25-10:22 is direct prayer wherein Job is tormented by confusion, and oppressed by God’s might and His silence. “WHY?” is his cry to God.

·      Still arguing, and now heckling his friends, Job’s fourth speech (Job 12-13) resounds with logic and observation of God’s character and ways revealed in nature and life. From 13:13 onwards, his argument melds back into prayer, this time a prayer to confront God in person, to argue his case, even as he continues to plead for death and the peace of oblivion.

·      In Job 16, Job takes a fifth run, crying out against his miserable friends. He speaks yet again of his pain, his horrific story. He does not pray.

·      In fact, we don’t see Job pray again as long as the conversation with his friends continues. He argues, he reasons, he begs these men for mercy. He cries his understanding of God: “I know my Redeemer lives….” But in the sixth through the ninth and final response to their reasoning, he speaks little of his personal misery and desire. His friends, he has learned, don’t want to know, don’t want to look at what is. And he only talks about God, never to Him.

What has happened? These friends, these men who chose to come alongside Job in his story, set up barriers to prayer. All genuine listening truncated by their revulsion and their bad theology, they worked to sort Job out, to set him straight, to teach and push him into what they felt so sure he needed to do.

In doing so, they failed on so many levels.
·      They failed to look closely at reality that contradicted what they wanted God to be like.
·      They failed to keep to what they knew of Job’s life and character.
·      They failed to give Job dignity, to approach him with humility.
·      They failed to realize that God does not need protecting from human anger and confusion.
·      They looked for pious prayer rather than real prayer.
·      They failed to believe that God knew what He was doing.

Their failure in all of these things made a failure to truly listen inevitable, inescapable. They came to help Job. I believe that. We who desire to practice the discipline of spiritual listening want to do the same.

Lots of failure in this story. At the heart of it, for me, is the failure to understand that our best role as listeners is to simply support the ladder, hold the bridge open, and then do our best to stay out of the way and let God speak and do as He purposes and pleases.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Qualities of listening as evidence of Spirit-indwelling

Consider Peter. He’s the outspoken disciple, the one we feel we know best because he talks the most and because he says the things we would say if we had the guts. He talks the most in the gospels, and there we know him as the one crazy for Jesus who always gets it wrong. He talks the most in Acts (leaving the later-come Paul aside), and there he speaks to crowds clearly and effectively, stands courageous before the authorities, and sets out new understandings of the gospel’s reach couched in wisdom gained through prayer and visions.

We marvel at the change. We say, “That’s the difference Pentecost makes, the evidence of the transformation that is possible with the Spirit’s indwelling of believers.” If we are honest, we also wonder: if that is so, why are we not all so changed? But that is a subject for a different conversation.

Spiritual listening, listening as a spiritual discipline, has had my attention lately. Partly because I’ve been doing a lot of it, and have been much in prayer for the grace and practices to do it in a way that brings forth fruit. And partly because, as I read and pray with scripture, things keep coming to mind that I have not noticed much before. Like Peter, and the quality of his listening to Jesus.

Peter in the gospels

Peter is all over the place. He grudgingly agrees to put down his nets at Jesus’ suggestion, then pushes back from Him because Peter knows his sinfulness. He wants to walk on water. He speaks without asking to claim that Jesus, of course, pays the temple tax. Let’s take a quick look at four vignettes.

Peter, in Matthew 16, declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus responds with the enigmatic “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” In the very next paragraph, Peter pushes back from Jesus’ talk of suffering, death and resurrection: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

In Matthew 17, Peter is among the three chosen to witness the Transfiguration. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

This fresco makes me think of the Transfiguration somehow

In Matthew 26, Jesus foretells Peter’s denial. Peter’s response: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away…. Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”

Immediately following these words, Jesus asks weary, confused Peter to wait with him and watch for an hour in prayer. Peter doesn’t say anything this time. He just goes to sleep.

What strikes me today in all of these is the quality of Peter’s listening to Jesus. Peter’s words make clear that he loves Jesus, that he is willing to do anything for Jesus. He is there with Jesus. He hears what Jesus says, and what is said about Him. He declares Jesus as Christ, Son of God. But he, in each instance, makes clear by what he says and does that he does not listen to Jesus. Oh, how we identify with Peter in these moments!

Why does Peter respond as he does? He acknowledges Jesus as Lord, but his own sense of self, of how things are supposed to happen, of what he has to contribute to Jesus remains strong. He continues to live in the old paradigm where Messiahs overthrow the Romans, success is marked by fame and power, and the inner circle adds value through advice and action. He hears, he attends to Jesus’ words, but feels free to disagree. Perhaps we could say that Jesus is his lord, but not The Lord.

Peter in Acts

Post-pentecost Peter’s talk has an entirely different flavor. The unschooled, impetuous fisherman speaks bold and wise truth to crowds. He stands unflinching before authorities and calmly refuses to forsake his proclamation of the gospel. He watches, listens, and speaks to Jesus in his roof-top vision of Acts 10. He’s still Peter: in his roof-top prayer he pushes back from God’s repulsive command with the cry, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean!” But he no longer makes his personal revulsion, his heart-resistance, the end of the conversation. Three times the vision is repeated, and afterwards Peter sits in perplexity. But he remains open, it seems, for when confronted with Cornelius’ request, he applies what God has said and walks into a whole new knowledge of God’s heart for all humanity.

We say that the difference in Peter is due to the indwelling of God’s Spirit following Christ’s death and resurrection; that, from Pentecost, believers don’t simply follow Christ, but are indwelt by His transforming presence that enables us to, in the measure of our surrender to it, live out Jesus’ life in our mortal bodies.

What strikes me today about that is that a big mark of Peter’s transformation is the quality of his listening. It has become spiritual listening, listening enabled by the Spirit-life within Peter.

What are the markers of this quality of listening?

·   Peter no longer sees himself or what he might bring to the situation as necessary to Jesus. He is free to listen rather than to jump up and do, as he offered to at the transfiguration.

·   Peter no longer believes he knows his heart better than Jesus knows it. Sweeping assertions of love and loyalty are replaced by matter-of-fact, step-by-step offerings of power and grace through words focused entirely on Jesus’ story and Jesus’ power to accomplish whatever will happen in that moment.

·   Though he has not entirely given up his habit of contradicting Jesus, he now listens to how Jesus responds to his objection, and he remains alert and watchful for how the new paradigm suggested by Jesus might apply to the present moment. I love this, as it speaks to prayer as dialogue, and to our freedom in prayer to be honest about what we find too repulsive, too hard. But it shows this powerful freedom in transformational context, in right conversation with a loving, understanding Lord.

·   He stays with his prayer. He is found on the roof-top praying. However he is proceeding, he is prepared to notice and to listen when God speaks. He stays with the prayer long enough to absorb something of the power of what has been revealed, long enough to prepare himself to act in accordance with what God has shown him as he prayed.

Much on my heart as I consider how Peter was so transformed by the indwelling of the Spirit is what that has to say in our own life and experience. Today I wonder how much of the real transformation comes about in a new ability to lean into, to listen for, what the Spirit of Jesus has to tell, and then to sit with it long enough to let it transform our response, our actions in this world.