In case you’ve wondered how much sheer love can accomplish, here is a book to read: Same Kind of Different as Me, by Denver Moore and Ron Hall, published by Thomas Nelson, 2006. The book is a memoir and the “sheer love” is put forth by Hall’s wife, Deborah (also called “Miss Debbie”), who has a vision for helping the homeless through volunteering at a Fort Worth, TX, Union Gospel Mission.
Ron Hall is a wealthy art dealer who has grown accustomed to functioning amid rare art pieces, expensive toys, and extremely rich patrons. He can barely believe his ears when he hears his wife commit that he and she will spend every Tuesday serving food at the shelter, but he loves his wife enough to give it a try and at that early point he’s still hopeful that he can meet the commitment without actually coming into contact with the homeless. His wife has other plans, centered around one homeless man in particular, Denver Moore.
The book would be worth reading solely for the wondrous unfolding of Moore’s character, as we see him move from a stony-faced, poverty-stricken, illiterate man who earns respect with his fists, to a man who will stay awake all night in order to keep praying for “Miss Debbie” when she is dying of cancer. Even more than with Ron Hall, we see what can happen when unconditional love is showered upon an individual. No fictional account could have made believable the friendship that evolves between the two men.
Asked what message he hopes readers will get from the book, Denver Moore replied: “You never know whose eyes God is watching’ you through.”
A spiritual practice that has stood the test of many centuries — some say it goes back as far as the second century AD — is lectio divina, which means “divine reading” or “holy reading,” and which is intentional in inviting God to speak to us. The intentionality comes in how we approach the scripture or whatever text we are using for the purpose. Most think of using the Bible, but some use poetry or passages from the sacred writings of other religions. Rather than a once-through reading, followed by closing the book and going about our business, lectio divina is a prescribed approach that asks us to first settle in and pray for understanding and insight into the text and what it might hold for us, then we read the text (lectio) a few times, both silently and aloud, with special attention to any words or phrases that stand out to us. After this, we reflect on the text (meditatio) and how it applies to our lives. Oratio, the third step, involves consciously opening our hearts to God and contemplatio is resting in God and listening in stillness. The four-part practice is transformational in deepening our spiritual lives.
A friend of mine once worked her way through the Gospel of Mark, taking a few verses at a time, for an ongoing lectio divina practice. My tendency has been to take a single short verse, such as “Be still, and know that I am God” (a portion of Psalm 46:10) and “live” with it for a few days, returning to the awareness of it many times a day, until it begins to return to me when most needed as an offering of divine rest.
For an especially effective presentation and discussion of lectio divina including numerous suggestions of passages for the practice, I recommend the book Lectio Divina — The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer by Christine Valters Paintner, published in 2011 by Skylight Paths Publishing.
For most of us, renewal must be addressed every day. One does not “arrive” at a place of spiritual peace and simply remain there without regularly taking steps of renewal.
The reason this is true is everywhere around us: the continuous onslaught of noise, enticements, obligations, seductions, demands, and distractions that make up daily life. We have to find a way to come apart from all of that and renew the peace within us. Fortunately, the more steadily you go about this renewal, the more readily peace returns to you.
One tried and true method of renewal is to pursue daily spiritual practices, which can be almost any combination of silence or meditation, verbal prayer, sacred reading, sacred writing, art as worship, etc. Once you find a routine that works well for you, you will benefit most by daily attention to these activities, preferably at about the same time every day. Many people find that the first thing in the morning is best because it sets the tone and gets the day off on the right footing. It’s also helpful to find a short phrase or verse that particularly speaks to you, and call it to mind numerous times throughout the day.
In your daily renewal, as in all things, be intentional in asking for the Divine Spirit’s aid. You might even start with the direct request in Psalm 51:10, asking God to renew a right spirit within you.
Many years ago, I did a serious, ongoing study of A Course in Miracles, and still today lessons from those texts will come to mind. That tendency of spiritual texts to return to our memory and remind us of their wisdom is one of the best reasons to study them in the first place.
The passage that recurred to me recently is: “When you are not wholly joyous, it is because you have reacted with a lack of love to one of God’s creations.”
If you are feeling as though there is little joy in life, that the world is a dark place in which it is difficult to be happy, then here is a secret: Give up your grievances against all the people with whom you are upset. It doesn’t matter whether it is a large grievance or a very small one. It doesn’t matter whether the grievance is against your spouse, your parent, your neighbor, your co-worker, your boss, or a stranger; give them all up. If you are not wholly joyous, it is because you are reacting with an absence of love toward someone, and this attitude separates you not only from that person but also from God and the joyous part of yourself.
And a final point: the creation of God in question, toward whom you are reacting with an absence of love, might be yourself.