Sacramental Approach to Intimacy

In the Christian tradition, Lent is known as a season of preparation, discipline and reconciliation. We face our mortality and the course corrections we need.  We exercise self-discipline so we will gain the freedom to change.  And we seek to reconcile ourselves to ourselves, to God and to others.  One practice for doing this is the sacrament of reconciliation.

A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  It is an action imbued with a spiritual reality.  Not all Christians recognize the same sacraments.  The two sacraments Jesus instituted during his life are baptism for the forgiveness of sins and communion for re-calling Christ.  Some Protestant denominations, Methodist and Presbyterian for example, recognize only these two as sacraments.  Baptists practice baptism and communion as outward expressions of faith but they do not believe they confer divine grace as sacraments.  Catholics, Anglicans, and some Orthodox believers, by contrast, recognize these and additional sacraments:  confirmation, ordination, marriage, confession and unction.

The sacrament of reconciliation entails naming one’s sins.  It involves counsel with the person hearing the confession in order to clarify wrongdoing and to assess faith and remorse.  When administered by a priest, the rite concludes with absolution—complete forgiveness and remission of the sins confessed—pronounced by the priest on behalf of God through the power vested in the priest by Jesus Christ for this specific purpose.  When given by a lay person, the rite concludes with an assurance of pardon.

To focus exclusively on forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, however, is to miss a larger point and the point of Jesus’ life.  Jesus came not only to forgive but also to show us a new way to relate to God (new Covenant) and to each other (kingdom of God on earth).  The point is relationship and a fresh start on life.

Obstacles on the way towards newness of life take shapes as varied as humankind itself, and this blog will explore ways to overcome some of them during Lent.  Many obstacles boil down to fear.  Some of us fear intimacy or the vulnerability interwoven with it.  Some of us resist the very relationship for which Christians believe we were created and that Jesus was sent to reclaim.  That resistance transfuses all our relationships.  It limits our ability to have intimacy with others and, indeed, even with self.

The sacrament of reconciliation is about confessing those obstacles in the way of our relationship with God, being freed from them and, most importantly, starting anew.  The sacrament is a celebration.  Although the remembrance of our wrong turns can be painful, reconciliation doesn’t end there.  It is followed by forgiveness and returning to God.  That returning is cause for great rejoicing.  “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”  (Luke 15:7)

Join the conversation.  Will you make room for God’s creative power to collaborate on your re-creation and renewal?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Accepting God’s Invitation to Intimacy

If I want to accept God’s invitation to intimacy, what do I actually do?  Intimacy in any relationship requires a willingness to reveal part of ourselves—not the image we project to the world but rather the inner truth of who we really are.   We often think of intimacy as revealing that truth to another, and we wonder, perhaps a bit anxiously, how the other person will respond to that truth.  It’s different with God.  Rather than revealing the inner truth to another, in intimacy with God, our inner truth is revealed to us.  And we wonder, with more than a bit of anxiety, how we will respond to that truth. 

Hence, many of us pause at the threshold of self-discovery.  I regularly write and teach about the power of introspection for spiritual growth, and yet, I find myself pausing, lingering, and hesitating before crossing that threshold.  Introspection is not easy, I imagine not even for the pure of heart.  There’s a Sufi story about Mullah Nasreddin who searches for the key to his house.  He looks frantically outside under a lamp post, and his neighbors come to his aid.  After hours of searching, one asks where he was when he lost the key.  Nasreddin replies he lost it in his house. The neighbor asks, “Why are you looking outside?” Nasreddin responds, “Because the light is better out here under the lamp.”

Like Nasreddin, we find it infinitely easier to analyze external conditions than to take a candid look inward.  Accepting the invitation to intimacy with God, however, requires us to leave the light of the lamp post to go deep into the darkness of our own houses.  What impedes our journey is less fear of what anyone else will think than fear of what introspection will bring to light for ourselves.  As we embark on introspection, the prospect of facing our less than best moments is uncomfortable.  For those who suspect that they won’t like (or can’t live with) the person they find, it is terrifying.  If I have negotiated an uneasy peace with my past, introspection might feel like opening Pandora’s box.  We fear changing, too.  Even if my present way of being causes conflict and suffering, I might fear giving it up or resist conceiving of a new way to be.

How does one get to the place where an honest and unflinching introspection feels safe?  Several spiritual traditions–some ancient and religious and some modern and secular—offer wisdom to address this question.  In observing the Christian tradition of Lent, this blog for the next six weeks will explore some of the obstacles that hold us back from intimacy with ourselves and with God, along with prayers and meditations for overcoming each one. 

Join the conversation.  What holds you back from crossing the threshold into intimacy and vulnerability?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

An Irresistible Invitation

Being made in the image of God means we are creative beings.  We are not created once, but keep recreating ourselves through many life stages.  Life circumstances can unfold in ways that nudge us off one course and onto another.  We all stand in need of occasional course corrections.  The most alert and observant among us will be the first to recognize the need.  Whereas Jews take inventory of needed course corrections in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, many Christians do so in the days leading up to Easter.   Next week marks the beginning of Lent, an occasion that invites us to ponder where we have veered off course so that we can expose those places to God’s creative power for healing, forgiveness and spiritual renewal. 

I want to dispel the notion that the practice of introspection is appropriate only for people who have veered way off course or made grave mistakes.  God extends an open invitation to intimacy to us all.  Every person who seeks to be in a more vigorous relationship with God will gain from a serious examination of what is getting in the way of that relationship.  Examining the 4 types of choices we have made is one way to approach this introspection. 

Maybe you are not sure where your life is going.  Maybe you’re lost or not sure if you are on the right course.  Maybe you’re certain you are on the wrong course.  Perhaps you’re stuck in doldrums, paralyzed by pain, shame, guilt, or wounds that won’t heal.  Maybe you are in so much pain you can’t wait for change, any change, to escape your current torment.  Or maybe you are comfortable with “the devil you know” and hesitate to believe in the transformation that is being offered to you.

Perhaps you are in need of healing after a rough patch of road, like a failed marriage or the death of a loved partner.  Being healed could give you freedom and energy to start a new stage of your life.  Or perhaps you anticipate a rough road ahead–a diagnosis, a trial or an ending–that begs for strength. 

Maybe you are in transition between life stages, stepping up to new responsibilities–marriage, parenthood, a new career direction–where the challenges call for new strength.  Or maybe you have already made significant positive changes in your life and you don’t want to rest on your laurels but to use your freedom to seek more awareness and intimacy with God.  Maybe your life path has been free of moral crisis and brokenness, and you simply wish to respond to the abundance of God’s grace in your life by drawing closer to him. 

Whatever has brought you to the place where you now stand, you are in receipt of an invitation.  You are invited to spiritual renewal.  The invitation places you at a crossroads.  You may choose to accept or to decline.  To accept is to be transformed, to experience life in a more joyful and freer way.  To decline is to leave unopened a great gift set before you. 

Join the conversation.  Will you rely on your own power or God’s power to change your course? 

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.