Introduction

The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

July 6, 2008

Introduction

The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place.

The NIV translation of merchab in Psalm 31:8 is particularly lovely. “You have set my feet in a spacious place.”

Our lives are incredibly cluttered. We fill our homes with stuff; we fill the hours of our days with activity, noise and pressure. Even when we go on vacation, we often trade one form of busyness for another series of frenetic activities and distractions. More always seems to be better and enough is never enough.

Thomas Merton once pointed out that the root of the word “vacation” is the Latin word “vacare,” meaning “to empty.” Strangely, apart from vacation, most of the associations with “vacare” have negative overtones. We talk of a vacant lot and mean something useless. We call a person vacuous and it is not a complement. But a vacation is something most people contemplate with enthusiasm.

A vacation is intended to be an emptying time. It is intended to be a time when we create space for ourselves to live, space for ourselves to breathe. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of Psalm 31:8 says, “you gave me room to breathe.” Too often we do not give ourselves “room to breathe” in our daily lives. We rush from one thing to the next; we never stop, just to stop.

This blog is intended to be a stopping place. I want to stop. I want to breathe. And I want to see what emerges from that stopping place. I want to discover what is there when I give myself space, or, perhaps better, when I enable myself to be in the “spacious place,” that in fact has already been provided for me by God. What emerges in this spacious place may be of no interest to anyone other than myself. But, whether or not what I find in that “spacious place” is of interest to anyone else is not of primary importance.

I know a person who is a wonderful photographer. He walks all over the city taking pictures. He almost never shows the results to anyone. I don’t think he even looks at them very often himself. He says the point of his photography is not so much the photograph he produces. The point of his photography is to cause him to see. Without the discipline of a camera there are so many beautiful and mysterious things we rush past and never notice. The camera causes the photographer to stop. The camera causes the photographer to pay attention, to notice, to look more carefully.

This blog is like my friend’s camera. It is an instrument that is intended to encourage discipline. It is an attempt cause myself to stop and notice, to notice what is going on in my inner life, in my relationship to the world around me and to God. It may seem self-indulgent to post such reflections on the internet in the form of a blog. But, I know myself well enough to know that, without the external motivation of the possibility these reflections might benefit someone other than just myself, I will write much less often and probably less carefully. So this blog exists to help me open to God and to life.

This blog is also called “Reflections on the Christ Journey.” This subtitle reflects my conviction that the purpose of my life is contained in my journey in and with Christ. It is my relationship to the inner hidden secret reality of God dwelling in my innermost being that gives significance purpose and meaning to my existence. Jesus Christ is the focus of my identity and my reality.

On the surface it might appear that I could be defined by the fact that I have been Heather Page’s husband for thirty-one years, or that I am the father of two grown daughters and one glorious little grand-daughter. My life might seem to be defined by the position I have held for the past fifteen years as the Rector of St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Oak Bay or that I have written a few books. But none of these functions I perform is who I am.

I am a being in whom dwells the presence of the living God known to me in Jesus Christ. I identify with Paul’s exalted claim that “we have this treasure in clay jars.” (II Corinthians 4:7) I am a treasure container. The treasure I contain is the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling within me. I did not create this treasure; it is a gift. I am not responsible for my existence; it is a gift. It is just there, given to me, a gracious inexplicable gift, a fit I did not earn, a gift for which I am not worthy.

Those things I do with my life all function on the physical horizontal dimension of time. They are merely the activities in which I am engaged, the situations my life encounters. I am much more than this “flatland” vision of reality. I am a multi-dimensional being, created to live now in eternity. I exist to dwell within the fullness of God and to allow the fullness of God to come to expression in and through my life. I find this fullness of God most deeply expressed in the person of Jesus the Christ. I believe that, as I surrender myself to the Spirit of Christ, his Spirit will live more fully and express itself more completely in and through my life. The Spirit of Christ may be expressed in the way I preach a sermon, the way I talk to a stranger, or the way I tie my shoes. The means of expression is much less important than the expression itself.

If Christ’s Spirit is going to be expressed in and through my life, I must make space for his Spirit. I must be willing to let go of the clutter and chaos that fill so much of my life. For me personally, this means a regular practice of silent prayer. Heather and I are both practitioners and teachers of Centering Prayer. For the past fifteen years we have been deeply committed to the ridiculous discipline of sitting silently doing absolutely nothing except surrendering to God for twenty minutes twice a day. We use this time day after day after day to express to God our deepest intention to let go of everything in our lives that is anything less than God. This practice reorients our lives around their true centre.

When we sit in silent prayer we are encountering at a cellular level that our lives are a gift. There is nothing we need to do except receive that gift. The purpose of my life is to breathe. When I start from this place of absolute openness and receptivity, I will act and live with a new consciousness.

This practice of silent prayer is not an escape from reality. It is not an avoidance of the confused mess of life. Centering Prayer is a constant return to reality. It is a daily reaffirmation of the most fundamental truth about my life. I am a child of God. My identity lies in Christ, not in anything I do, own, or achieve. When I am clear about my identity, the rest of my life and my activities will come from that deep inner place of light and life in which the flow of God’s Spirit is my strength and my guide throughout my life.
This is the only journey there is. Everything emerges from this place of rest and trust in Christ. I am not interested in how to make my life more successful, how to build the church, or even how to create world peace and harmony. I might love to do all these things; but none of them is the motivating force behind my life. The motivating force behind my life is the Christ Journey in which I live and breathe in the presence of God and allow all life to open from the place of presence and love that is God’s Spirit.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice name ... you can now be Christopher the rechav-opec (open-minded)! Dale/Ya'el

Rob H said...

Finally I read why Christopher started down this road and guess what?
A few months ago I told a friend, this is his own place to vent, to explore, to share and be himself. Years ago I did a study and incorporated a theme to a Men's retreat.
It was the way of our Desert Fathers, our monks in the wilderness, their study of and day to day life with Christ.

It is amazing how we try all kinds of things to learn about God and His creations, His word and teachings.
We can spend all our time in study and forget to just walk with Christ and his creations that are all around us. This includes who we pass by that day, our spouse, our children, our animals.
It took awhile to know that those are my real riches on earth and one day Christ will welcome me home.

barrybryan said...

Dear Christopher,

As I have never used, or responded to a Web Log /Blog before, I'll post my comment on your " The Lessons of a Broken Church" included in today's (Mar 8, 2009), pamphlet to your blog Introduction.

Thank you for your thoughful comment on "What is happening in the Anglican Church".

I was taken back by your comments, "The problem is not theology", and "It is not biblical interpretation."

My understanding of the origins of the problems in the Anglican church are precisely that, namely: 1) Biblical interpretation,and 2)theology.

In response to the four points discussed in your insert:
1. I need to listen;
2. Church does not exist to give you a warm feeling of belonging;
3. I may not be right; and
4. God calls me to stay open,

I suggest that you and I, and anybody else who may be interested, "Come now and let us reason together, as stated by Isaiah (1:18), either in a new "The Lessons...Church" blog, or more preferably, in a small discussion group at St. Philips. Your thoughts. YBIC, barry

Bob MacDonald said...

Christopher - three psalms share your large space 18:19, 31:8, 118:5. Psalm 18 repeats the word 'complete' 5 times. It shares words with psalm 31 in the refuge/mercy word field which itself has great emphasis on these words. Psalm 118 we sing from every week in the Benedictus. Translating the psalms has been my passion for nearly 2 years. Now I have started on Job!

I really am delighted to have been pointed to a fellow-Victorian blogger. Our shared history goes back a long way. When my wife attended St Barnabas in the 60s, your father was the rector.

CHRISTOPHER said...

Bob,

Thank you for your lovely comment.

I am partial to Psalm 18:19 particularly for the criterion in the second half of the verse in which the Psalmist identifies the reason he believes God has brought him "into a broad place." It is not becuase the Psalmist has been so good, or faithful, or spiritual. The Psalmist has been brought into a "broad place" because the Lord "delighted in" him. It was the Lord's doing, not the Psalmist's doing.

Job is a fascinating example of exactly the opposite process. Job's "counsellors" fill the space with their advice, their rationalizations for Job's sorry state, and their perceptions of the character and nature of God. They start out so well, "They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for thwy saw that his suffering was very great." (Job 2:13) But it was downhill from there. After this they fill every available inch of space with their words. They get in the way of grace and hinder the process of healing.

People long for space, openness, acceptance, room to roam around and find themselves. I pray we in the church may be such a spacious place for others, as I believe God is for all people.

Bob MacDonald said...

Yes on Psalm 18:19 (20 in the Hebrew text) - I see I used the term extraordinary space in my translation here.

I tend to agree with you about Job - but I am holding back on my opinions of those comforters till I finish translating the whole thing (assuming I can!)

libby said...

Your comments on God's 'spacious place' as seen in the Psalms strikes a cord with me. When I first heard this phrase I was captured by the kindness of God in knowing and being able to provide just the right sort of space to meet our needs. I now have a seaside home which seems to allow people to find this place with "room to breathe" and to de-clutter. I continue to search for the right name for my home that holds something of this meaning.

In regards to our need to unclutter our lives, there is a short poem by Jean Dabielou titled 'Vacare Deum'. I found it in Esther de Waal's book, 'Lost in Wonder.

Christopher said...

Libby thank you for your lovely comment. My new blog can be found at http://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/

Bruce said...

Christopher,

I read your blog post about "a spacious place" with interest. God has recently arranged in my own life a retreat to this spacious place, and in my time with Him he gave me Psalm 31:8 to explain this to me.

Many people seek "space" or say they need "space"; I have never been one of them. What the Lord arranged for me was the space He saw fit for me in my life's journey, right now, even though I would not have chosen to have space. Then He explained this to me in my prayer time with Him.

So I discovered that, even though I had no awareness of needing space, God planned for me to have it. And I further found that He is using this space in my life at this moment to bring about His plans. This spacious place is therefore His instrument to allow me to focus and move in the direction he is calling me to.

I found your blog because I was curious to see how God was using the draw to a spacious place in other's lives. It is comforting to see God's working in others and speaking His message in a similar way, yet uniquely, to each of His own.

Bruce