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Where is God in Your Life?Three Retreats in Christian Spirituality
By Susan M. Provost
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2009 Susan M. Provost
All right reserved.
Quite often people do not know how to develop a relationship with God, in order to be able to feel God's love for them and to be able to share that love with others. They need to be given the tools necessary to develop a relationship with God and to understand how that relationship is celebrated in community.
Through the development of three two-day workshops, I have presented a program that will show readers and participants how to recognize God in their lives and to feel His love. I have designed these workshops to help people to continue their spiritual journey to greater connection with God. Finally, I have created these workshops to help others to see the importance of the Christian faith as a spiritual roadmap to be used on the path to God.
Discussion of the Problem
The reason why this program is necessary is that it emphasizes spirituality and will help others to make a connection with God. We all seek to acquire an understanding of who we are and why we are here. In the search for this knowledge, some will study the past and dig for remnants of ancient civilizations in the ground. Some will study books on psychology and philosophy. Some will study history in order todiscover whether our past can give us an understanding of the present. We are looking to discover the source of our being and we are looking to connect with that source.
The spiritual quest is not just one of many things we attempt to accomplish in our lives. It is our life. As Christians, the goal of that spiritual quest is Jesus Christ. In the spiritual life, a commitment is made to follow Jesus and that commitment encompasses our entire being. It is not a decision that we make once and leave the rest to chance. When we decide that we want to know Jesus, it is a decision we renew every day of our lives. However, once the decision is made, we may not know how to begin developing that relationship, since we do not see Jesus in the flesh.
The essence of spirituality is the sense of knowing that God loves us. We must know this not only in our heads, but also in our hearts and in our everyday lives. God loves us so much that He sent His only son, Jesus, to die for us in atonement for our sins. His love was not determined by our actions, but on how much He loved us. He loves us first and it is our quest to discover how through His love we can be transformed into vessels of love that He pours out to our world. We cannot accomplish this transformation on our own. It is obvious that we need God's help in this transformation, but it is difficult to determine what it is that God wants from us.
Each of us needs to fully grasp and understand just how much God loves us. We need to see how He is intimately concerned about every single detail of our lives. Reading that God loves us in His Word and understanding that He died for our sins, can still be merely intellectual pursuits. However, receiving His Spirit and experiencing His Life in and through us, is something we can never deny as being ultimate, personal love (Girzone 1998). However, the way in which to feel that ultimate personal love is not readily apparent to us.
Unfortunately, our culture encourages the need to be constantly in motion. We have the need to be productive and fill all our time with something. We become nervous when we encounter empty space, when there is a gap in a conversation, when we do not know what to say, when we are sitting in a waiting room and there are no magazines on the table to read. For most people, just doing nothing is unthinkable.
It can be difficult to encounter God while the focus of our lives is on the importance of earthly power and possessions. We cannot notice God working in our lives when we do not take the time to stop and notice anything. We do not know how to step out of the world of progress. We are moving so fast through our lives that we take no time to notice what is happening around us when the noticing is not necessary to fulfill our goal. In essence, we are programmed not to accept who we are, but we are driven to judge ourselves and others by earthly success, productivity, and accumulation of things. Consequently, we have no real appreciation for ourselves or the others we encounter. We are trapped in a jail of our own creation.
At some point, we discover that these goals of success, productivity, and the constant drive to acquire things do not fill or satisfy the soul within us. We burn out from what has become a road to spiritual death. We look for someone to convince us that we are of value for who we really are, not what we and our culture chooses to label us. We look for someone who we do not have to prove that we are worth something. We look to connect with the Creator, the Savior, and the Spirit of the God who loves us. Our soul yearns to make that connection and to feel whole, to feel significant, and to feel loved. We may search, but we have not learned how to make this connection. Our own culture and conditioning may keep us from developing a relationship with God. Even if you attend a Christian church, spirituality and relationship with God may never be discussed, nor looked at as a desire of the soul to be attained. This program was created to specifically address how to develop that relationship with God.
Christianity with its rich spiritual tradition can provide a valuable lens through which people can discover and articulate their spirituality. Christianity can help us to feel the experience of our encounter with God and help us in the development of our relationship with Him. It is therefore important for the Christian Churches to encourage and foster spiritual development in new and innovative ways. An emphasis on theology and rules is not the answer. This is why I have developed these three workshops with a specific goal of helping others to develop their spirituality in the Christian tradition.
Christianity can be a logical answer to a quest for spirituality and relationship with God. However, the focus of mainline Christian Churches in many cases is to help people to discover that God exists, to provide them with a morality that is Christian, and to show them what actions are necessary to be good disciples. In that framework only the mechanics of Christianity are learned, the actual development of a relationship with God is not even mentioned.
Many adult Christians do not pursue additional religious education beyond the time when they receive Confirmation. However, even if they do, the learning of Christian tradition or Bible study does not approach the beauty of connection with God. Consequently, when people finally reach the point in their lives where they decide to take God seriously and want to feel God's presence in their lives, they do not know where to start. These three workshops are designed to give those searching for relationship with God the tools to know where to begin and how to proceed on their spiritual journey towards God.
In order for true spirituality to flourish within us we have to unlearn much of what we have been taught from our past experiences of Church and begin to learn new ways of understanding our own worth and that of others and a different understanding of God (DeMello 1990). One of the ideas we have to grasp is that God is a being of infinite possibilities and cannot be categorized by our limited knowledge of Him. God is more than any of us could possibly imagine. As humans, we find it hard to break out of our human way of thinking; it is difficult for us to think of God as He is, and we end up reducing God, giving God a sex, and molding God into an image that we can understand. We have to be open to change our false ideas of God, such as giving Him human qualities. Our spirituality must bring us to the understanding that God is not confined to our human limitations and that includes how He loves us. God continually reaches out to us; we just need to learn to recognize His presence. My workshops are designed to help people recognize that presence and that love.
Unfortunately, most of us live lives that prevent us from hearing God speak to us. We are in constant motion. God loves us just as we are and takes delight in us. If we truly believe that, it affects our whole life, giving us the key to finally loving ourselves as we are.
My workshops are designed to aid in the development of Christian spirituality and the growth of relationship with God. Through these workshops readers and participants will see the value of stopping that constant motion in their lives. Readers and participants will discover how to feel God's love and how this love flows naturally into a life in which we will see God and know Him. Readers and participants will learn to share in the eternal ecstasy of God's presence and love. They will see that through His love we can love others, and help to bring about God's kingdom here on Earth.
In the process of creating these workshops, I have fostered an understanding of essential concepts that are necessary for the development of Christian spirituality. These concepts will help the readers or participants to discover the beauty of the Christian tradition. It is with an understanding of these concepts that they will gain a better grasp of the message of Jesus.
General View of Spirituality
One of the first topics addressed is the concept of spirituality. . Everyone has a spirituality that is either a life-giving one or a destructive one. Spirituality is not a choice; it is a way of existence because we are all fired into life with a craving for something that needs to be satisfied (Rolheiser 1990). Spirituality is not about picking and choosing spiritual activities such as praying or going to church. The habits and disciplines of our life that shape our desires, form the basis of our spirituality, regardless of whether we express them through a formal religion, or even whether they are expressed at all. Spirituality is what we do with the spirit that is within us. The opposite of being spiritual is to have no energy, is to have lost all zest for living. The opposite of a spiritual person is one who has lost his or her identity or in other words does not know who he or she is anymore (Rolheiser 1999).
Spirituality is about being in touch with our inner self, who we are, what we are, how we really think and feel, and how we relate to the world around us (Girzone 2004). In the growth process of our spirituality, we are trying to develop a vision of life, a vision of how we relate to the world, but especially to find the meaning of our existence. Some may be drawn to isolation to discover themselves; others may throw themselves into the midst of society in an effort to see where they fit in. We may look to leaders who we believe can direct us, because they appear to have great wisdom and understanding. Although much is written about spirituality, no book can direct our individual paths to spirituality. Unfortunately, we have to discover how the path unfolds by living and experiencing. Developing spirituality is a lifelong process. We never arrive; we are forever on the journey.
Understanding of the Soul.
The second topic that is addressed in the workshops is the concept of the soul. To progress along our individual paths of spirituality it is necessary to develop an understanding of the soul. Our soul is not something that we have; it is something that we are. The soul is the life energy within a human person. The soul is what gives life. It is also the adhesive that holds us together, the principle of integration and individuation within us. As long as we are alive, which means that we have a soul within us, all of the chemicals within us work together to form a body. At the point of death, we no longer have a body. Chemicals that used to work together begin to go their own way. Once the soul has left the body, decomposition occurs. Life stops and we literally fall apart.
The soul has a dual purpose. It puts the fire in our veins and keeps us energized, vibrant, living with zest and a sense of hope. It also keeps us fixed together. It gives us a sense of who we are, where we came from and where we are going (Rolheiser1999). We are given this gift of fire, our souls become illuminated, and we are invited to live in the presence of God (Paintner and Wynkoop 2008)
The third concept that has been addressed is the understanding of Christian spirituality. To be spiritual in the Christian context, means to live according to the knowledge that Jesus is present to us in the world helping us to work toward a personal, interpersonal, social, and even perhaps cosmic transformation. He is not just a historical figure; He lives in each one of us. We are relational beings and to be spiritually Christian we must live always in relations with God, our neighbor, our world and ourselves, following the example left to us by Jesus. We must be willing to love and serve those around us. We must allow His Spirit to work through us individually and collectively to transform the world so that we may live a life of peace and love, which was promised to us by Jesus.
For those of us who choose to follow Jesus, we make a choice to give up our life of selfishness and follow a life of love. The perfection of this love has to become the purpose of this life. This love is not one-dimensional. The life of love includes God, ourselves, and others. The decision to become models of Jesus' message of unconditional love is one of the most important choices of our lives. It is a radical decision. Being Christian, in a sense, is to be countercultural. After all, the consequence of Jesus' love for us brought Him to a death on the cross (Dwyer 1999).
In our quest for true Christian spirituality, Jesus speaks to our darkness with His eternal message of love. We all long for true spiritual connections that transcend our hurried existence and from which we can leave our world of the temporary and changeable and secure a sense of the permanent and unchangeable. We can only receive this security by developing our relationship with God/Jesus. Security will not come from a new age therapy, from the accumulation of wealth, nor from any of our earthly relationships. We must come to Jesus, embracing our spiritual bankruptcy and brokenness, and seeking His love and acceptance. He is continually reaching out to us, waiting for us to finally acknowledge Him and recognize His presence in our lives (Muller & Kenney 2004).
Christian spirituality is ultimately about love, service to others and selflessness. Jesus specified throughout His ministry that in order to be His disciple, you must follow four basic practices (Rolheiser 1999).
These practices are:
A. Private prayer and morality-We can only make progress in spiritual life by a practice of prayer and an adherence to moral precepts.
B. Social justice-Justice is judged by how we treat the weakest members of society, namely widows, orphans, and strangers.
C. Mellowness of heart and spirit-We need to approach life with a grateful heart, which compels us to be empathetic and compassionate.
D. Worshiping in community-The search for God is not a private search. Without church, we cannot express our connectedness in community.
God is Present in our Lives
The fourth concept that has been addressed is the understanding that God is already present in our lives. We do not need to find God, we only need to recognize that God is already in our lives. God is continually working in our lives, but many of us do not feel or see this work. What is offered is the humble quest of a God who, in the person of Jesus, comes to reveal His love and beg our love in return. Communication with God is essential, just as it is in any relationship. Communication is how we make the connection and build our human relationships; we learn to connect the same way with God through the communication called prayer. Communication is not so much what we have to give God, but is more a living with God, a meeting with one who loves us unconditionally, a personal relationship in which it is truly God who does the giving, the giving of Himself for us. The experience of being fully present in this personal relationship with God could be described as an altered state of awareness (Paintner and Wynkoop 2008).
Excerpted from Where is God in Your Life? by Susan M. Provost Copyright © 2009 by Susan M. Provost. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Discussion of the Problem....................1
General View of Spirituality....................5
Understanding of the Soul....................6
Importance of Developing a Relationship with God....................17
Spirituality is on the Rise....................20
Prayer as Communication with God....................23
Spirituality in Community....................24
Church Community and Religion....................25
How the Workshops are Designed....................29
Theme: "Love One Another."....................39
Theme: "Who do you say that I am?"....................163
Theme: "The Message has not changed: Tell them that I love them."....................283