Tag Archives: Happiness

A Lesson from the Leviathans

Today when we observe the whale, we see an affable, albeit mysterious fellow.  The sort of chap who is widely traveled and deeply learned, yet feels no need to share the full extent of his experiences.  (Whales seldom have Twitter accounts, much less write their own tweets.)  My point is that, should you encounter a whale, you will most likely be met with mild curiosity if you are deemed worthy of attention at all.  This isn’t noteworthy unless you consider that there are few other species against which we have waged such a bloody and far reaching campaign (excluding our fellow humans, of course).  Yet despite the previous hostilities, the whale’s primary concern remains, even around us, doing those things which whales do.  Herein, I think, lies the cardinal virtue of the whale: despite the challenges he faces and despite his grandiose size and power, he remains faithful to his divinely appointed business as a whale.  Sometimes, the issue we run up against is that, in the midst of our daily lives, we forget our divinely appointed business as humans.  Therefore, perhaps we can learn a thing or two by considering the whale.

Now as I hold up the whale for our reflection, it is not my aim or intent to try and outdo King Solomon who held up the ant for us in a similar fashion.  Rather, I wish only to follow his example (and that of our Lord Jesus Christ, for that matter) in pointing us to nature as a way to better direct our hearts and minds to God.

The first objection that may be raised against the whale’s example of living with and for God is that it is a brute beast who doesn’t possess the same level of intelligence or consciousness as we do.  This is undeniable.  However, what we can take away from this point is that while a whale is relieved of our level of intelligence, he is also relieved of much of the mental humbug that comes with that intelligence.  That is, there is an undeniable simplicity of thought which guides his actions: the whale’s pattern of thought always begins with God’s blueprint.  On the other hand, because we have the ability to engage in lofty thoughts, we are able to deviate from God’s blueprint for our minds.  This habit of straying from the straight and narrow is what we often call our sinful nature.  The cue that we can take from our cetacean planet-mates is to remember that our relationship with God has a, fundamentally, simple basis:  to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  This is what we aim to start from and allow to guide all of our thoughts and actions.

Another objection that may be raised is that the whale has the luxury of being able to focus on following God’s leading only because he is so large and is the master of his domain.  To the first point, about his size, I don’t think we can ascribe his calmness and clarity of thought to his size.  After all, in my reckoning, it is when we think of ourselves as big that we are most likely to be upset by trivial things.  To the second point, about being master of his domain, I think we have more in common with the whale’s situation than we may realize.  Recall, if you will, that the whale is a mammal who breathes through lungs living in a world of water.  It is only when he ascends to the surface that he is able to fill his lungs with life-sustaining air.  One might say that the whale is in the ocean but not of the ocean.  Similarly, as Christians, we are in the world but not of the world. This is why, like the whale, we must periodically ascend to the surface of the worldly ocean, spouting our prayers and breathing in God.

The whale, like all of nature’s denizens, helps us learn how to better live with God.  As more complicated members of creation, it is good for us to be reminded from time to time of the basics of life, that we should seek God first and foremost.  The whale also demonstrates for us the necessity of sticking our heads out of the sometimes turbulent and cloudy waters of life in order to be filled and refreshed by God.  So may we all endeavor to spout often and spout fully so that we may thrive in the sea that is life on earth, always looking above for our true fulfillment.  Thus concludes this little meditation on the mighty whale.

Chibi Whales

Advertisements

Real Motives

Reading our Bible, praying, meditating, etc. are all things that we are often told to do and often talk about. However, it is worth our time to step back and think about the “why” behind it all. Why do we do these things? The answer to this question is of paramount importance to our persistence in them and what we get out of them. For example, if we do these things because they are what a Christian “ought to do”, then they take on the all the purpose and meaning of chores or items on a to-do list.

What I wish to do here is to recall our attention to the spiritual reality underlying all religious activity. Perhaps we have heard that the word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) or that Holy Spirit abides in us and helps us (John 14:15-18). But maybe we’ve only heard them spoken in the midst of an emotion-fueled passion and when the heat of the moment is gone, so also fades the sense of profoundness of what we have heard. The tepid haze of distraction and tedium creep in once more and we find ourselves again distant from God and quietly trying to look like we have a vibrant relationship with Him, hints of whom we only see moving behind the curtains of someone else’s experience.

But what if there is more? What if Scripture is more than a collection of Christian slogans? What if this talk of a real God who loves us, died for us, and lives in us were all true in the truest sense possible? If we start from this as the basic immutable fact of life, then our perspective of all things changes in at least some way. Focusing on our religious practices: they cease to be acts that we use to try and justify our calling ourselves Christian. Instead, they are windows through which we meet and interact with God. We engage in prayer and searching the Scriptures not because a personal label compels us to, but because we are drawn to them as a taste of what really matters and is eternal. Even when we feel spent in spirit and haven’t the slightest inkling to pursue matters of faith, we engage in our disciplines with the hope and assurance that the real and living God of the universe is with us.


Flay & Pray

I have written about League of Legends in the past, and I hope you will permit me to write of it again for illustration’s sake. One of my favorite characters to play as is Thresh, “The Chain Warden.” His tools of choice are a pair of chains tipped with a scythe and a lantern respectively. Thresh’s primary contributions to his team come in the form of restraining and locking down enemies while protecting his allies and helping them reposition on the map, all while soaking up the damage the opposing team dishes out.

Thresh’s first ability is “death sentence”. When activated, with the clatter of links, Thresh twirls the scythe over his head like a lasso before hurling it in a target direction. If it collides with an enemy, the scythe hooks onto them and they are stunned while Thresh tugs them toward him twice. He can even reactivate this ability to use the chain like a zip-line to dash to the hooked target. His second ability is “dark passage”. This causes Thresh to toss his lantern to a target location providing a shield to one nearby ally. If an ally clicks the lantern, Thresh uses it to quickly pull them to his location, even across walls and other obstacles. (This is sometimes called riding the “Thresh Express”.) Third in Thresh’s kit is a not so flashy move called “flay”. Passively, it causes Thresh’s basic attacks to do extra damage. Upon activation, he sweeps his chain in a line extending in front and behind him which pushes all enemies in its path a short distance in the direction of his swing and slows them. Last is his ultimate skill, “the box”. Activating this ability causes Thresh to summon five spectral walls around him, closing in anyone caught inside. If an enemy runs into a wall the wall is broken, but in return they take heavy damage and are slowed by a full 99% for 2 seconds.

As you might guess, these skills can be chained together to accomplish some pretty useful things. Most notoriously by grabbing an enemy with “death sentence”, tossing the lantern to an ally, then zipping to the enemy and using the lantern to bring your friend along to say hi. However, it is the subtle “flay” that plays a huge role in bringing many of Thresh’s combinations together and also brings a boatload of utility to the team. The slow it provides can be used to make landing “death sentence” easier and it can be used to push enemies into the walls of “the box”. “Flay” can also be used to interrupt enemy’s dashes, preventing them from escaping or diving onto one of your allies. In many ways, this least visible of Thresh’s abilities is also arguably the most important to his kit.

So why all this explanation? Well, this “flay” ability and the place it occupies in Thresh’s kit provides a good illustration of how the less visible and less public of our spiritual practices are the most important to our spiritual wellbeing. It is often the case that when we think of doing spiritual things, we think of going on mission trips, taking some huge leap of faith, or intensely spiritual experiences in general. However, while these things are good for our growth and service to God, they aren’t things that make up a large portion of our daily life. Rather, they are like highlights that give us a graceful boost. It is a dangerous proposition to try to engage in a spiritual journey using only these hops and runs, as we will soon find ourselves short on energy and short on progress.

It is better for us that we find a pattern and routine of regular time spent with God. This is, in fact, what we see modeled for us by Christ in the Gospels. In Luke’s Gospel, especially, we are shown that Jesus regularly withdrew to be alone with God and pray. When word spreads of how Jesus healed the leper and crowds come to Him to hear and to be healed we read: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) This isn’t Jesus fleeing from the crowds and refusing to minister to them. It is Jesus making time to spend with God in quiet, even in the midst of His rapidly growing ministry. Later on, in chapter six, we read: “Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12) This account is situated directly after Christ healed a man with a withered hand and right before He calls the twelve. Again, we see Jesus stepping back from His more public and visible actions to spend time in quiet with God. In verses 9:18 and 11:1, we get another interesting perspective of Jesus’ prayer-life: “And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18) “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) In these two instances, we encounter Jesus’ withdrawing to be in quiet prayer as something that He regularly did.

Although these portions of the Gospels are brief and not very flashy, we should not discount their significance nor overlook the importance of the picture they present when viewed together. We see Christ, who was 100% God and 100% man, regularly making time to spend with God in quiet; especially when things got busy. These times of quiet form the base from which we work and are sustained. Without them, it is easy to be swept up in and consumed by the busyness of the very endeavors we seek to serve God in. We might think of them as a sort of glue which holds the rest of our spiritual lives together by being the means by which we remain in God and abide in Him.

Just like Thresh’s “flay” is a subtle skill that brings the rest of his kit together and is crucial to him being able to fill his role well, our times of quiet retreat into secret prayer are vital to us being able to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us and to travel well on the road of discipleship.

Chibi Flay


Skills and Abilities

One of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing League of Legends, an online game in which teams of players work together to destroy the opposing team’s nexus (essentially capturing their base). One of the game’s most prominent features is the sheer number of characters (champions) one can choose to play as. There are 124 champions currently, and the roster continues to grow. Each one of these champs has four abilities that can be activated and one passive ability that is always in effect. These abilities further define the character and shape their contribution to the team. Doing a little math:  124 champions, with 5 abilities each, means that right now, in-game, there are 620 unique skills potentially in play. Yet, from this dizzying variety, an order and strategy emerges that brings a team together as a unit able to accomplish goals and secure objectives.

Thinking about this, I am reminded of what Paul tells us about the Church body:  the diversity of gifts within it and its unity in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes of how there are many different gifts in the Church but one common denominator:  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) We each have things that we are talented at and things that we have a passion for. These are also things which we can and should offer back to God and share with Him. What I mean is that these gifts given to us by God are things which we can do with Him and honor Him with. Are you a fitness buff? Praise God for the marvelous machinery of human physiology. Help others to be good stewards of their bodies. Do you delight in reading? Give God glory for the power and beauty of written words. Give freely out of your experience with books to help others. Do you love cooking? Honor God for the complex challenges and simple joys of food. Share with others the delight to be found in the kitchen.

Above all else, though, the most important thing that any of us can do with our gifts is to grow closer to God and share that joy with others. It is easy to forego the spiritual impact of our gifts and turn into the dreaded “know-it-all” or to look down on others who don’t share our interests. However, God gives us these gifts to be a stepstool to reach up to Him, rather than a stumbling block for ourselves and others. The joy and delight that we have in God in the exercising and pursuit of our gifts is the crux of what we share with others. It is what overflows from our well to fill others.

When we step back and turn this perspective upon the Church, the roster of 124 champions and 620 skills found in League of Legends seems simple in comparison. However, the joining together of these diverse characters and abilities in a common goal can serve as a small example of how the Church body comes together in a common Spirit. Paul later writes of spiritual gifts:

“And He Himself (Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

-Ephesians 4:11-16

In loving God in what we do and sharing with others out of that love, we are built up in God and help build up others.

Chibi Abilities


A Clear Center

In a previous post, we talked about seeking to settle the waters of our internal life so that we can more clearly see and hear the Holy Spirit as He works within us. Now this all sounds like a nice, spiritual, thing to do, but how does it translate into “real life”? After all, we can’t spend our lives perched on a lofty dais. We have to come down at one time or another to tend to less spiritual things in the midst of the daily grind.

During our devotional times, such as when we are meditating, we are cultivating an inner stillness and attention to God. However, the aim of these activities is not only to become practiced at spending time with and listening to God. Rather, we could think of these times as a re-centering of ourselves on God. The motions and forces we encounter in daily life (temptations, frustrations, inundations, etc.) tend to pull us away from God so that our center is no longer on Him. They also tend to disturb our inner life, making it rough and choppy.

Because we are so accustomed to living our lives in this hubbub, it has essentially become our state of equilibrium towards which we are drawn by default. This is part of the reason, I think, why things like silence or stillness are so uncomfortable to us at first. They go against our grain. However, as we persist in spending quiet time with God, through the working of His grace, our equilibrium begins to shift towards an inner peace that comes from God alone. This being centered on God becomes the shading and color of everyday life. Not that everything will be sunshine and lollipops, but we will be living out of and viewing things through a heavenly perspective. With this becoming the norm for the rest of our time, the times we set aside for devotion and focusing on God shift in functionality from strictly being time blocked out to pay attention to God to being time in which we are refueled and refreshed for everything else.

We might think of it as visiting the gas station. While most car-business consists of driving and transporting, the periodic visits to the petrol pump are necessary for all of the driving and transporting to happen. Likewise, the periodic times spent refocusing on God are necessary for the rest of our Christian lives to happen (as opposed to forgetting about our spiritual life as soon as we return to our daily life, as if the two were separate).

In much fewer words, by spending time settling our internal life, we cooperate with God’s work to shift our default setting to a heavenly perspective. The times we take for devotion serve as a base out of which we live the rest of our lives because it is there that we are refreshed and resupplied for the journey. It is also there that we are reminded that there is no separation between our spiritual life and our daily life.

Chibi Clear Center


Still Waters

Today, more than ever, our time seems to be at a premium. There is never enough of it to do everything we want and the time we do have is often split between any of a number of activities. With this being the norm, it is no surprise that our relationship with God is also dealt with in a similar fashion. Being with God is often something that we do rather than something we are. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in spiritual disciplines (which are definitely things that we do) but that we shouldn’t lose sight of what we are striving for in them: to be shaped and grown by God into the image of Jesus Christ. God has already given us the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and works to bring about this formation within us.

However, Paul admonishes us, saying, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Our struggle, in many ways, consists in striving to still the waters of our internal life so that there isn’t interference to cloud our ability to receive from the Spirit who wants to make known to us the things of God and to lead us into all truth. (John 16:5-15) If we wish for water to still and settle so that it is clear, we cannot force it to do so. Any attempt to manipulate the water with our own wills only stirs it up. Additionally, we can very easily cause the water to churn up once more if we immediately and violently start back into our regular routine. What is within our power is to make the time and the space for the water to still. We also have the ability to strive to keep the water still even after we have moved on from our devotional time.

As we persevere in our quest to still the waters of our soul, we will find that spiritual inertia begins to work in our favor. The default status of our water drifts toward being still and calm. This, however, is not a signal for us to slip into complacence. For our enemy is tireless in his efforts to draw us into his own ruin. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and constantly drive away the thoughts and temptations that attempt to bring confusion to our hearts once more. For it is that confusion, disorder, and general static that we allow to come between ourselves and God. Working with God to do away with this interference allows us to live more closely to Him by letting His Spirit speak clearly to us and be present to us rather than being obscured and quenched by turning our attention elsewhere. Being clearly connected to God and mindful of Him as a general rule of life is what we seek when we aim to follow Him and live our lives with Him.

Chibi Calm Waters


A Thought for Christmas – 1

In the pursuit of a deep spiritual connection with God, we often chase after ecstatic experiences during our set times of worship or devotional activity. However, the substance of a life lived with God consists in sharing each moment of each day with Him. Just as a display of Christmas lights is invisible without the glow of the individual bulbs, so the beauty of a relationship with God remains hidden without the holy light of His presence in the many individual moments of our daily lives.