As a young Christian in my teenage years I struggled to understand the will of God.  Now, some 36 years after my baptism and 24 years of preaching, I struggle to understand the will of God.   Knowing God’s will challenges me at all levels.  It is a daily personal challenge as I wonder about how to be a good parent, spouse and pastor, and generally I can only get two out of three right at the same time.    Knowing God’s will is a corporate challenge as I try to figure out the role of the church in a culture of skepticism, cynicism and alienation.  How will we find the common good?  Where is God in all the pain and suffering and violence?  What, O God, are we to do?

When I was a teenager, I had a problem that was creating a great deal of anxiety.  I have forgotten what the issue was now, but it probably was a romantic dilemma, because that is what teenage boys mostly think about.  Being a good Baptist, I took my problem to God.  Somehow I got the idea that I would let my Bible fall open, and if the page was from the Old Testament, God’s answer was “No” and if the page was from the New Testament then God spoke “Yes.”  I think I wanted a “yes” so notice my piety in letting God have two-thirds of the pages for a “No” answer.  If the answer was “Yes” I wanted a definitive yes.  So I solemnly prayed for the will of God to be revealed and I pledge myself that I would abide by that answer with all my heart, no do-overs or take-backs.  I carefully set my Bible on its back spine, and balanced it solidly in the middle.  Then, much like a basketball referee pausing before a jump ball to make sure both sides were ready for a fair shot, I released my hands and waited for God’s will to be revealed.

At first the Bible seemed to lean a little to the left and my heart sank if it was to be the Old Testament, and then it leaned to the right and my heart raced, and finally God’s Holy Living Word fell on its side unopened.  At first I thought, “God, this was a yes or no exam, there wasn’t a space for maybe or it depends.”  And then I burst into laughter, because I realized how foolish I was being.  I was not practicing Christianity, but rather attempting magic, and that is not how God works.

My interpretation of this event in my life has gone through several phases.  At first my theology drifted towards Deism, much like Thomas Jefferson, believing that God created the world and set it in motion, much like a great clock.  God gave me a brain, granted me human freedom, and it was my responsibility to figure it all out from there.  That is not a bad theological option.  It served Jefferson well, as the architect of the Declaration of Independence and author especially of freedom of religion.  It is what Unitarianism used to be.  Ultimately it is a faith in reason and the power of the human brain, and while I am a great believer in applying reason and logic to any part of faith, I have found reason to be a very limited God.  It is a step above superstition, but only a couple of steps higher on the staircase to truth, because we can convince ourselves of almost anything.  Psychology continues to discover great flaws in our remarkable brains. What good is an amazing brain if we stick our head in the sands, and dismiss everything from evolution to global warming?  If reason and logic ruled the world there would be no advertising, no military, and no children going to be hungry.  Much like Microsoft Windows, we could use some periodic upgrades to fix some of the bugs I our operating systems.  We need a Humanity 2.0 that fixes selfishness error, a Humanity 3.0 that updates anger and violence error when someone disagrees with us.  A Humanity 4.0 that increases our synching capacity with all of creation.

I appreciate the God given reason, and the divine gift of human freedom to choose.  God is generous, but I still need something more.  I need a relationship, I need a guide and mentor, I need an advocate to help me through the great morass.  And this is what Jesus is talking about in John’s Gospel. Our reading today is part of the great discourse Jesus gives to his disciples at the Last Supper.  More than any other Gospel, John takes a great deal of time with this event.  The early Christian community that was the source of this Gospel must have had Communion as its core practice and self-understanding of faith.  This passage is introduced with a question we all ask, when Judas says in the preceding verse 22, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us?”  23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  God will make a home in us.  The Greek word used here is often translated to the English word “abide.”  It is a core word, appearing 40 times in John’s Gospel.

It is in this Gospel that Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches, abide in me and I will abide in you.”  What does it mean to be a disciple?  It means a close relationship with the living Go, who will make a home within you and abide there.  How will that happen?  Jesus goes on to say,

26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

That is what I was looking for in my early experiment with my Bible, but I was an impatient youth that wanted this Holy Spirit at my beckon call.  What I remember most about the spiritual life at my Baptist college was a sincere, but over-anxious search for God’s will in all aspects of life. We prayed about what classes to take, who to date, whether to study in our rooms or the library, and the details of life looking for guidance.   I still pray for answers, but here is how I have changed.  The most important answers require a journey.  That is a hard thing in a Google-search world of instant answers, but spiritual wisdom is more like a long walk than a quick kiss with a search engine.  Perhaps it even requires us to walk for days on the Appalachian Trail to give time for God to abide with us and teach us.

I say this because walking is one of my primary spiritual practices.  I learned this in The Artist’s Way, a book about writing and creativity by Julia Cameron.  It is a very simple book that asks the reader to make a 10 week commitment to do two things, write in a journal every morning when you wake up and take a walk every day.  Cameron says everything you need to be a writer will come from these practices, and for the past six years I have found that to be true.  I always take heart from her words, “Expect to be accompanied on the journey.”  Typically when I sit down to write, I stare at a blank page with nothing to say.  The writing practice of the Artists Way is to just start writing whatever is on your mind in the morning, just start rambling about your sleep, petty grievances with the world, the small blessings of the day, and the only rule is that you cannot stop for 30 minutes.  It is OK to write crap, it is not OK to stop.  This can go on for several days, and then there is the moment when something profound and true flows from your pen, and you can’t imagine such creativity was inside. You put down your pen and realize-you were accompanied.  For that moment, there was a sense that God was dwelling within, unexpectedly God made a dwelling place in your soul.  That is what the Holy Spirit is like to me.

If I do not walk or journal for a few days, I feel like I have spiritual indigestion.  The important takeaway from this Gospel lesson is this: We need some practice, some regular thing we do to allow God to make a home within and dwell with us.  You can journal, paint, chant, count your breaths in meditation, do yoga, read from scriptures, garden, walk, run or sit by the river.  There is a spiritual practice for every personality.  Faith in God needs a practice, a regular communion with the life-giving Spirit of God.

End Note:  Julia Cameron now offers much of her Artist’s Way materials online with free videos! Here is the link to practicing morning pages writing:

 

http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/