Author: Gary Reimer

“How will this be?” Mary asked the angel.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May it be with me as you have said.”  Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:34-38)

Anyone who would understand the nature of a tree should examine the earth that encloses its roots, the soil from which its sap climbs into branch, blossom, and fruit.  Similarly to understand the person of Jesus Christ, one would do well to look to the soil that brought him forth: Mary, his mother.

We are told that she was of royal descent.  Mary’s response to the message of the angel was queenly.  In that moment she was confronted with something of unprecedented magnitude, something that exacted a trust in God reaching into a darkness far beyond human comprehension.  And she gave her answer simply, utterly unconscious of the greatness of her act.  A large measure of that greatness was certainly the heritage of her blood.

From that instant until her death, Mary’s destiny was shaped by that of her child.  This is soon evident in the grief that steps between herself and her betrothed; in the journey to Bethlehem; the birth in danger and poverty; the sudden break from the protection of her home and the flight to a strange country with all the rigors of exile — until at last she is permitted to return to Nazareth.

It is not until much later — when her twelve-year-old son remains behind in the temple, to be found after an agony of seeking — that the divine “otherness” of that which stands at the center of her existence is revealed. (Luke 2:41-50)  To the certainly understandable reproach: “Son, why hast thou done so to us?  Behold, in sorrow thy father and I have been seeking thee,” the boy replies, “How is that you sought me?  Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?”  In that hour Mary must have begun to comprehend Simeon’s prophecy: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.” (Luke 2:35)  For what but the sword of God can it mean when a child in such a moment answers his disturbed mother with an amazed: “How is it that you sought me”?  We are not surprised to read further down the page: “And they did not understand the word that he spoke to them.”  Then directly: “And his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart.”  Not understanding, she buries the words like precious seed within her.  The incident is typical: the mother’s vision is unequal to that of her son, but her heart, like chosen ground, is deep enough to sustain the highest tree.

Eighteen years of silence follow.  Not a word in the sacred records, save that the boy “went down with them” and “advanced” in wisdom, years, and grace “before God and men.”  Eighteen years of silence passing through this heart — yet to the attentive ear, the silence of the gospels speaks powerfully.  Deep, still eventfulness enveloped in the silent love of this holiest of mothers.

Then Jesus leaves his home to shoulder his mission.  Still Mary is near him; at the wedding feast at Cana, for instance, with its last gesture of maternal direction and care. (John 2:1-11)  Later, disturbed by wild rumors circulating in Nazareth, she leaves everything and goes to him, stands fearfully outside the door.  (Mark 3:32, 31-35)  And at the last she is with him, under the cross to the end. (John 19:25)

From the first hour to the last, Jesus’s life is enfolded in the nearness of his mother.  The strongest part of their relationship is her silence.  Nevertheless, if we accept the words Jesus speaks to her simply as they arise from each situation, it seems almost invariably as if a cleft gaped between him and her.  Take the incident in the temple of Jerusalem.  He was, after all, only a child when he stayed behind without a word, at a time when the city was overflowing with pilgrims of all nationalities, and when not only accidents but every kind of violence was to be expected.  Surely they had a right to ask why he had acted as he did.  Yet his reply expresses only amazement.  No wonder they failed to understand!

It is the same with the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee.  He is seated at table with the wedding party, apparently poor people, who haven’t much to offer.  They run out of wine, and everyone feels the growing embarrassment.  Pleadingly, Mary turns to her son: “They have no wine.”

But he replies only: “What would thou have me do, woman?  My hour has not yet come.”  In other words, I must wait for my hour; from minute to minute I must obey the voice of my father — no other.  Directly he does save the situation, but only because suddenly (the unexpected, often instantaneous manner in which God’s commands are made known to the prophets may help us to grasp what happens here) his hour has come. (John 2:1-11)  Another time, Mary comes down from Galilee to see him: “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren are outside, seeking thee.”  He answers, “Who are my mother and my brethren?  Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35)  And though certainly he goes out to her and receives her with love, the words remain, and we feel the shock of his reply and sense something of the unspeakable remoteness in which he lived.

Even his reply to the words, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee,” sometimes interpreted as an expression of nearness, could also mean distance: “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Finally on Calvary, his mother under the cross, thirsting for a word, her heart crucified with him, he says with a glance at John: “Woman, behold, thy son.”  And to John: “Behold, thy mother.” (John 19:26-27)  Expression, certainly, of a dying son’s solicitude for his mother’s future, yet her heart must have twinged.  Once again she is directed away from him.  Christ must face the fullness of his ultimate hour, huge, terrible, all-demanding, alone; must fulfill it from the reaches of extreme isolation, utterly alone with the load of sin that he has shouldered, before the justice of God.

Everything that affected Jesus affected his mother, yet no intimate understanding existed between them.  His life was hers, yet constantly escaped her, Scripture puts it clearly: he is “the Holy One” promised by the angel, a title full of the mystery and remoteness of God.  Mary gave that holy burden everything: heart, honor, flesh, and blood, all the wonderful strength of her love.  In the beginning she had contained it, but soon it outgrew her, mounting steadily higher and higher to the world of the divine beyond her reach.

Here he had lived, far removed from her.  Certainly Mary did not comprehend the ultimate.  How could she, a mortal, fathom the mystery of the living God!  But she was capable of something which on Earth is more than understanding, something possible only through that same divine power which, when the hour has come, grants understanding: faith.  She believed, and at a time when in the fullest sense of the word probably no one believed.  “And blessed is she who has believed. . . . “  If anything voices Mary’s greatness, it is this cry of her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary believed blindly.  Again and again she had to confirm that belief, and each time with more difficulty.  Her faith was greater, more heroic than that of any other human being.  Involuntarily we call to mind Abraham and the sudden, terrible sublimity of his faith; but more was demanded of Mary than Abraham.  For years she had to combat an only too natural confusion.  Who was this “Holy One” whom she, a mere girl, had borne?  This “great” one she had suckled and known in all his helplessness?  Later she had to struggle against the pain of seeing him steadily outgrow her love, even purposely flee it to that realm of ineffable remoteness which she could not enter.  Not only did she have to accept this, but to rejoice in it as in the fulfillment of God’s will.  Not understanding, never was she to lose heart, never to fall behind.  Inwardly she accompanied the incomprehensible figure of her son every step of his journey, however dark.  Perseverance in faith, even on Calvary — this was Mary’s inimitable greatness.

And literally, every step the Lord took towards fulfillment of his Godly destiny Mary followed — in bare faith.  Comprehension came only with Pentecost.  Then she understood all that she had so long reverently stored in her heart.  It is this heroic faith which places her irrevocably at Christ’s side in the work of redemption, not the miracles of Marianic legend.  What is demanded of us as of her, is a constant wrestling in fide with the mystery of God and with the evil resistance of the world.  Our obligation is not delightful poetry but granite faith.

Mary’s vital depths supported the Lord throughout his life and death.  Again and again he left her behind to feel the blade of the “sword” — but each time, in a surge of faith, she caught up with him and enfolded him anew, until at last he severed the very bond of sonship, appointing another, the man beside her under the cross, to take his place!  On the highest, thinnest pinnacle of creation Jesus stood alone, face to face with the justice of God.  From the depths of her co-agony on Golgotha, Mary, with a final bound of faith, accepted this double separation — and once again stood beside him!  Indeed, “Blessed is she who has believed!”

The source of this meditation can be found The Value of Sparrows..

Meditation for Monday Nov 20, 2017

Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.  2 Cor. 5:2

Paul uses an interesting combination of words here to describe the push and pull of our spiritual lives— “groaning” and “longing.”  These words represent the two main thrusts of our spiritual direction.  The first is a desire to move away from the place or condition we are presently in, and the second is a movement towards that which our hearts ultimately long for.  In their many varied expressions, these two movements of the Spirit propel the spiritual direction of every human life.

The word “groaning” well describes the heart’s experience of the first movement.  It is a restlessness that seeks to push us away from “what is.”  We are tired of who, or where, we are in life and we long for change.  The Greek word used here is stena.  It means to complain, usually with a sense of grief.  We hear something of this type of sighing in the words of the Psalmists.  “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3)  “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Ps. 13:2).  “How long must your servant wait?” (Ps. 119:84).  Perhaps you’ve also heard similar sighs in yourself at times.  “How long must I remain in this condition?”  “When will things ever change?”

Groaning is a birth pang that bemoans the ill-fitting state we find ourselves in.  We long to leave the status quo in favour of the new creation that we picture possible for ourselves.  It is a God-given restlessness that causes us to yearn for something beyond the “old order of things.”  Even if we enjoy this life, our instincts tell us that it must surely pale compared to what lies ahead.  The more we recognize the poverty of our situation in relationship to our “heavenly dwelling” the more our hearts will pine for our eternal inheritance.

If groaning represents the first movement of pushing away that energizes our spiritual direction, the second one comes from our forward-leaning desires.  Paul says that our spirits “long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”  The Greek word translated as “longing” here is epipotheo¸ which describes a deep yearning for what lies ahead.  Much more than simply waiting for something to happen, it means to live in active participation with that which we hope for.  Because we greatly desire it, we lean forward, anticipating the promise that awaits us.  We hear something of this intense longing when the Psalmist cries out, “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps. 84:2).  It is physiological.  Even our bodies cry out for eternity as we long to be united with God.

Our hearts anticipate the fullness of joy that awaits us in God’s presence. We instinctively long to be more fully alive and everything in us resists the blanket of death that threatens to smother this hope in us.  Because of Paul’s confident assurance that such is the destiny of every Christian, he is able to say to the Corinthians that “God has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2Cor. 5:5).  No wonder we long for such things.  They already belong to us!

Someday soon there will be no need for either of these yearnings as all will be fulfilled in Christ.  In the meantime however, we will often experience groaning and longing in the push and pull of our spiritual lives.  They are the two movements of the heart that carry us forward in our spiritual direction.  Because we are restless for eternity, and because we groan at the unfulfilled state of our present lives, our pilgrimage will continue until we are one day finally “clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.    Phil. 3:12-14

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for July 2nd, 2009)

 For Group Discussion:

  1. Consider the movement of ‘pulling back from’ or looking for change in our lives.  What are the things in your life which cause groaning in your spirit?  Do you recognize what the groaning moves you TO?
  1. What is a yearning in your heart?  As you examine that desire, what does it awaken in you?  Is there an invitation from God?

For Prayer: Look at these movements in your life together with God.  Ask God what direction He might be encouraging in you.

Meditation for Monday October 16, 2017

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.   Gen. 3:6

We remain in sensitive union with God only in so far as we receive our relationship with Him as pure gift.   To try to grasp this gift, or to manipulate it with our will is to fall from such grace.   But mercifully, God will not allow us to do so for long.   Thomas Merton, in his Seeds of Contemplation, describes this “jealous” wisdom of God that prayer helps us appreciate, especially as it applies to the intimacy of His presence with us.  Merton writes,

  • As soon as you try to grasp the simplicity of this undivided interior peace it loses its savour.   You must not touch it, or try to seize it.   You must not try to make it sweeter or try to keep it from wasting away.

In a beautiful insight of theology Merton recognizes the primal impulse that our propensity for grasping spiritual experience represents.   He writes,

  • The situation of the soul in contemplation is something like the situation of Adam and Eve in Paradise.   Everything is yours, but on one infinitely important condition—that you not take it, but that you allow it all to be given to you. There is nothing that you can claim, nothing that you can demand.   For, as soon as you try to take something as if it were your own, you lose your Eden.

This ongoing process of losing and re-discovering our subtle receptivity of being is what purifies the heart in relationship to its desires.   Such purity demands the utmost humility of self.   Merton recognizes this virtue as the essential key to right relationship in prayer when he writes,

  • Only the greatest humility can give us the caution that will prevent us from reaching out to claim for ourselves the satisfactions of God’s presence.   The moment we demand anything for ourselves or even trust in any action of our own to procure a deeper intensification of this pure and serene rest in God, we defile and dissipate the perfect gift that he desires to communicate to us.

Echoing the insight of John the Baptist who recognized that “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30), Merton adds,

  • There is nothing we can do directly either to procure it, to preserve it, or to increase it.   Our own activity is, for the most part, an obstacle to the infusion of this free gift of God.   We must realize to the very depths of our being that this is a pure gift of God which no effort and no heroism of ours can do anything to deserve or obtain.

The closer we come to rest in God, the more the intensity of our desire will naturally increase.  But we must resist the urge to satisfy that desire ourselves.   As the Song of Songs counsels, we must not “arouse or awaken love before it so desires” (SS 8:4).   Rather, we must allow God to purify His love in us until it truly reflects the free gift that it is.   As we mature in this, our part becomes increasingly passive.   We simply remain still in the cleft of the rock as the Lord passes over us.   Merton describes something of this passivity by which we are to receive the Lord’s initiative.

  • We can dispose ourselves for the reception of this great gift best by resting in the heart of our own poverty, keeping our soul as far as possible empty of desires for all the things that please and preoccupy our nature, no matter how pure or sublime they may be in themselves. And when God reveals Himself to us in contemplation we must accept Him as He comes to us, in His own terms, in His own silence.

Our ultimate disposition must simply be one of pure gratitude in recognition of the goodness and grace of God’s love for us.   Even now, the Lord’s gift is most honoured the purer we are in our receiving.  And the beauty of His grace is most recognized the less we presume to coerce it.

We thank Him less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance.   It is
our emptiness in the presence of His reality, our silence in the presence of His infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises Him.

-Thomas Merton

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for Jan. 12th, 2012)

For group discussion:

  1. Merton speaks of “undivided interior peace,” “pure and serene rest in God,” and the “satisfactions of being in God’s presence.” In what ways might we attempt to grasp or manipulate these or other blessings that may flow from time spent with God?
  1. How is the reality of the “pure gift” nature of the satisfactions of prayer and silence both gloriously good news as well as a caution?
  1. From the meditation and from the quotations of Merton, name and discuss the dispositions of heart which we seek to cultivate as an appropriate response to God’s presence with us in contemplation.

For Prayer:

In prayer this week seek the grace of accepting God “as He comes to us, in His own terms, in His own silence.”  Rest “in the heart of your own poverty” and rejoice in God’s sovereign presence and loving activity in your heart.

Meditation for Monday, October 02, 2017

Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.    Rom. 7:20

Paul’s detailed description in Rom. 7 of his relationship to his sin nature can be quite confusing to read or preach on.  The logic of his argument gets lost in his over-use of the pronoun “I” unless you realize that there are, in fact, two “I’s” that Paul is referring to—the “big I,” by which he means his desire and will, and the “small I,” which refers to his unruly sinful nature.  Paul has cultivated a healthy detachment with regards to himself that we too can apply to all aspects of our inner life.

If we consider the whole passage of Rom. 7:15-20 with this type of differentiation in mind we can perhaps see more clearly how Paul applies this logic to his relationship to his sinful nature.  Note the positioning of the two “I’s” in the following passage.  To highlight this distinction I have capitalized the “big I” and left the lower case for the “small i” (as well as the word “sin” which it refers to).

  •    I do not understand what i do. For what I want to do, i do not do, but what I hate, i do. And if i do what I do not want to doagree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me… For I have the desire to do what is good, but i cannot carry it out.  i do not do the good I want to do, but the evil do not want to do—this i keep on doing.  Now if i do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Paul recognizes that there are two “I’s” at work in his inner life—the “I” of his redeemed will and the “i” of his unruly flesh.  The fact that he disagrees with himself is what differentiates the “I” that wants to do good from the “i” that doesn’t do what the “I” of his will wants.  And it is this differentiation that he ultimately recognizes as his saving grace.

When, for instance, Paul appeals to the fact that “I agree that the law is good” he stands in agreement with God.  But he is also aware of the contrary actions of his small “i” and how these actions do not agree with what he (and God) wants.  Following this logic he concludes that, since his true self agrees with God, the “i” that is doing this— in other words, the “i” that is in disagreement with both he and God—is not his true self.  His summary statement then is that “it is no longer who do it, but sin living in me.”  Logically speaking, it is a fair assessment of the good and evil that are both at work in his inner life.  But being aware of this, in itself, does not resolve his dilemma.

Like all of us Paul feels trapped by the forces of sin in his body.  It is a fearful predicament to find oneself in—that though I disagree with myself, I nevertheless continue to do things that both God and I would condemn.  Being attached to your sinful nature is like having a millstone tied around your neck, which is why Paul later exclaims,  “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Rom. 7:24).

The answer to Paul’s question, “Who will rescue me?” is, of course, Jesus, which is why the apostle then responds with gratitude for the mercy of the cross whereby he knows that he is no longer attached to the fate of his sinful nature.  “Thanks be to God,” he cries, “who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25)  His sinful nature will never have a share in the kingdom of God (1Cor. 6:9), but Paul knows that he is no longer attached to its destiny.  For to the extent that we agree with our sin nature we are yoked to its fate.  But to the extent that we disagree with our sins we too can lay claim to the reasoning that Paul is expressing here.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for Feb. 19, 2015)

FOR GROUP DISCUSSION:

  1. How would you make a similar distinction in the inner workings of your own life between the “I” of your redeemed will and the “i” of your unruly flesh?”  Can you see these as two separate selves?
  1. In agreeing that God’s law is good and thereby opposing yourself when you act contrary to that law can you say, as Paul does, “it is no longer I who do it, but sin living in me?”
  1. Consider the statement that “to the extent that we agree with our sin nature we are yoked to its fate.  But to the extent that we disagree with our sins we too can lay claim to the reasoning that Paul is expressing here.”  Are there aspects of your sin nature that you still find yourself justifying in some ways?

FOR PRAYER:  In prayer, allow yourself to be aware of your sin nature.  Note how, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, you cannot help but feel opposed to this nature.  Give thanks to God who, through Jesus Christ our Lord, has delivered you from the destiny of sin by detaching you from all within you that is contrary to His righteousness.

Meditation for Sep 18, 2017

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 14:7-11

Many Christians suffer much more than they need to with the guilt of failure, especially as it applies to their faith.  It is a secret shame that many who share our pews carry deep within them.  They presume that everyone else is doing well in their faith, but that somehow it hasn’t taken root in them as it should have.  And they blame themselves in the belief that they have not tried hard enough, or not been faithful enough to the call, or strong enough in their desires for God.  In short, they feel they have failed to become the Christians they had once thought, or been told, was possible for them.  If this, in any way, describes your experience of faith, Jesus has a parable for you that comes with an unexpected word of counsel for high-achiever Christians: “You need to lower the bar of your self-expectations.”

Though it might sound suspiciously negligent, we are always wrong to set the bar of our spiritual expectations too high.  It is a temptation of pride to believe that virtue, steadfastness, sanctity and godly love are all within our reach.  And, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the disappointment that inevitably results has little to do with God.  It is mostly related to our disappointment with ourselves.  We have spurned the blessed humility of our poverty of spirit, and have rather believed the devil’s lie that “ye shall be as gods.”  In other words, we have been presumptuous about our potential status in the kingdom, assuming that a place of honour should be more natural to us than a lower seat.

As Jesus makes clear in this parable, we are best to set the bar of our self-expectations quite low.  We are, after all, not “as gods.”   Rather, we are the blind, the lost, the faithless and the hearts of stone that Christ has come to save.  And we do well to remember the humility of who we truly are.

Perhaps the best indicator of whether our bar is set too high lies in how we respond to our seeming successes or failures.  Which do we seem most surprised about?  That we have failed to be genuine in our spirituality? Or that we have succeeded?  With the bar of our expectations inordinately high, we will often be dismayed that we have not achieved what we thought we were capable of.  Our pride will see this as failure and we will respond with shame.  But if we accept the humbling truth that the bar of our capacity is actually quite low we will be much more disposed to surprise.  We will more readily marvel at the grace of God that allows us, at times, to be much more virtuous than we know ourselves to be.  No longer will we see perfection as a personal achievement, but more as the gift of God’s grace that it truly is.

Jesus concludes His teaching with a simple formula: “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  This is certainly good news for anyone who is ready to embrace the blessed humility of their creatureliness.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 
Mat. 11:28-30

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for Feb 9, 2012)

For Group Discussion:

  1. The practices of self-assessing and comparing ourselves to others in regard to progress in the Christian life come very naturally to us. They are also invariably bad practices! Discuss why this is so and how we may pray for mercy and transformation in this area.
  2. Why is our poverty of spirit such a blessing to embrace? How might we maintain this posture through experiences of both success and failure in our Christian walk?
  3. Reflect on the lovely invitation of Jesus to assume HIS yoke and find rest. How might the companionship of his presence implicit in this invitation transform our shame and negative self-talk?

For Prayer:
Jesus describes himself as being gentle and humble in heart. In prayer, seek these graces in regard to your view of yourself. Meditate on the wonder and beauty of being able to lay down the burden of your self-expectations, and rest in the promise of Jesus’ presence in the circumstances and challenges of your current path.

Meditation for Sep 4, 2017

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.  
Mat. 14:45-46

God has been encouraging me lately to appreciate the spiritual discipline of simply remaining in His love—how this one practice is sufficient for all His objectives within me.   The Lord is also helping me recognize the many ways I so easily allow myself to be drawn away from His presence, especially during my prayer time.   And I am coming to accept more and more that it is who am the principal cause of my straying—that it is ultimately my own free choice that determines whether I remain with Jesus or not.

My spiritual director often reminds me of this—that to remain in God’s presence requires that I simply choose not to leave.   The opposite is also true—that the act of leaving God is the result of my own free choice to depart from His presence.  All that is necessary for me to enjoy a sustained spiritual life is that I choose to remain in Christ’s love.  Could it be any simpler?  And yet the conversion of will that this implies means that I must first acknowledge the many things I seem to prefer instead of being with Christ.

Prayer forces me to accept the disturbing fact of my own concupiscence.   When it comes to that which should be most precious to me, I am increasingly dismayed by the frivolous things I allow to distract me from God.

To remain in God’s presence during prayer is an invitation to choose the Lord above all the other considerations of my heart    And a large part of my spiritual growth—of God establishing Himself as the increasingly precious pearl of my life—must include the recognition and confession that He is not so at present.   To this confession I must add the genuine desire that it be otherwise.  And then I must submit to the Holy Spirit for the purification of my desires.

Like all of us, I long to be more rooted in Christ, not only in my prayer time but also in my day, and throughout my whole life.   I am learning to accept, more and more, the radical conversion of my will that this will necessitate.  As Jesus plainly taught, before I can claim this pearl of great price I must first get rid of all I otherwise possess.   And until I do, the preciousness of my love for God will remain hidden, buried in the ground of my own preferred distractions.

A Prayer
Lord, I offer all that I am to all that You are.
I stretch up to You in desire, my attention on You alone

I cannot grasp You, explain You, describe You.
I can only cast myself into the depths of Your mystery
I can only let Your love pierce the cloud of my unknowing.
Let me forget all but You

You are what I long for, You are my chief good
You are my eager hope, You are my all

I glimpse Your eternity, Your unconditional freedom
Your unfailing wisdom, Your perfect love
I am humble and worshiping
Warming to love and hope
Waiting and available
For Your will
Dear Lord
by George Appleton

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for Jan. 19th, 2012)

For Group Discussion:

1. How might the practice of remaining in Christ’s love be sufficient for advancing all of God’s objectives within us? How might we increasingly recognize the precious nature of God’s love, and value this passive posture as being foundational to our transformation?

2. Why is the simplicity of “remaining” such a challenge for us? What impulses, distractions and other factors can we identify that subvert this blessed practice?

3. In specific terms, how might we move toward and participate in the “radical conversion” of our wills in order to become habituated to the practice of remaining in Christ’s love?

For Prayer:
The “Prayer” above by George Appleton is a humble celebration of the preciousness of God and his love. It is also an explicit surrender of one’s will to God. This week, spend time entering into this prayer or specific phrases in it that express your thankfulness for all that God is, and the desire of your heart for a more devoted and singular love for him.

Meditation for June 5, 2017

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.   Matt. 7:13-14

The grace I most often seek in my daily prayer is for Jesus to simply gather me to His presence—that He would bring my scattered self into focus and shepherd me to a place of unity with Himself.  The idea of being gathered unto Jesus certainly resonates with the Lord’s teaching regarding the narrow path we are being drawn towards.  He invites us to choose for ourselves this narrow way rather than the wide way we more often prefer.

We usually interpret this passage as primarily evangelistic, where Jesus is the Way to the Father, and wide is the way of those who refuse Him.  But I believe these verses also apply to how we are to continue living as Christians in ever-growing proximity to our Lord, which comes from the narrowing of our focus.   Like a river that gets stronger as it passes through a narrow channel, a more Christ-constrained focus will produce greater strength in our lives.

A funnel might be another illustration of the way Jesus shepherds us towards what is more beneficially narrow in life.  Picture the funnel on its side, with its mouth representing the width and breadth of life, and the spout being the more narrow way.  Where are you today in relationship to this funnel?  Perhaps you are not even in the funnel, but wandering somewhere outside, not ready yet for the journey inwards (A).  You’re in the general program of Christianity but you know that you are living life with much more latitude and self-determinacy than you suspect is consistent with your professed faith.


Growing maturity in faith helps us cooperate with this process of being shepherded more deeply into the funnel (B).  There is a lessening desire in us for the wider latitudes we once enjoyed.  We also have a better understanding of how to participate with this process.   What are the forces that now encourage you towards the more narrow way (C)?  What people, practices or disciplines help constrain you as you advance towards this self-simplifying path?

As the Way gets narrower it conforms you more and more in the direction of the funnel spout (D).  It is the funnel that now defines your movements much more than your own self-determination.  You find it both restricting and yet freeing as you recognize the hand of God more closely on your life than ever.

More and more your spiritual formation revolves around one simple question:  how can I participate more fully with this action of being gathered by Jesus?  How can I let myself be shepherded by Him towards the beauty of this narrow relationship?   The answer to this question demands only one thing of you—a sustained willingness to let go of your wider agendas in favour of Jesus’ promise of a more abundant life.

In our most profound instincts, we all long for such narrowing of our lives—a simplification, a stilling, a silencing of all that spreads us out too thin. To allow Jesus each day to draw us deeper into His “funnel” is to truly live a spiritual life.  His promise is that this one choice will lead us, like a river being forced through a narrow chasm, to greater strength and abundance in our lives.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
written for July 17th, 2014

FOR GROUP DISCUSSION

  1. Where do you presently find yourself in relationship to the funnel?  Do you welcome this narrowing in your life, or are you afraid of what it might demand of you?
  1. As you have begun participating with this process what resources or responses of submission have you found helpful?  What helps draw you more in the direction of the narrow way?  What scatters you and moves you back towards the mouth of the funnel?
  1. What signs of new life have you begun to notice that you might attribute to the benefits of the narrow way Jesus is drawing you to?

FOR PRAYER:  In your prayer, ask Jesus to gather you to Himself.  Ask Him to help you yield more fully to this process.  Allow the Lord to simplify your life so that you might conform more and more to the shape of His shepherding .

Meditation for Monday May 15, 2017

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”   Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:46-48

Perhaps you too have cried out at times with what might be called a “shot in the dark” prayer—those prayers we make to the walls and ceiling in the hope that there is a God out there who just might hear us.  Bartimaeus, the beggar from Jericho, certainly exemplifies such faith and the blind hope (in his case literally) that reaches out for God’s help in spite of our doubts.

Bartimaeus is used to calling out in the dark for what he needs.  He is a beggar after all, and blind to boot.  Sitting by the roadside, with only the sound of footsteps to go on, he spends his day calling out to passersby, trying to draw attention to himself.  So why should today be any different?

The blind man hears a crowd going by.  “What’s happening,” he shouts to anyone within earshot.  “It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” a woman replies as she walks past the beggar.  Bartimaeus spends a lot of time listening to the conversations that surround his dark world.  He’s heard of Jesus before.  And he knows that this man apparently heals people.  What’s there to lose?

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” he yells above the din of the crowd.  He is just one of many voices in the confusion of people that surround Jesus, but Bartimaeus, more than anyone, knows how to make himself heard.  He lets out another plaintive and well-rehearsed cry that cuts through the otherwise civil discourse of others.  “Have mercy on me,” he shouts in the most poignant tone he can muster.  Those closest to him certainly hear him, and their response is a familiar one to Bartimaeus.  They want to quell this overly opportunist beggar.  But, to everyone’s surprise, the first miracle happens.  Jesus hears his cry.

The crowd hushes as the Lord suddenly stops and says, “Call him to me.”  Anticipation rises.  Something is about to happen here.  Bartimaeus is not sure what is going on.  And he is more surprised than anyone when, instead of trying to shut him up, he hears someone from the crowd actually calling him to come to the Master.  “Cheer up,” the voice says, “On your feet!  He’s calling you.”

Bartimaeus doesn’t waste a second.  A beggar man knows just how fickle people’s generosity can be.  He jumps to his feet and lets himself be led a short distance.  Then he hears a voice that asks what seems like a most rhetorical question, “What do you want me to do for you?”  No introduction is needed.  He knows who this is, and he replies in the most simple terms, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus responds with an equally direct pronouncement, “Go, your faith has healed you.”

Bartimaeus has his reward.  He, who only moments ago, from his dark and lonely world, had enough faith to at least try a blind shot in the dark, can now see.  Everything has changed for him because of a little gumption on his part—the type of chutzpah that has sometimes worked for him in the past, but never as successfully as it has on this day.

Bartimaeus will live a very different life than would have been his lot had he too soon disqualified himself from the abundant possibilities that lay just beyond his capacity to see.  His experience of God will also be very different than had he chosen to obey the voices suggesting to him that such a close relationship was somehow inappropriate for him.  Instead, as Scripture tells us, when those doubts were raised in him, Bartimaeus, in blind faith, simply shouted all the louder.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for May 15, 2014)

FOR GROUP DISCUSSION:
Do you remember a circumstance in your life when you offered a ‘shot in the dark’ prayer?  How would you describe the quality of faith that countered your doubts at that time in order to help you pray?Are there times when, in asking God for something, you have felt more like an opportunist beggar than a child of God?   How did you respond to the negative voices that tried to discourage your prayer?Is there a prayer in your life that you have perhaps been offering more tentatively than you should? What would it look like for you to instead “shout all the louder?”

FOR PRAYER:  Explore boldness in your prayer.  Try asking for something that you’ve never dared ask before.  If, at some point, this starts feeling inappropriate, try shouting all the louder.

Meditation for Monday, February 06, 2017

I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple…..Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’
                                                                        Isa. 6:1,8

Beauty has a way of transforming us.  It never leaves us indifferent or unaffected but moves us towards action, sending us back into the world as witnesses of what we have seen.  As Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it, “Beauty works its way into our bones, into the sinews of our life, indelibly marking us, and then setting us off.”

Isaiah, having tasted the goodness of the Lord, is sent out as a herald of the beauty he has seen. As the Catholic theologian Robert Barron writes,

  • The one who has been grasped by the beautiful is like the woman in the Gospel who breaks open the alabaster jar at the feet of Jesus and allows the aroma of the perfume to fill the entire house; she is willing to break open her life in order to witness to what she has seen and heard.

Experiences of beauty always imply mission.  We are changed by what God has shown us.  And whatever we receive in such encounters is always for the sake of others.  As Barron notes,

  • Visions of the divine are never given merely for the sake of private edification or contemplation. The “seeing” is never an end in itself.  On the contrary, there is always a commission attached to the insight. Vision opens you to mission.  You have been shown so that others might see as well.

There are countless examples in Scripture of this movement from “seeing” to “being sent.”   Moses is so marked by his encounter with God that his face became radiant.  He doesn’t stay on the mountaintop but comes back down to set his people free.   Saul of Tarsus, dazzled by Christ’s light, is sent to Damascus where he is given a mission to carry the message of Jesus to the gentiles.  And Peter, the first to discern that Jesus is the Messiah, is immediately given the commission to anchor and ground the community through which the glory he has recognized will now be proclaimed to the world.

God, it would seem, does not disclose himself without a “price”. He commissions the one who has seen with a call for service to the whole community, a call that is both compelling and inescapable.  The beauty of the Lord becomes a fire within us, prompting us to a missionary life of proclamation.  As Barron puts it, “To refuse this call would be tantamount to refusing the best of oneself.  To ignore it would be to ignore the person we are meant to be.”  He adds,

  • The summons from God is like the coal placed on the lips of Isaiah, or the fire burning uncomfortably in the bones of Jeremiah, or the compulsion that Paul feels  to proclaim the Gospel:  ” I am ruined if I do not preach it!” The beauty of God  so possesses us that our very identity, our very person, becomes the mission to communicate this to the world.

Whatever we have seen of Christ transforms us into witnesses of the gospel.  And the same mystery that first drew us to His beauty now sends us out to share with the world the glory we have seen.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for June 27th, 2013)

QUESTIONS

1.  In what ways has the beauty of God transformed you?  What particular aspect of God’s beauty comes to mind for you today?

2.  What do you wish you could share most with others about the beauty of the Lord?

3.  How do you relate to Robert Barron’s statement that “To refuse this call would be tantamount to refusing the best of oneself.  To ignore it would be to ignore the person we are meant to be?”

PRAYER:  Take time to meditate on the things you already know of God’s beauty.  Express to God something of your desire to know more—that He would open your heart to more fully appreciate the beauty of His ways.  Now pray for those who you would like to share this knowledge with.

Meditation for Monday January 16, 2017

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you   Mat. 6:33

If you need a good New Year’s resolution you don’t have to look much further than Jesus’ exhortation for us to prioritize the kingdom of God and the many expressions of His righteousness in our lives.  According to this Scripture, by simply obeying the promptings of righteousness all the other resolutions we feel our life needs will automatically be looked after.

We generally think of righteousness in terms of our relationship to morality or to people.  But the word means much more than that.  It means to be rightly related to all things in your life—to exercise, to sleep, to your diet, to your finances, to work, to ministry, to your possessions, to entertainment, and yes, even to your computer and smart phone.  These are all areas where righteousness applies.  And they are also areas where we likely feel off-kilter at times.  We keep trying to find a balance, but we keep missing the mark.

God is always indicating to us adjustments we need to make in life, which is why we should approach righteousness more as an act of obedience than one of discipline or management.  If we simply heed the correctives of the Holy Spirit, God is prepared to show us how to live without excess or neglect in our relationship to all things.

Peace and stability are generally the indicators of being rightly related to something.  In the OT, when righteousness prevailed in the land, the people enjoyed shalom, a word that means much more than peace.  It speaks of wholeness, rest, harmony, and of the absence of agitation or discord.  When everything is in right relationship to everything else, the result is shalom.

Turmoil, on the other hand, usually indicates that adjustments are still needed.  It creates tension in us until the changes life is crying out for are made.  Such restlessness is a God-given instinct through which the Holy Spirit teaches us the correctives we need.  Just as our inner ear can tell us when we are standing off balance, so this God-given instinct can help us recognize when we are off-kilter in a relationship.  If we simply follow its leading, the Holy Spirit will free us from all the unnecessary wear and tear that being wrongly related to something produces in our lives.

The correctives of the Holy Spirit have a way of nagging us until we either do something about them or else shut them out.  If we consistently ignore these promptings we will develop what Jesus calls a “calloused heart,” which is not much different from the calluses we develop on our hands from manual labour, or on our feet from walking.  Our bodies warn us when a blister is developing.  It even provides pain to alert us of impending injury.  And if our inattentiveness persists, these repeated blisters eventually become a callus.  Having refused to heed its first warnings, our body shifts to plan B.   It hardens the skin, making itself insensitive to further stimulus.  This is what happens when we also ignore the Holy Spirit’s promptings.  We end up losing our relational sensitivity to that area of our lives.

To seek and find righteousness in all our relationships is certainly a realistic goal for any of us in the coming year.  We were created for righteousness in all areas of our life.  And in order to enjoy such accord with everything we need simply be more attentive to the discords we sense, to recognize them for what they are—the promptings of the Holy Spirit—and to be more willing to obey whatever adjustments they are calling for.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for Jan. 9th, 2014)

FOR DISCUSSION:

  1. How would you describe the shalom you feel when you are rightly related to some aspect of your life?  How would you describe the experience of not being in right relationship to something?
  1. In what relationships have you allowed a callus to develop over your heart?  Are there areas in your life where, by ignoring the Spirit’s promptings, you have lost your relational sensitivity?
  1. Consider an area of your life where God is presently indicating that correctives are needed.  How does it change your motivation to consider this prompting as a call to obedience rather than a burden of responsibility?

FOR PRAYER:  Choose one of these two prayer options to be the focus of today’s prayer.  Choose the other one for some other day.

1) Imagine living in right relationship to all things in your life. Meditate on the quality of “shalom” that God envisions for you in these relationships.

2) Take stock of an area in your life where there is still turmoil in your relationship to something.  Welcome whatever correctives the Holy Spirit is suggesting to you.  Ask God for His aid in helping you choose to obey these promptings in your life.