The Stream of Tranquility

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By Michael W. Raley

There is a stream of tranquility

Trickling down from the jagged stones of remembrance,

In the space once occupied by the raging rapids.

My senses are sharpened,

The colors are more vivid

And the sounds more boisterous

Than I can ever recall.

I realize that this moment is all I have.

So, better take it all in,

Because it won’t come back around.

I am coming to terms with who I am,

Which brings a slight grin to my face.

I’ve fought my way over, through, and back

More than I care to remember,

But I’m still here.

As the warm spring breeze blows across my face,

I savor this euphoric feeling of freedom.

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Upon Further Review…

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

In recent years, I have done a lot of what I would call “mid-life reflection,” where I have pondered the direction of my life. I have also taken a hard look at what I believe and why I believe it. Does what I believe stand up to critical examination, logic, reason, and common sense? Am I willing to let go of certain beliefs if they no longer stand up to scrutiny? Can I be intellectually honest enough with myself to admit to such a finding?

To paraphrase the great Jedi masters, I have not fallen to “the dark side,” but I do allow myself to play “devil’s advocate.” Let’s take my Christian faith for example. I was born in the United States, more specifically Indiana, where Christianity is the dominant religion. Indiana coincidentally, tends to more fundamental in its faith, which by default leads people to being more politically and socially conservative. However, what if I was born in Thailand? More than likely I would have become a Buddhist, because Buddhism is the dominant religion and culture in Thailand. Same goes for India, where people practice Hinduism, or what if I was born in Saudi Arabia, where people follow the teachings of Islam?

The question becomes is our faith simply a by-product of what we are born into and therefore accept without question because it’s the norm? Also, if we believe to hold onto the one true faith, why do we react so harshly to criticism? Why has religion been the source of so much bloodshed throughout the history of the planet? Much worse than an unexamined life are the consequences of unexamined ideas and the people who follow along. We must temper what we believe with reason and not give blind allegiance to people of any religious, social, or political group, because we can find ourselves disillusioned when we place faith in man.

Examining your values and beliefs doesn’t have to wait until all hell breaks loose, but it can be a daily exercise to cleanse our minds and spirits. I intend this year to go deeper into my reflection without fear of asking the hard questions. I also intend to examine the common responses, or in most cases, cliches that all of us say because we feel compelled to say something. I want to explore deeper subjects and go beyond the surface. If faith is an ocean, I intend to explore the Mariana Trench. I am going to take a reasoned, philosophical, and verifiable approach to faith. I hope you come along for the journey. God bless.

The Deeper Wisdom

By Michael W. Raley

We live our lives amiss

When we believe that ignorance is bliss.

It is when we purposely shut out the possibilities of  our minds

That we live life stuck in an endless loop of time.

It’s safe and we loved being back there,

Thus anything new we don’t want to know nor do we care.

It is through life, experience, and learning that knowledge can be revealed,

But to the deeper wisdom, we must yield,

For truth is wisdom applied.

Thus, we must shine our light and not hide.

Since we are on such limited time,

Let us seek out this wisdom, both human and divine.

 

Close Your Eyes and Breathe

By Michael W. Raley

Before the coffee begins to brew,

The thoughts come rushing in:

“You need to do this today.”

“You have to do this too.”

“Don’t forget about this.”

“You have to do this on Friday.”

“You’ve been putting this off.”

“You’re out of this, you need to get it today.”

“You should have started the day earlier.”

The list grows well beyond what I planned.

Stop!

Close your eyes and breathe.

Come back to this moment.

Close the mental browsers that don’t need to be open.

Step back and reason through this.

Focus on one and only one task,

Then move on to the next task.

Gradual momentum and gradual goals,

Just as you would read a book:

Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then pages, then chapters,

Then the book will be finished and will be on the shelf with the other finished books.

 

 

 

 

The Mountains

By Michael W. Raley

I close my eyes and retreat into my mind.

I can see the mountains as if I am there.

The majesty, the beauty, the only place

Where my spirit, mind, and body are at peace.

The winding roads,

The gorgeous blue skies

Seemingly untouched by industry.

The snow-capped peaks at the height of summer.

Nature’s grandeur of wildlife-

Elk, big-horned sheep, and marmots

Living out their existence.

How my soul longs for the mountains!

The mountains are not obstacles,

But a point of perspective.

For when viewed from the mountain top,

Our problems become small and insignificant.

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

In an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

If you desire to be a better athlete, musician, public speaker, writer, artist, chef, or anything else in life, you need continuous practice. Natural ability and talent can go so far, but to further hone one’s skills, one must take the time to practice. Brother Lawrence in his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, humbly and brilliantly shows us how to increase God’s presence in our lives through our daily practice of living.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691) was born Nicholas Herman and served God as a lay-brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. The Practice of the Presence of God is a combination of conversations, letters, and spiritual maxims Brother Lawrence had with various people and was compiled and published after his death by his friend, Joseph de Beaufort.

Brother Lawrence states, “The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present.”[1]

The principles put forth are so simple and profound, we can easily overlook them in the overly busy, overly frustrating, and overstimulating days that make up our Twenty-First Century lives. You do not need advanced theology to understand that God is omnipresent, always with us, but do we take the time to acknowledge Him during our day?

“Brother Lawrence insisted that, to be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking with Him throughout each day. To think that we must abandon conversation with Him in order to deal with the world is erroneous. Instead, as we nourish our souls by seeing God in His exaltation, we will derive a great joy at being His.”[2]

No matter if he worked in the monastery kitchen, the monastery shoe repair shop, or just going into town to get supplies, Brother Lawrence dedicated everything He did to God. It was out of his love for God that Brother Lawrence sought to please God, not to be rewarded, but to show adoration for God’s grace in his life.

“He [Brother Lawrence] was content doing the smallest chore if he could do it purely for the love of God.”[3]

We often think that we need to do great things for God in order for Him to love us. However, Brother Lawrence insisted that we can bring God and ourselves joy in the simplest of chores. Imaging cooking for your family and how often that is a thankless chore we can come to dread. But, what if we were to view cooking for our family as a way to show God thankfulness for the family that we have? What if we were to take a lesson from Brother Lawrence and thank God before we began a chore and thank Him afterwards for the opportunity?

“Brother Lawrence declared that he felt much closer to God in his day-to-day activites than most people ever believed to be possible.”[4]

Another way Brother Lawrence practiced God’s presence was to speak to Him openly and frankly, as if he was talking to his best friend. It was said that Brother Lawrence went to God in all matters great and small and discussed them with Him.

Of course we know our modern world is full of distractions- smart phones, the Internet, television, movies, video games, and other sources of entertainment. These distractions, if we allow them to, will take our energy and focus away from enjoying God’s presence. According to Brother Lawrence, we must direct our thoughts toward God and God’s presence. If we do get distracted, we can simply repent and begin again. Overall, The Practice of the Presence of God shows a tremendous spiritual depth at the relationship between the Lord and Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence describes how God had blessed him so much when he made the habit of seeking God’s presence out of love and devotion. What if we were to praise God just because He is God and has saved us? Are we capable of seeking God without the hope of a material reward? If we practice God’s presence, God will give us the grace and strength we need to overcome life’s difficulties.

Brother Lawrence’s book concludes with the three blessings we receive from God’s presence:

“The first blessing that the soul receives from the practice of the presence of God is that its faith is livelier and more active in our lives. This is particularly true in difficult times, since it obtains the grace we need to deal with temptation and to conduct ourselves in the world…Second, the practice of the presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope increases as our faith penetrates God’s secrets through practice of our holy exercise…The third blessing is that this practice causes the will to rejoice at being set apart from the world, setting it aglow with the fire of holy love. This is because the soul is always with God, who is a consuming fire, who reduces into powder whatever is opposed to Him.”[5]

For anyone who is seeking a deeper relationship with God or is starting out in a relationship with God, I would encourage you to read Brother Lawrence’s words because they, like Scripture, have much to say regarding a more spiritual life. God bless you all.

 

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington PA: Whitaker House (1982): 67.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Ibid, 21.

[5] Ibid, 71-72.

Toward a More Practical Faith

Everyone regardless of their spiritual background has faith. For example, a farmer who plants his seed has faith that his crops will grow. If I go to work, I have faith that I will receive a paycheck at the end of the week. People put money in various stocks, bonds, and funds believing they will have money to live comfortably after they retire. A coach believes that his or her game plan will win the game. These are oversimplified examples of “worldly faith,” where principles are applied and put into practice. We can at times, however, view our Christian faith as something more abstract. We have the “saving faith” to accept what Jesus did on the cross, but we may be confused on how to apply it to everyday life.

The Apostle Paul’s influence on Christianity is undeniable, as he is the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament. Paul’s multiple missionary journeys touched countless people all around the world of his time. Though Paul was a very learned man and spoke with kings, governors, and religious leaders, his epistles to the churches were written for everyday people who were trying to live out their everyday lives. I believe Paul’s letters give us insight on how to live a practical Christian faith in our daily interactions with our families, friends, and coworkers. Just as Paul instructed the Philippian church: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, NIV).

The following list is far from comprehensive, but I believe this will give us a foundation upon which we can apply biblical principles to our daily lives.

We must live our faith

 “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’” (Philippians 2:12-15a, NIV).

How do we live out our faith according to Paul?

Value everyone as God values them

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV).

We must remember our lives before Christ

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh-who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13, NKJV).

Remember that we are one church

 One of Satan’s best strategies is to divide and conquer. If he can keep the church at odds with ourselves, how can we stand together to defeat him.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1-7, NKJV).

We must continue to grow in the Spirit

 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17a, NKJV).

Don’t get caught up in petty arguments

   “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes. Knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NKJV).

Change your thinking

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV).

Put your time to good use

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV).

Accept what comes our way

Because we are in Christ, that does not mean that our lives will be free from hardship and difficulty, but God can use our stories to reach someone else. The Apostle Paul spoke of such an event during his first imprisonment:

“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV).

Seek the higher peace

Finally, if we come to understand that God allows for everything that happens in our lives, we can live through the most difficult circumstances with a peace of mind that would baffle other people.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV).

May the Lord be with you and bless you.