Category Archives: faith

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childlike

“I am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
as the boys who made the hallowe’en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
when I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
and I want to be everything sometimes too:

childlikebut I don’t tell the grown-ups; because it is sad,
and I want them to laugh just like I do
because they grew up and forgot what they knew
and they are sure I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me, I will always be new!”

–Delmore Schwartz (quoted in exuberance, by Kay Redfield Jamison)


hey, youth workers: don’t get so caught up in the frenzy of summer programs that you forget to be childlike.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

jesus-walking-on-water-kinda

the real jesus

Yeezus or Sheezus, whatevs. My own images of Jesus haven’t been much better. Here’s my latest column from Youthwork Magazine (UK), where I unpack that a bit:

The Real Jesus

I grew up in church, a mostly-good kid and all. Sunday School every week from the day I left the nursery. So I heard my share of Bible stories; I heard my share of Jesus stories.

One of my favorites was always the story of Jesus walking on the water. I can still picture—I mean, really, I have the picture in my mind right now—the flannel graph images of Jesus hovercrafting in his pretty blue robe across a glassy bit o’ blue. (Flannel graph, by the way, was the archetypal Sunday school teaching technology back in the day: little die-cut foreground figures—people, boats, the occasional tree—with a felt backing that quickly and neatly stuck to flannel backgrounds with various nondescript Bibleland topographies. My mother-in-law still possesses one of the world’s most complete collections of mint-condition flannel graph paraphernalia. Seriously, her stuff should become the main attraction in a Sunday school museum someday.)

jesus on the water, croppedBack to the hovercrafting Jesus…

In my frozen mental image, Jesus is white and nicely coiffed (seriously, when we reinvented Jesus as white, I’m surprised no one thought to reinvent his hair into a more church-y level of appropriateness—maybe a nice TV-evangelist-combover). And he’s scooching (seriously, “hovercrafting” is the best word I can think of) in the middle of day, across an idyllically calm body of water. Sometimes, in my childhood image, he has one hand raised halfway, about chest-high, in either a sort of blessing, or a casual wave (“Hey, dudes, relax, it’s me.”).

I’m sure that by the time I reached my teens, I knew this flannel-backed image of Jesus walking on the water wasn’t quite accurate. But there it simmered, percolating in my spiritual subconscious.

I’m sure that, during my time at a Christian college and graduate school, I at least knew that Jesus wasn’t white, would have walked rather than hovercrafting, and a few other tweaks. But I didn’t let that spoil my childhood picture.

I’m even sure that after years of being a youth worker and telling this story, I knew that there were more inaccuracies—like the status of the water (I clearly remember a retreat speaker I’d hired doing the single worst rap I’d ever heard in my life about how the boat was buffeted by the ways: b-b-b-buffeted… b-b-b-buffeted.).

But I allowed my childhood image to exist, encased behind psychic Plexiglas in the museum of my mind.

I remember—the experience more than the time and place—finally realizing, well into adulthood and professional Christianing, that the text clearly says the whole water-walking thing took place in the middle of the night (on a stormy night, at that). Of course, that would make a boring flannel graph, since you wouldn’t be able to see anything. And the water: it wasn’t smooth and flat. These expert sailors, the disciples, couldn’t get the boat back into land because a massive wind storm had come up, and the waves were so big they were smashing the boat away from shore (b-b-b-buffeted). This is the water Jesus walked on.

So much for hovercrafting. Now I have to picture the real, dark-skinned, Middle Eastern Jesus, climbing his way through the peaks and troughs of a wild sea storm. His clothing would have been drenched from spray. His hair would have been blown all over the place (where’s a good hair-tie when you need one?). Now the scene looks more like a pitch-black episode of extreme bouldering (on water!), or, like an X Games-at-night rollerblade competition, with Jesus grinding down the “rail” of one wave, hopping to the next, and dropping down into a trough to set up for his next trick.

Crash! The psychic Plexiglas around my childhood image is finally smashed. And now I can begin the reconstructive task of observing the real Jesus.

On a much bigger scale, and with lots more stories, this is part of our youth work task: smashing the psychic Plexiglas encasing teenagers’ false images and ideas of Jesus, whether they grew up hearing Jesus stories in church or not. It’s a noble work of deconstruction and reconstruction. Some might even say “re-imagining”.

While teenagers’ thoughts and pictures of Jesus are from childhood, or from some other phase of their lives, whether they have lots of ideas about Jesus, or only what they’ve heard through hearsay, most of them have some seriously jacked-up ideas about who Jesus was and is, and what he did and does.

Let’s pull the hammers out of our leather youth work tool belts and engage in a bit of museum-image smashing. Let’s lead teenagers on an honest, blunt, even surprising expedition toward meeting the real Jesus.

owen neistat

verbalization, adventure, and getting boys to do stuff

i have a genderalization i sometimes throw out in parenting seminars:

teenage girls make friends and find their place in their world through talking; teenage boys make friends and find their place in their world through doing stuff together.

sure, there a plenty of exceptions. and this doesn’t mean that girls don’t learn from doing stuff, or that guys don’t need verbalization. it’s simply a basic tendency. it’s why teenage girls can share an intimate moment of verbal sharing and instantly be BFFs. it’s why a teenage guy can play video games with another guy, pretty much not talk about anything (at least not anything intimate or vulnerable) and consider that the perfect foundation for a friendship.

we youth workers know the importance of getting teenagers talking. i’ve been really challenged in this area by the work and words of amanda drury, who The Youth Cartel had speak at a couple events in 2012 and 2013. it has caused me to say such questionably strong statements as:

for teenage faith development, verbalization of faith is more important than accuracy.

but what about guys and doing stuff?

i have, on more than one occasion, challenged a father (more than one father) who’s troubled by how he and his son seem to be disengaging. i’ve challenged these dads with a simple, but radical, idea: splurge and take your son on a BIG TIME international adventure trip. do something and go somewhere you would never do on a “family vacation.” do something where you’re pushed, both to being personally stretched, and to relying on one another.

i’m saddened by how few (none?) of these dads have ever exercised the will and courage to take me up on my suggestion.

that’s part of why i LOVED this short film by casey neistat. admitedly, casey is an adventurer. so he’s more accustomed to these things. but his son owen wasn’t an adventurer. really, this is very much worth the 20 minutes to watch (both for the story itself, and for the principles you can see at work).

dads? what sort of shared adventures are you willing to embark on with your son?

youth workers? amidst the critical value of creating space and an environment for verbalization, how can we embrace the importance of getting guys to do stuff (and maybe verbalizing in the middle of that)?

young teen doubt 2

thoughts for parents of young teens, part 1

i’m starting a new series of occasional posts with this one. i’ll probably post about one per week or so. but these will be a random tidbit of input for parents of pre-teens and young teens. if you’re a youth worker, feel free to copy and paste these into a parent newsletter or email (though i’d appreciate a credit line), for forward them a link.

young teen doubt 1Welcome to the World of Doubts

A nervous set of parents met with me. Tears came quickly. Judy, the mom, spoke in-between honks into her tissue: “Johnny, our 7th grader… [honk!]… he’s always been such a good boy. And he’s always loved Jesus.”

The dad nodded.

Judy continued: “But the other night at dinner… [honk!]… Johnny said, ‘I’m not sure I want to be a Christian anymore.’” [honk!]

A big smile broke out across my face.

Their faces made it obvious they were somewhere between confused and offended by my grin. So I explained:

Questioning and examining (usually called “doubting”) Mom and Dad’s faith system, or her own childhood faith system, is a necessary part of early teen faith development.

Did you catch that? Parents (and plenty of youth workers) are usually threatened, even frightened, by their kids’ doubts. But teenagers who don’t go through this process will reach their early 20s with a stunted (childish) faith!

Let me back up and explain a bit more fully.

The Task of Discovery

Stephen Glenn, a psychologist who published a bunch in the 70s and 80s, developed a helpful little timeline (I’m modifying the ages Glenn suggests to account for our current context). He said the first few years of life are all about “discovery”. The next few years (4 – 7, roughly) are all about “testing”. And the years from 8 – 10 are focused on “concluding.”

Then a shift of seismic proportions–-usually called puberty–-comes along like massive storm waves crashing against a sea wall made of chalk or sandstone. Wave after wave, erosion takes place–erosion of all those nice pre-teen conclusions. And the cycle begins again: 11 – 14 are years of “discovery”; 15 to 20 year-olds tend to focus on “testing”; and those in their 20something years (now called “emerging adults”) shift to forming conclusions.

Can’t you see that in your young teen? They’re in the midst of a massive adventure of discovery. That’s why they want to try everything–four sports, three clubs, five friendship groups, a new hobby or collection each month. They’re trying to gather data about the world, about how people interact, about values, about reactions. And, about what it means to be a Christ-follower.

So wrestling with “what do I believe?” becomes a wonderful question for young teens to ask. That doesn’t mean we fan the flames of their doubts (“I can’t believe you still believe that!”). It means we come alongside them in their doubts, rather than interpreting those questions (that data collection) as a real rejection of faith.

How Should Parents Respond?

Don’t freak out. When you hear doubts squeaking out, take a deep breath. Thank God that your budding teenager is still willing to verbalize this kind of thing with you. A strong negative reaction will teach your child that she shouldn’t share in the future.

Exercise curiosity. Young teens rarely have the self-awareness to verbalize their doubts in helpful and constructive ways. We have to look beyond the presenting evidence for the question(s) forming in the background. And we have to ask.

Encourage verbalization. In other words, talk about it! Healthy dialogue is often all that’s needed. Ask questions, rather than preaching.

Share in first-person. Your pre-teen or young teen will “catch” more from your life than from your words. When you do choose to share words, try not to be too prescriptive (“Johnny, what you need to do is this….”). Instead, share from your own life. Respond to doubts with your own story, including your own doubts (past or present).

Pray. Isn’t that one obvious? Your child is going through the most formative and tender years in faith development. Talk to God constantly!


Mark Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, a veteran youth worker, and a parent of a 20 year-old daughter and 16 year-old son. He speaks frequently to parents, and is the author or co-author of six books for parents, including A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Guys, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Girls, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains, A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media, A Parents Guide to Understanding Sex & Dating, and Understanding Your Young Teen. With his own “apprentice adults,” he co-authored a book for teenagers: 99 Thoughts on Raising Your Parents.

jesus walking on water, kinda

photo in need of a caption

yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve had one of these.

someone’s going to get ticked at this one, i’m guessing. just know that i’m not suggesting that jesus didn’t walk on water! there. geez (us).

9780991005024-front-1000but, really, i’m all a-twitter (in the old meaning of that word) with anticipation for what weirdness and wonder you’ll come up with. need a prize to prompt ya? fine. how about a copy of morgan schmidt’s MUST READ new book, Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus. it officially released this week. here’s what kenda dean said about it:

Morgan Schmidt is a snappy and relatable writer. But above all, she is a prophet blessed with a winsome honesty that sneaks up on you as you’re planning your umpteenth mission trip and whispers: “Recalculate.” For Schmidt, being human boils down to desire; and youth ministry that’s honest is about desire too—the desires of youth for God, the desire of God for them. With Woo, Morgan Schmidt joins a new class of practical theologians taking aim at the false gods driving the youth ministry industry, and she restores our focus—and our hope—on young people’s God-given desire to become, belong to, and worship as the body of Christ. Woo completely won me over.

so there. youth worker, if you ever asked yourself WWKD? the answer is clear: she would read this book.

winner gits one.

ok — whatcha got for this beauty, sent to me by an old friend and former middle school ministry volunteer, dr. matt carlson? (click on this bad boy for a much larger image.)

jesus walking on water, kinda

CONTENDERS

Jesus clearly brings out a large quantity of comments, both here and on facebook. here’s the best of the best, from my admittedly subjective and skewed perspective:

Othy
…and this was the scene in which you could tell that the producers spared no expense for the special effects in the “Son of God” movie.

Dave Wollan
Oh you of little hands

Cash
“During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
That was when I made you carry me
So that I could walk on water
And you could learn your lesson.”

David Hanson
Ancient “Chicken Fighting.”

Dan Jones
Miracle Whipped.

Josh Jones
The lesser known, 13th disciple – Aquaman

Lauren Christian
“Oops. Wrong lake.”

Jason Buchan
the disciples practicing their human video for their next outreach in Galilee.

Klint Bitter
“Jesus, dude, two words: under. Wear.”

and the winner is…

i have to admit, i was hoping for a good Son of God movie line. so i’m givin’ it to Othy, for “…and this was the scene in which you could tell that the producers spared no expense for the special effects in the “Son of God” movie.”

congrats, Othy — a copy of Woo is coming your way!

Slide1

The Best Life

i’ve had a book about Hope percolating in me for almost five years. i’ve had a publishing contract for the book since last summer. i finished a draft of it about 6 weeks ago and sent it off to 6 readers (including two “theological readers”). last week i spent 3 days in the desert making corrections and tweaks based on feedback from the readers. and on saturday, i sent it off to the publisher. even if the book only sells three copies (me, my wife and my mom), this was a major deal for me, writing a book that expresses something deep from my soul, and not just my head.

here’s a tiny snippet from the last chapter…

The Best Life

The age-old existential question that has haunted philosophers and college sophomores for a very long time, is some version of “Why am I here?” Jesus gives us some fodder for consideration in what has become my favorite Bible verse:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

Remember: When Jesus says “they” in this verse, he’s talking about you.

Contrary to what one might assume by observing Christians in America, Jesus did not say:

  • I have come that you may get into heaven.
  • I have come that you may leave this lousy place one day in the future.
  • I have come that you may get serious about religion, finally.
  • I have come that you may experience your ship coming in.
  • I have come that you may know who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
  • I have come that you may stop disgusting me so much.

It’s a pretty revolutionary promise, really. Jesus wants you to experience a full life. That’s his verbatim explanation for his time on earth.

Why are you here? To have a full life.

So, what’s a full life, then?

I’m convinced, from scripture, observation of hopeful people, and my own experience, that a fullness of life burns most hot when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give my life away, bringing Hope to the hopeless.

As my more self-focused longings are filled with the pigment of Hope, they start to shift. Since Hope and longing are dancing the Tango, a shift in one shifts the other. My Hope increases, and my longings turn outward. My longings shift and my Hope needs a power boost.

This is the full life. This is the life we were invented for. This is God’s dream for you, a continual broadening of your longings and increase of Hope, put into action.

IMG_3931

Zydeco Mass

my family attended an amazing, joy-filled Zydedo Mass eucharist service tuesday night with some friends, at st. paul’s episcopal church in san diego. it was an absolutely beautiful and unique worship experience. i captured some of it in short videos and photos. here’s a taste:

my family and a friend (not a video):
IMG_3919

the processional

reading of scripture:

reading of the gospel (not a video):
IMG_3931

“dance your offerings to the front”:

eucharist/communion:

the washboard player was one of the only people who didn’t seem amused; but he was awesome in his own curmudgeonly way (not a video):
IMG_3936

the recessional:

experiential, joy-filled worship, man. couldn’t all our churches use a bit more of that!?

jean valjean

Jean Valjean and the sparking of hope

here’s a little snippet of the writing i’ve been doing in the desert this week. this is the intro to the 8th chapter of the book (which is about hope). this chapter is tentatively called “Jesus, the Hope-Giver.”

My favorite Broadway musical is Cats.

That’s a lie, actually, and a glimpse into my strange sense of humor. Seriously, the percentage of normal, well-adjusted guys who love Cats has to be terribly small, right? Sorry if I’ve offended you. Sort of.

My favorite Broadway musical is Les Misérables. But to be honest, I prefer the film versions, because I can focus on the storyline more, not being distracted by the theatrics and staging. I was more upbeat about the 2012 version with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Anne Hathaway than many people I know. And I was two-thumbs-up about the 2000 version with Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich. But my favorite version of the story, by far, is the 1998 (non-musical) version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and a pre-Homeland Claire Danes.

I think the reason the 1998 version of “Les Mis” is my favorite is because it contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film, ever. It’s a scene in all versions of Les Mis, but none capture it quite like the 1998 film version.

You can skip reading this paragraph if you’re a Les Mis groupie, but to make sure everyone is on the same page: Les Miserables is the story (written as a book, by Victor Hugo, in 1862, and widely considered one of the best novels of the 19th century) of Jean Valjean, a peasant who steals a loaf of bread for his starving sister’s child and spends 19 years in prison for the crime. After his release, he breaks parole, and his hunted down by a law-obsessed police inspector named Javert. There’s much more to the story, of course. It’s an exploration of law and grace, loyalty, transformation, and redemption.

jean valjeanMy favorite scene occurs fairly early in the film, when Jean Valjean is first on the run for breaking parole. Turned away from multiple inns because his yellow passport marks him as a convict, Valjean is taken in by the town’s priest, Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the rectory’s silverware. But he is caught, and policemen return him to and the silverware to the rectory to refute Valjean’s claim that the silverware was given to him, enroute to what will clearly be a return to prison.

Here’s the breathtaking scene. When the police ask the Bishop if the silverware is his, he responds that it was the rectory’s, but that Valjean is correct in stating it was a gift. As the police release Valjean and turn to leave, the Bishop continues, saying that Valjean had forgotten to take the silver candlesticks. Valjean’s face reveals confusion, and the Bishop re-iterates that the valuable candlesticks were part of the gift.

Pulling Valjean aside, Bishop Myriel quietly says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”

The scene is powerful to me (and thousands of others) on multiple levels:
• I am Valjean (and so are you). I do not deserve mercy, but have been shown it countless times, by my God and by people in my life.
• The “measure” of mercy is over the top: not only forgiveness, but a double-portion gift.
• This is a clear picture of Jesus, particularly through the lens of the Bishop’s final comment.
• As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live like this, to be a dispenser of this style of mercy, which I find simultaneously life-giving and completely counter to my instincts.

And the scene is a powerful picture of hope’s arrival. Valjean heads into the rectory courtyard, held by the policemen, completely without hope. Full of fear and absolutely demoralized, days out of exile and about to be returned. He leaves with a kernel of possibility starting to crack open in his heart.

This is Jesus, who shows up in the midst of our confusion and pain and fear, and surprises us with hope. Other than the fact that Valjean would not be returning to prison, the immediate circumstances of Valjean’s life are still difficult. But his imagination is sparked, a dream of a new potential, hope and longing commencing the Tango.

IMG_3524

reflection questions for taking stock of your life

back in 2005, just before YS got sold to zondervan, i got sent on a sabbatical. i say “got sent on,” because i hadn’t actually asked for it. but it become apparent to my co-leaders and my boss that i was running on empty. i wasn’t empty yet — i wasn’t burned out. but i was in danger. so they graciously cut me off. three days later (literally), i was in hawaii starting 11 days by myself (i spent a month away from work — 100% disconnected — but the first 11 days were by myself, in hawaii). while this was critical for me, i also think we had a bit of a “this sort of thing will never again be possible after YS gets sold to zondervan/harpercollins/newscorp” understanding that fueled a few decisions like this!

the consultant who worked with our leadership team, mark dowds, gave me an assignment. every day i was to take one of the reflection questions below and think about it while taking an hour-long walk. he was insistent about me walking while meditating on the question. after the hour, i would come back and do some journaling about what i’d thought about, or heard from god. then i’d spend another chunk of time praying.

the whole thing had a profound impact on me. and in the years since, i’ve returned to these questions, and given them out to dozens of others (especially those who are headed out on a saabbatical).

it’s been a while, though. i’m completely loving what i get to do these days. but i have noticed that it’s 5% less fun than it was 6 months ago. i think that’s probably only because adam and i are doing too much, running too hard. we’re making some adjustments right now that i hope will help; but we haven’t seen the fruit of those adjustments yet.

IMG_3520so, when i head to the desert next week for a 3-day writing retreat, i think i’m going to spend some time with these questions again. maybe i’ll even walk a bit.

Where is my life going?

What do I want life to be like in 10 years (remove all fantasy and projection of anything material from your thoughts and get to the substance of life experience)?

What might God be trying to teach me?

Am I growing spiritually? Meditate on the fruit of the spirit (do I love more? am I more kind? etc.).

What moments in life have been the most pleasurable and God honoring? Revisist these times and reexperience them in your body.

What am I most afraid of and what can I discover about myself?

What changes am I going to make in life to be healthier in a holistic manner?

What can I do to relinquish more control in life in order to become more dependant on God for outcome?

What opportunities might this season be presenting me that I am not seeing?

If I was to make the gutsiest choice that could benefit my life and family more what would that choice be?

i STRONGLY encourage you to find a way to prayerfully consider these questions.

long country road

when god seems distant

Recently I was asked to speak on Psalm 139 for a youth worker’s spiritual retreat. Of course, Psalm 139 is such a familiar psalm (“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?… For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”). And I didn’t just want to offer clichés. Since it was a spiritual retreat, and the youth workers would be introduced to a variety of spiritual practices, I thought it might be helpful for me to approach the text the same way. So I spent some time approaching the Psalm with Lectio Divina, a wonderful process of reading the text slowly and prayerfully, inviting God to speak or nudge or prompt; and if or when a word or phrase catches your attention, to sit with that and ‘roll it around’ for a while, asking God to reveal what he wants to say to you about that particular idea.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything.

long country road

I read the Psalm slowly and prayerfully a few times from the NIV, and once from the RSV. Nuthin’. But then I read it slowly and prayerfully a couple times from The Message, and two phrases immediately jumped out at me. From verse 2: I’m an open book to you, even at a distance, you know what I’m thinking. And from verse 5: I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going.

In the midst of this gorgeous poetry about God’s presence were two little acknowledgements of God’s absence. Or God’s apparent distance. And while I’m pretty into God’s ‘comings’, I’m not such a fan of god’s ‘goings’.

The dark night of the soul
John of the Cross came up with this nifty little phrase we still use back in the mid-1500s. Some of his explanation works for me, some leaves me a bit cold. But, knowing that all of us, myself included, experience times when God seems very distant and/or silent, it struck me that some of these youth workers would be coming to a three-day spiritual retreat stuck in that place, with a palpable fear that God would remain distant and silent throughout the retreat. So I compiled a little ‘off the top of my head’ list of thoughts for spirituality during the dark night, built on my assumption that: When God seems distant, it’s rarely because he actually is. It’s usually because there’s something preventing us or blocking us from seeing or knowing his presence.

1. Hold firmly to the truth that faith is a choice.
I’m not talking about the free will/predestination debate here. I’m suggesting that almost everyone who goes through times of God’s distance or silence and comes out the other side, describes how formative it was in their own faith development. So in a time of God’s apparent distance, one of the most important disciplines we can exercise is to choose, each day, to be a person of faith. In times like this, faith has very little to do with emotion or feelings.

2. Hold two things in tension:
Release yourself from any guilt over being in this place (as if God is distant because you were bad), while being ruthless in looking for roadblocks that could be preventing you from seeing God.

3. Pray prayers of aspiration.
A church leader friend once shared how his church had struggled with reconciling their desire to be fully authentic and honest with the truth that they didn’t always, at every moment, believe everything in the creeds they wanted to be a part of their church life. They settled on something I have found extremely helpful: they consider the creeds to be statements of aspiration, statements of what they long for and want to believe. I have found this perspective way-helpful in terms of my own prayer life. When God feels distant, or when I’m struggling with doubts, I can pray with aspiration. I can pray Psalm 139 or the shield of St. Patrick with an attitude of hope and longing: this is what I desire to be true and real and my daily experience.

4. Break with the norm.
Find a spiritual director to help you spot God’s presence in your life. Re-arrange your daily schedule. Take a road-trip. Try some different approaches to prayer and scripture. Look for God in places you wouldn’t normally look (spiritual classics, nature, children, film, music).

5. Be more green.
So often we’ve been asked (by our churches and traditions) to focus exclusively on either God’s transcendence or God’s imminence: Evangelicals tend to chose transcendence, and our Christianity is primarily about living out a personal communion with a transcendent God. Our evangelism and worship and discipleship are all built around this. More liberal churches tend to chose imminence, and while cautious about God’s ability or interest in connecting with individual people, embrace the “agenda” of God–doing good works, caring for the earth, justice, and the present work of the Kingdom of God.

A friend of mine describes these two polarities as yellow (for transcendence) and blue (for imminence), and says all Christ-followers need constant nudging toward combining those colors to create green. It’s a beautiful metaphor. But the implication here is this: especially when we’re stuck in times when God seems distant or silent, pursuing the ‘other’ primary color than the one we’ve been steeped in from our tradition can open up new ways of seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s presence.

6. Wait. Be still. Slow down.
This is likely the most important. If John of the Cross’ reasoning is correct at all (that we primarily interact with God through our own images of God, and that God distances himself from us in order to move us beyond our limited images), the only path forward is to wait. Most of us are so uncomfortable with silence and slow. But it’s an essential component of a fully-lived Christian life. Create a pattern of slowing down.