By the Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge
From “Spiritual Practices – Living the Gift,” the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Reflections magazine. To read the entire issue, click here.
This year’s diocesan theme, “Rekindle the gift of God within you” (2 Timothy 1:6) is ripe with opportunities to connect and re-connect with God, the “ground of our being.” The focus of this edition of Reflections is on spiritual practices. And when we consciously are deepening our spiritual disciplines, we are rekindling the gift of God within.
The Gospel of Luke is rich with parables, and one of the most well-known parables is The Prodigal Son (Luke 15). During Lent, I had the opportunity to offer some reflections on the father in this story, using Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Nouwen notes that it is the love of the father which makes the child aware of being lost in the first place. He says that a person who has no home to which to return isn’t lost – in the sense that without a home, there is nowhere to be found. This type of understanding doesn’t speak of “home” strictly as a place, but “home” as a deep rootedness to something. In this parable’s case, that deep rootedness is the love of the father, and since parables point us to God – this is speaking of our “home” as our relationship with God.
In the story, the love of the father embraces not only the son’s return, but also the son’s leaving. Nouwen notes that the father doesn’t say, “don’t go.” Quite the opposite is implied: “Yes, son, go; it will be hard and you may be hurt. I can’t hold you back. When you return, I’ll be here for you, just as I am here for you now.”
There are several important theological points in this story. Let me just mention two.
One, God’s love surrounds us all the time. In our going out, and in our coming back. The psalmist gets at this same idea in Psalm 139:
Lord, you have searched me out and known me . . . you trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways . . . where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
This is the kind of Godly presence I appreciate and the kind of Godly presence I need. To keep this presence and this relationship strong, I need to continually work at it. And this brings me back to the ongoing necessity in my spiritual life and in my spiritual disciplines to “rekindle the gift of God within.”
Two, when we leave our “home,” our “base” our “core,” our “truth” – however you choose to say it – we’re adrift. Away from our God, we begin to lose our way. This problem, of course, is covered in the story of the garden of Eden. The deepest suffering of the prodigal is a result of being adrift and separated from his source of life. In the sense of the parable, that source of life is God.
In those moments when we remember that we are created in the image of God (also covered in the garden of Eden story), our connection is rekindled, and we are more likely to rediscover that “peace which passes all understanding” and that holy joy which makes life deeply meaningful. Or as Jesus puts it, “the life that really is life.”
I hope that your spiritual practices will rekindle the gift of God within you, and that together, as a rekindled people, we can be that “royal priesthood” that is mentioned in 1 Peter 2.9: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. This is our calling, this is our purpose.
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