The first book l read from Eugene Peterson was “Jesus the way”. It’s a third installment on his series of spiritual conversations. Peterson’s exposition of the Way of Jesus, its metaphorical essence combined with its literal meaning, gave clarity to my own vision as a follower of Christ. I already gave my own exposition on this matter from my previous sermon which I posted here as well.
I only knew about Peterson from his translation of the Bible popularly known as “The Message”. Prior to reading one of his books, I listened to several of his podcast from Seattle Pacific College where I believe he’s an alumni. Wanting to learn more, I decided to buy the first book of his series on spiritual conversation and it’s entitled “Christ plays in Ten Thousand places”. Not yet knowing what it’s all about, I bought the book mainly because I learned a lot from the third book.
“Christ plays” overwhelmed me with a lot of revelations. These are things which I probably know by experience but since it was outside my vocabulary, language, or theology, I failed to make sense of it until now. The most important revelation I got from the book answered my life long question with regard to the scarcity of first hand experiences of God with the people of God in His church. Although I am convinced already that being born again by the spirit would require an unseen reality happening to a person, it made an impression to me that a “special” kind of encounter is needed in order to be “born again”. After all, if it is something very important and a lot of people really wants it then just like anything which everyone deemed valuable yet unavailable, only an elite few will be able to have it. And in this-world economy of supply and demand, it made sense that not everyone would experience the breath of God.
However, the book showed me that I was wrong. The spiritual experience of God is rare and elusive to a lot of people, not because it’s only available to a few time and few places, but because it’s too available to all the places and at all times. The central metaphor of John used in the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, opened my understanding that the presence and manifestation of the spirit is just like wind and water. Both are very familiar and too ordinary that sometimes people are used to take it for granted. The wind is felt presence, sometimes strong and sometimes subtle while water is visibly available, always there either when we eat or when we bathed. The familiarity and ordinariness of these things when compared to the “spirit” also gives life to the metaphor. The spirit of God is always available which why it is often ignored. It’s here and now. It’s present. All it needs from us is to take time and make space. It calls us to notice the subtly and be attentive to it’s movements. The spirit of the Lord is upon us and we just need to open hearts to it.
This realization made me appreciate the way we worship in church which is by liturgy. I grew up with this discipline and much of my childhood were attempts to bear with it. I really did not get it. It is actually boring and most adults, as I observed it, are not enjoying themselves as well. This led me to seek God through the special activities of our Youth group. Charged with energy and thirst for the divine, we pursed God through activities until we got burned out. Camps, praise and worship, bands, and etc was the new thing then so we tried it all. I put too much emphasis on the practice and this led me to a lot of frustration and disappointments. Jesus was probably teaching us a lot of things then but it was a costly experience and Although this led me where I am now, I still wish someone would have showed me the way of Jesus when I was still young.
When I got disillusion by the externality of worship, I focused more on what is happening on the inside. I became sensitive more to motives, intentions and agendas. I have put less and less emphasis on bodily appearances and gave more importance to feelings and emotions. Although, I believe I was making spiritual progress that time, my understanding on the matter is still incomplete. I skewed a bit to private spirituality which gives an uneven emphasis on the importance of the special encounter with God. While it is important for each to have a personal encounter with the divine, it is also equally importance to emphasis the incarnated means to which it is being experienced. I began to adopted an attitude towards nature, flesh, and the creation in itself similar to the old Gnostic way of life where all material is bad and only the pure spirit is good. The less we deal with it, the better. I got detached with care of my own body, the earth and the relationships that comes with it, society and politics. This led my belief and practice of experiencing God only at special times of prayer and worship, to the special places of church and fellowship. The God that I once knew to be someone available became less and less present. And reading this book, made me realize that I was wrong.
The God whom Jesus revealed to us is a personal God. A God whose spirit actively participates in His own creation. Creation is not something that has happed to all the things created but rather as something that God is doing now even at the present. Creation is not stagnation but participation. This open my heart in seeing God works through all this creation and invites me to participate in everything that we is doing. All I need to do is join in to His project of renewing his Creation through Jesus as it’s King and Ruler. The Spirit of God fills in everything we do even though it’s very ordinary. And this I believe also works its way into our church liturgy. While everything seems to be ordinary, repetitive and boring, the spirit of God is always there. It’s presence can be felt there just like the wind. It’s manifestation can be seen there just like water. God is present all the time. The spirit of God is with us – Emmanuel, Jesus.