The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place.
The NIV translation of merchab in Psalm 31:8 is particularly lovely. “You have set my feet in a spacious place.”
Our lives are incredibly cluttered. We fill our homes with stuff; we fill the hours of our days with activity, noise and pressure. Even when we go on vacation, we often trade one form of busyness for another series of frenetic activities and distractions. More always seems to be better and enough is never enough.
Thomas Merton once pointed out that the root of the word “vacation” is the Latin word “vacare,” meaning “to empty.” Strangely, apart from vacation, most of the associations with “vacare” have negative overtones. We talk of a vacant lot and mean something useless. We call a person vacuous and it is not a complement. But a vacation is something most people contemplate with enthusiasm.
A vacation is intended to be an emptying time. It is intended to be a time when we create space for ourselves to live, space for ourselves to breathe. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of Psalm 31:8 says, “you gave me room to breathe.” Too often we do not give ourselves “room to breathe” in our daily lives. We rush from one thing to the next; we never stop, just to stop.
This blog is intended to be a stopping place. I want to stop. I want to breathe. And I want to see what emerges from that stopping place. I want to discover what is there when I give myself space, or, perhaps better, when I enable myself to be in the “spacious place,” that in fact has already been provided for me by God. What emerges in this spacious place may be of no interest to anyone other than myself. But, whether or not what I find in that “spacious place” is of interest to anyone else is not of primary importance.
I know a person who is a wonderful photographer. He walks all over the city taking pictures. He almost never shows the results to anyone. I don’t think he even looks at them very often himself. He says the point of his photography is not so much the photograph he produces. The point of his photography is to cause him to see. Without the discipline of a camera there are so many beautiful and mysterious things we rush past and never notice. The camera causes the photographer to stop. The camera causes the photographer to pay attention, to notice, to look more carefully.
This blog is like my friend’s camera. It is an instrument that is intended to encourage discipline. It is an attempt cause myself to stop and notice, to notice what is going on in my inner life, in my relationship to the world around me and to God. It may seem self-indulgent to post such reflections on the internet in the form of a blog. But, I know myself well enough to know that, without the external motivation of the possibility these reflections might benefit someone other than just myself, I will write much less often and probably less carefully. So this blog exists to help me open to God and to life.
This blog is also called “Reflections on the Christ Journey.” This subtitle reflects my conviction that the purpose of my life is contained in my journey in and with Christ. It is my relationship to the inner hidden secret reality of God dwelling in my innermost being that gives significance purpose and meaning to my existence. Jesus Christ is the focus of my identity and my reality.
On the surface it might appear that I could be defined by the fact that I have been Heather Page’s husband for thirty-one years, or that I am the father of two grown daughters and one glorious little grand-daughter. My life might seem to be defined by the position I have held for the past fifteen years as the Rector of St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Oak Bay or that I have written a few books. But none of these functions I perform is who I am.
I am a being in whom dwells the presence of the living God known to me in Jesus Christ. I identify with Paul’s exalted claim that “we have this treasure in clay jars.” (II Corinthians 4:7) I am a treasure container. The treasure I contain is the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling within me. I did not create this treasure; it is a gift. I am not responsible for my existence; it is a gift. It is just there, given to me, a gracious inexplicable gift, a fit I did not earn, a gift for which I am not worthy.
Those things I do with my life all function on the physical horizontal dimension of time. They are merely the activities in which I am engaged, the situations my life encounters. I am much more than this “flatland” vision of reality. I am a multi-dimensional being, created to live now in eternity. I exist to dwell within the fullness of God and to allow the fullness of God to come to expression in and through my life. I find this fullness of God most deeply expressed in the person of Jesus the Christ. I believe that, as I surrender myself to the Spirit of Christ, his Spirit will live more fully and express itself more completely in and through my life. The Spirit of Christ may be expressed in the way I preach a sermon, the way I talk to a stranger, or the way I tie my shoes. The means of expression is much less important than the expression itself.
If Christ’s Spirit is going to be expressed in and through my life, I must make space for his Spirit. I must be willing to let go of the clutter and chaos that fill so much of my life. For me personally, this means a regular practice of silent prayer. Heather and I are both practitioners and teachers of Centering Prayer. For the past fifteen years we have been deeply committed to the ridiculous discipline of sitting silently doing absolutely nothing except surrendering to God for twenty minutes twice a day. We use this time day after day after day to express to God our deepest intention to let go of everything in our lives that is anything less than God. This practice reorients our lives around their true centre.
When we sit in silent prayer we are encountering at a cellular level that our lives are a gift. There is nothing we need to do except receive that gift. The purpose of my life is to breathe. When I start from this place of absolute openness and receptivity, I will act and live with a new consciousness.
This practice of silent prayer is not an escape from reality. It is not an avoidance of the confused mess of life. Centering Prayer is a constant return to reality. It is a daily reaffirmation of the most fundamental truth about my life. I am a child of God. My identity lies in Christ, not in anything I do, own, or achieve. When I am clear about my identity, the rest of my life and my activities will come from that deep inner place of light and life in which the flow of God’s Spirit is my strength and my guide throughout my life.
This is the only journey there is. Everything emerges from this place of rest and trust in Christ. I am not interested in how to make my life more successful, how to build the church, or even how to create world peace and harmony. I might love to do all these things; but none of them is the motivating force behind my life. The motivating force behind my life is the Christ Journey in which I live and breathe in the presence of God and allow all life to open from the place of presence and love that is God’s Spirit.