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  • John Bryant

Mark 10: 13-16: The Anguish of the Soul, the Wilderness of Experience, the Faith of a Child.

Updated: Aug 24

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.


For the last three years I have been trying to leave an extraordinary life in the world and learn an ordinary life with Christ.


I’ve wanted, endeavored for an ordinary life where my trust is rescued by His Word (what I call Faith), my attention is shepherded through His Spirit (what I call Hope) so that, by overturning, consecrating power of Word and Spirit, a gentleness might be offered in His Fellowship (what I call Love). The order is sequential: without trust I cannot pay attention, without attention it is not possible for me to be gentle. It has been a life of learning how to become quiet, simple, and available.


In order to have my trust rescued, my attention shepherded, my gentleness offered, in order to become quiet, simple, and available, I needed a procession, a rhythm, a rule of life, a discipline, a way to live with Christ by working alongside His means of grace, a way to live by His Word, through His Spirit, in His Fellowship. I needed some thread, some procession that would move me from faith to hope to love, from trust to attention to gentleness. Some way to be led in that solemn procession multiple times a day.


A way to become the gracious offer of myself. That’s the point. To become the gracious offer of myself. Knowing Christ is the joy in offering. Christ is the meaning in offering.


The solemn procession I’ve found is


Hearing, prayer, and offering

To hear, to pray, to offer


The order, I’ve found is important. It is in hearing we learn to pray, and in prayer we learn to offer.


This has been my simple life with Christ:


hear, pray, offer

hear, pray, offer

hear, pray, offer


It has been my alternative to figuring things out, making things right, defending myself, knowing for sure.


Hear, pray, offer


Had to learn it, am still learning it, will always be learning it. What are these things? Hearing, prayer, offering? What are they?


Hearing is about who Christ is. The Word, the Gospel, reveals who Christ is. It puts who He is on display. Hearing by faith is how Christ holds on to us and how we hold on to him. Hearing is how we hold on to who Christ is. We are changed by who He is. And changed into who we are.


Prayer is about who I am. Namely, prayer is everything I am headed toward everything Christ has revealed himself to be. All our concerns, situations, challenges, fears, anxieties, groanings, confusions, intercessions, worship are being led toward who Christ His through His Spirit.


Offering is about what I’m supposed to be doing. What we are supposed to be doing is giving ourselves for the building of His Fellowship. But this offering depends on knowing Who Christ Is, and knowing Who I Am. Depends on Word and Spirit, hearing and prayer.


I’ve made the definitions even simpler for myself.


Trust in Christ by hearing. That is, we trust in Christ by His Word. By hearing we hold on to Christ.

Trust Christ with things through prayer. That is, we trust Christ with things through His Spirit. Through prayer everything I have and everything I feel and everything I am is being led toward Christ through His Spirit.

Entrust myself to others in offering. That is, we give ourselves for the building of His Fellowship. In offering, we hand ourselves over for Christ's sake.


It is a sequence, a rhythm, a daily procession

In hearing we learn to pray. In prayer we learn to offer.


When I know who Christ is, I know who I am. What I know I am, I know what I’m supposed to be doing.


All of it, all of ordinary life, everything about an ordinary day, depends on, is powered by, consecrated by the vigilant proclamation of the Gospel so we never stop beholding who Christ is. And never stop being changed by who Christ is.


This is a thread, a procession that must be always available because it begins with the hearing of an overturning Word. The thread is our life with the Overturning Word of Mercy, beholding it by hearing, being patient with it in prayer, bearing witness to it in offering.


I wrote a post this last year about when that thread, that procession, felt particularly delicate, when it felt exceptionally tenuous. Like it could break. It happens at midday, where all of the sudden and without any real warning I suddenly feel


Miserable

Threatened

Condemned


I’ve taken a long time to wonder about this. Why do I feel miserable, threatened, condemned? I’ve begun to sort it out over the years.


I feel miserable because my afflicted mind (the OCD) says certain things (situations, emotions, thoughts, desires, possibilities) are loathsome, wrong, excruciating, or perilous. In light of this, it then says certain things (called compulsions) have to happen.


I feel threatened because my traumatized body always feels in trouble, at risk, unsafe or unsettled. Like something is always at stake. Even in very normal situations.


I feel condemned because of the Devil’s lies, verdicts, and accusations about who I am in light of the fact that I feel this way. Feeling like I have no future.


When I feel miserable, threatened, and condemned, my wounded soul cries out, anguished and upset. Upset because the legitimate need of every soul is to be seen, to be safe, to be fed, to be given recognition, rest, and meaning. When my soul upset, it says three things


All is lost (no meaning, no fulfillment)

Nothing is safe (no rest, no security )

And

I don’t matter (no recognition, no validation)


That is, it begins to cry out in shame, fear, and despair.


The miserable mind, threatened body, and devil’s condemnation can make my soul upset.


Feeling miserable, threatened, condemned, and upset, the hardness of my heart is awakened. My selfish pride. My dependence on myself. The dark pull of what I’ll do to be okay. To make myself seen and safe and fed.


Miserable, threatened, condemned, selfish and upset.


Who can stand up over such forces?


The problem, for me, can begin to be stated simply: the afflicted mind, the traumatized body, the devil’s lies, are two things:


A bad commentary on ordinary experience–a shroud, a false shrieking testimony about what things are that is always obscuring what they really are. Making my soul upset, stirring and awakening my selfish pride.

A terrible shepherd of the soul—leading it to the wrong place to be seen, safe, and fed. Binding my heart to a trust in myself and my compulsions to be okay.


Because they are a bad commentary they are a terrible shepherd.


The overwhelming testimony of the afflicted mind, the traumatized body, the devil’s lies, is that ordinary experience is not endurable. Together they say, “I’m not gonna make it.”


My only way forward has been this solemn childlike procession of


faith, hope, love;


Word, Spirit, Fellowship;


hearing, prayer, offering,


Trust, attention, gentleness


Who He Is, Who I am, What I’m Supposed to Be Doing


Trusting in Christ, trusting Christ with things, entrusting myself to others.


Learning to become quiet, simple, available


This has been the real gift of the last three years: that even when I am miserable, threatened, condemned, and upset, I can still trust, pay attention, and be gentle. And I can do this by His Word, through His Spirit, and in His Fellowship.


I’ve made a map of it for daily life:


The things I do to rescue my trust by hearing:


Daily office

Gel Pen Lectio Divina

Hymns

Bible Studies

Devotionals and Sermons

Eucharist


The thing I do to shepherd my attention through prayer:

Jesus Prayer and Mindfulness Exercise–Accepting Something

Lord’s Prayer and Swimming, Biking, Driving, Hiking,Walking –Heading Somewhere


Things I do to become gentle in offering

Be with

Take care

Have fun

Make something

Lead gently


What we can expect from an ordinary life in Christ is slow, steady growth in faith, hope, love (deepening of our trust, attention, and gentleness) by His Word, through His Spirit, in His Fellowship.


How so?


By His Word, through His Spirit, in His Fellowship Christ claims my heart and soul as His own, my heart and soul claims Christ as mine.


So yes, by Word, Spirit, Fellowship, I have Christ. But what do I have Christ as? Who is He?


The Overturning Word of Mercy–the Lamb of God, Christ’s gracious offer of Himself. The Overturning Word of Mercy means everything has been dealt with because Christ has dealt with it. And everything has been given because Christ has given himself.

The Forgiveness of Sin–by giving himself he buried my hardness of heart so I can trust in Him.

The Satisfaction of the Soul–when he buried my hardness of heart, he is free to clothe my shame, cast out my fear, give my life meaning because I’ve given up trying to clothe my own shame, cast out my own fear, end my despair. To give recognition, rest, and meaning.

The Mending of Brokenness–with my pride buried, my shame clothed, my fear cast out, and my life given meaning, I’m free to see my mind and body as things Christ will mend and heal in time, shepherding my afflicted mind and traumatized body through this daily procession.

The Overruling of Condemnation—with pride buried, soul satisfied, brokenness mended, we see that Christ is the overruling of Satan’s lies about who we are. We turn from all stories that revoke a future. Because Mercy provides a future.


When we know Christ is the Mercy offered. We know we are servants and guests of the Mercy offered.


When we know this, the daily procession helps us to stand firm in it and hold fast to it by hearing, to then be led in it through prayer, to then hand ourselves over for it in offering. To simply stand firm, be led, and give ourselves, while Christ buries our pride, satisfies our souls, mends our brokenness, and overrules every accusation and condemnation.


We welcome the limits provided by the gospel, the boundaries it offers to keep us safe. The distinction between Christ and us.


We learn the only thing we need to do each day is to stand firm, be led, and give ourselves while Christ offers, buries, clothes, mends, and overturns, by His Word, through His Spirit, in His Fellowship.


But I’ve had to claim Christ as more than those things. If the afflicted mind, the traumatized body, the devil’s condemnation is a bad commentary on ordinary experience, if it cannot be trusted when it says that ordinary human experience is not endurable, it can only be because by His Word, through His Spirit, and in His Fellowship, by hearing, through prayer and in offering, I also claim Christ as The Enduring of Experience.


Knowing Christ as the Enduring of Experience, I learn how to abide in every situation.


Finding and claiming Christ as the Enduring of Experience is something I have done through prayer. Specifically it has been the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I say words and I name what I am experiencing, and by saying those words repeatedly and rhythmically in the background while naming what I am experiencing to him, I trust Christ with it, and claim him as the Enduring of Experience. The Jesus Prayer has been, for me, about leaving behind rumination and simply accepting what I’m experiencing and trusting Christ with whatever it is, whether being miserable, threatened, condemned, upset, or somethings else. It’s been about learning to become as simple as accepting something.


And so I made a list, a child’s map of ordinary experience, so might claim Christ as the Enduring of Experience. My hope is, with this list, I’m not far from the language of the psalms, where Christ is said to be our keeper, our shade, our shield, our fortress, our deliverance, our portion, our hiding place. Maybe the naivete of this list is not far from the language of the Psalms, where the wilderness of experience and the anguish of the soul is matched with the faith of a child.


There are five categories of experience that can often feeling unendurable, too painful, to me: suffering, uncertainty, impulse, alienation, complication,

This map says that in order to be okay, to make it it through the day, Christ must be


my acceptance, my abiding in every situation:


My abiding in alienation, uncertainty, temptation, suffering , and complication,


I’ve made an even more detailed list….


That He is my abiding in alienation, my


Forgiveness in hostility

Courtesy in provocation

Civility in response

Dignity in disrespect

Reputation in embarrassment

Honor in humiliation

Privilege in being ignored

Delight in being a nobody

Vindication in betrayal

Welcome in rejection

Regard in contempt

Shield in condemnation

Posture in challenge

Reconciliation in estrangement

Invitation in alienation

Return in exile

Way back in estrangement

Entrance in pain

Entrance in revulsion

Bridge in disconnection

Homecoming in sojourning

Nearness in aversion

Involvement in avoidance

Compassion in wretchedness

Solace in confusion

Stillness in indecision

Serenity in disorientation

Contentment in dissatisfaction

Direction in longing

Softening in grudge

Amnesty in grievance


My abiding in complication, my


Honesty in conversation

Kindness in conflict

Tenderness in confrontation

Clarity in expectation

Release in responsibility

Limit in concern

Boundary in control

Permission in disapproval

Perseverance in difficulty

Durability in turbulence

Resilience in turmoil

Resolve in restlessness

Obedience in dread

Faithfulness in commitment

Willingness in obligation

Readiness in deliberation

Momentum in habit

Will in rhythm

Fulfillment in labor

Satisfaction in toil

Discipline in tedium

Daily bread in details

Level-head in unrest

Anchor in agitation

Stamina in trial

Forbearance in imperfection

Rest in Harassment

Gentleness in hardship

Meaning in futility

Mission in setback

Involvement in discomfort

Persistence in complication

Patience in frustration

Diligence in logistics

Firmness in pushback

Forgivness in forgetfulness

Grit in letting down

Charity in forgetfulness

Victory in defeat

Winning in losing

Joy in offering

Meaning in offering

Privilege in offering

Vindication in offering

Fulfillment in offering


My abiding in temptation, my


Stillness in impulse

Compunction in cruelty

Purpose in renunciation

Calm in the horrendous pull

Defiance in compulsion

Warden in urge

Delay in response

Discretion in reaction

Control in hunger

Honor in desire

Discretion in interest

Contentment in dissatisfaction

Sobriety in pain

Level head in agitation

Education in instinct

Restraint in anger

Standing place in intimidation

Steadiness in stress

Steadfastness in feeling drawn

Deliberateness in urgency

Letting go in holding on

Equanimity in awareness

Balance in interests

Appreciation in beauty

Acceptance in attraction

Focus in possibilities


He is my abiding in uncertainty, my


Ease in tension

Release in apprehension

Reassurance in risk

Companion in thresholds

Company in transition

Thread in change

Constant in disruption

Serenity in confusion

Stillness in indecision

Acceptance in new environment

Calm in peril

Crossing-over in moments of crisis

Way Forward in the unknown

Way out in ensnarement

Reverence in frailty

Accommodation in inconvenience

Equanimity in interruption

Faithfulness in commitment

Readiness in arrangement


He is my abiding in suffering, my



Safe passage in annihilation

Foothold in agony

Stronghold in horror

Comfort in affliction

Quiet in trauma

Acknowledgement in hurt

Song in pain

Companion in grief

Consolation loss

Composure in distress

Expression in being upset

Promise in loss

Consolation in ruin

Shepherd in tragedy

Answer in the unanswerable

Cry in Sadness

Lament in despair

Longing in melancholy

Tenderness in depression

Purpose in discouragement

Recognition in guilt

Remorse in regret

Grace in mistakes


And with this list, I claim what Paul claimed in Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.








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