Thursday, February 14, 2013

Coram Deo: a theology of presence

Again Lent crept up, silent and unassuming.  And rather suddenly, as it is wont to these past few years.  There it is, tucked into the middle of my week, the day before Valentines; and I’m supposed to know exactly which spiritual disciplines will best lead me to what end for the growth and betterment of my soul.       

I wonder if that’s how the desert found Christ.  If He was walking, purposed on being close to the Father after His baptism, looked up and suddenly He was in the desert.  As He intended to be, no doubt; but did He intentionally note the crossing of the line from society to wilderness.  Or was it just something that happened as He considered His Father’s words to Him?
Whatever the case, I prayed yesterday, as I hung red and silver whirly-gigs from my ceiling, and draped all conceivable surfaces with hearts, that the Holy Spirit would lead me into this Lent with insight as to what I ought to do.  For there is much on my mind and heart this Lenten season, not so external as last year, more internal; and I have been seeking means for addressing the shifting in my spirit and I just knew that Lent would pair so well with this pursuit.  And I prayed again, driving through fog and traffic on the way to class on this day of commercialized love; wishing I wasn’t already a day behind in the liturgical calendar, so that it felt like failing to even be asking.       

And in my own head, I came up with a few good and decent ideas:

·         Practice self-care for 40 days – Because I have a tendency to neglect myself in certain ways; and this neglect shows a poor respect for the gift of my physical body, a poor theology of time and of humanness, and, frankly a disrespect for the price Christ paid to free me from sinful behaviors and attitudes concerning an anti-gnostic view of me.  Thus, I had concluded the following would be my means of practice:

o    consume only Paleo food and drink [like the Daniel fast, only with lean meat proteins and omitting grains]

o    engage in physical activity every day

o    nap when I need it

o    get enough water

o    go to bed at a decent hour

o    Give up alcohol*

·         Memorize scripture – A good discipline to ground my thoughts and deeds and days in God’s Word; to have it available when I need it; to let the Holy Spirit work through the scriptures directly on my heart.

o    Find 4 sections (not verses, but passages that include the contextual emphasis) of scripture – the trouble I was running into was: which passages?

o    Devote 10 days to the memorization of each passage

o    Write them on my mirror, make flip cards, tuck them into my books for school, they would be constantly before my eyes and on my mind.


·         Give up make-up for 40 days – If you know me, this doesn’t sound like much of a stretch.  But when I wear it, it is representative both my desperate attempts to control a tiny bit of the situation I’m in, and my warped theology of beauty (how I want people to view me and how I am programmed to view myself with and without it).  Even I was surprised to find myself balking at the very idea.  It was a telling few moments of my commute.  

Each of these is a good idea. Thus, I had decided to implement them together, in a holistic self-care Lenten regimen.  I was contemplating the lateness of my Lent’s beginning (Ash Wednesday was yesterday) as I pulled into the parking lot; and having an internal argument as to whether Valentine’s celebrations could count as “non-Lent-ish” since a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of wine were in my plans for this evening.  Shouldn’t I keep my make-up on for the Officer, if this was my last day of it for a month; and who wants to workout on Valentine ’s Day anyway?    

I walked into class, as is so often the case, completely unaware of what God was going to do in that space – just for me. 
Yes, I know how selfish it sounds to say that God did something only for me, in a graduate course full of students and visitors with their lives full of God-needs, too.  But He has done it over and over again—knocked the wind out of me through the prayer of a teacher, or through the wisdom of a professor, or through the insight of a classmate.  Maybe because it’s there, in those rooms, at those times, am I really listening and really believing all of what God says about who He is.  Or maybe it’s because these people, in that place, listen to Him well and bring Him with them in their hearts and their words.  Or maybe it’s just because.    

We’d discussed it before; and will no doubt again.  But today in the professor’s prayer, in my heart, in the talk about what we believe about God and how our lives are lived out of this belief, however well-formed or poorly represented; today, it struck me as exactly what I was hoping for in my Lent.

Coram Deo :

-- carried out before, or in the presence of, God.

The professor read the whole of Isaiah 40:9-31 aloud, over us.  I could hear my Father’s voice in my heart; within me, my spirit responded.  As this reality of who God is was pouring over me, I asked the question: is every aspect of my life conducted coram deo; and I knew the answer is not fully and wholly, “yes.”  I am still trying to control so much of it.  Every day.  And there are deep places in me that cry out still for the fullness of the gospel to reach them; like so many petals needing to be peeled away so that light can finally reach the center.
So that what was left after this sounding of my spirit was the realization that the practices I had purposed earlier wouldn’t merely do – they were exactly what I needed.

·         If I truly believe that God created me, and has ransomed me for His own, then I need to practice self-care.  It is not a selfish pursuit.  Nor should it wear the trappings of vanity; for the moment I think, “I want to be skinnier/prettier/firmer/etc…” I move from stewardship to sin.  I must care for this physical and temporal body not because it’s the vessel that holds my soul, but because my body is as much me as my heart and mind and spirit.  Each was made by God, with only me in mind.  And each should be cared for because they were made by God – not because I want the world to respond to me in a certain way. {Self-care} 

·         If I truly believe that God inspired humans to write down His words, centuries apart in different context for different audiences using different genres and literary devices, then I need to seek His voice therein.  If I truly believe that somehow, incomprehensible to me, His Spirit and Power are alive in His Word, then oughtn’t I devote time and energy to tucking these into my being – into my mind and heart?  {Memorize Isaiah 40:9-31}

·         If I truly believe that God is the Creator of the universe and time; and that He is the orchestrator of all good things, should I not completely surrender control to Him? {No make-up.  Focusing only on the 24 hour period in which I am presently; and doing what I can in that time and space.}   

·         Finally, an addition: If I truly believe that God is YHWH, then I need a better theology.  Not newer or more “relevant” or more academic.  More holistic, more well-rounded, more thoughtful, more aware.  I will use my course assignments not merely as papers, but as formation exercises.  I will find what theologians say about certain topics (the Doctrine of revelation, of sin, of human being, of creation, of God, etc…), and what the scriptures say; and I will find where I fall.  For out of my theology will come my praxis of life coram deo.  {Research, articulate, and practice Theology on 4 topics}

Of course, these disciplines are just that: mechanisms to keep me mindful of living my entire life as before God.  They will not unlock some secret spirituality within me.  They will not, by virtue of their practice, usher me into a more intimate communion with the Lord.  But, like any training exercise,  they can help me center my mind and focus my heart and bend my spirit to hear God, and daily [even moment to moment] help me to live my life coram deo.           

May this Lenten season find you seeking deeper relationship with God the Father.  May His Holy Spirit guide your weeks ahead.  And may His Son, Jesus Christ once again win your heart with His unquenchable love.



*A note on Giving up Alcohol – While I do not hold a teetotaler philosophy {this in itself is not a judgment on either side of the debate, merely a personal note}, I find that removing certain substances from time to time a beneficial practice that allows me to focus on mental, spiritual, and physical health.  To do a sounding of my whole person and decided: does this particular element have too great a hold on me (I have done this with alcohol, sugar, and caffeine in the past).  It allows me to find this ingredient’s place in my life and make sure it has not become either a crutch or a screen to something deeper in need of attention. 

Linked with: I Still Hate Pickles for Lent.  Visit Kiki's site, read her words, and be enoucraged by her insightful transparency.  


  1. Love this. Beautifully written and vulnerable, with much to encourage. Thanks for linking up! I plan to have a linky every Friday for any lent-posters.

    1. Kiki,
      Thanks for offering the link up (it was my first)! I enjoy your words of insight so very much.