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Monday, November 19, 2012

"Invitations from God" (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun)

TITLE: Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More
AUTHOR: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011, (208 pages)

This book is written by a fellow alumnus from my alma mater. With "invitation" as a key theme, Calhoun weaves in 11 areas in which we can find ourselves invited to do. "Invitation" is a great word to use with regards to spiritual formation. It is something unforced but encouraged. It is attractive yet gentle. It is an open invite that has our closest interests in mind.

"Invitations are powerful. Like tides, they ebb and flow, sharing the contours of our existence. . . . Invitations shape who we know, where we go, what we do and who we become. Invitations can challenge and remake us. They can erode and devastate. And they can also heal and restore us.... The things we say yes to and the things we say no to determine the terrain of our future." (9-10)

There are four types of invitations. The first are the "business and career invitations" that "invite us to more productivity, vision, initiative and profitability." The second are the "family invitations" that can affect how closely knitted the family can become. The third kind is "educational" which offers ways to improve or enrich oneself through learning.  The fourth is "entertainment and social" which is an invitation to party. What makes God's invitation different from all of these is that God wants to "mend, shape, anchor and grow us into the character of Jesus."  Our spiritual journey is about how we RESPOND to God's invitation to grow into Jesus. Throughout the twelve invitations, the format is similar. There is first an invite followed by a key passage of Scripture. The author then highlights a roadblock that threatens to derail us from an appropriate response to the invitation. It shows us the way to let the Holy Spirit help us, and then to practice in a way to enlarge our receptivity that God may work even more in our hearts.

#1 - Invitation to Growth, Inner Healing, and Maturity

Sometimes, we tend to look for magical solutions to spirituality. This invitation keeps us grounded in the firm promise of God, that He will mold us and make us more like Him in His good time. Like the lame man in John 5, rather than waiting for a magical healing, and getting stuck in pain, we fail to let God show us true inner healing. Who are the soul therapists who can help us? Accept God's invitation by obedience and willingness to be touched by God. This calls for a special sense of listening and contemplating in God.

#2 - Invitation to Follow

"What Jesus wants from us is not admiration, but imitation." (Ronald Rolheiser)

Following Christ requires a measure of personal sacrifice to actively come out of ourselves rather than to passively wait for things to happen. We lead by following Christ. We lead by humility. We recognize WHO we are obeying. This invitation also involves a need to beware of the temptations of money, sex, and power. Resist using names of others to boost our sense of importance. Rather, follow in secret, allowing God to work in our inner souls. Focus on God rather than our accomplishments or successes.

#3 - Invitation to Practice the Presence of People

"The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how much they love them while they're still alive." (O. A. Battista)

This reminds us to be mindful of people around us, just like how Jesus sees the people in his time. Notice people. Be aware of them. Love them as God loves them.  This applies especially to those people we find hard to like. Beware of the roadblocks of putting programs before people, self-centeredness, and lack of grace. Study how Jesus treats people in the gospels. Practicing the presence of people is essentially loving people the way Jesus loves them.

#4 - Invitation to Rest

"We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love... Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn't He lead people beside the still waters anymore?" (Richard A. Swenson)

This invitation is especially relevant to those who run when they need to walk, walk when they need to stop, and becoming restless when they need to rest. The trouble with many modern individuals is that they have elevated work so much that they have failed to rest appropriately. So much so that one does not know how to take time off, or not knowing what to do in their free time. Like Jesus' invitation to rest, one is reminded of Sabbath keeping. Rest is a place that can be easily missed in our culture of busyness. It is so necessary for us to be intentional about making space for rest.  We are not created to walk 24/7. Listen to our bodies. Slow down. Watch Jesus.

#5 - Invitation to Weep

"The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice: And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice - there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds." (R. D. Laing)

It is ok to cry. It is ok to weep, especially if those are the same things that God is weeping over. The trouble with us is that we see tears as weakness. We avoid crying when we need to. As a result, we fail to notice what pain and grief really entails. We miss out our own need and as a result, we miss noticing the griefs of others. Biblically, there is room to lament. There is a need to put the sufferings and pains of the world in the tears of Christ. We cry not alone but with others and God. We learn to mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep. We let our tears guide us to become more compassionate. We also grieve for our sin.

#6 - Invitation to Confess Wrongs

All of us know that we are imperfect. Yet, we expect perfection from others and even ourselves. We confuse excellence with perfection. We risk equating our sense of identity and worth to our failure to achieve perfection. Humility and teachability are two key elements in helping us enter into confession.

#7 - Invitation to Forgive

"Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners." (Miroslav Volf)

Very often, the way we can free ourselves from pain, hurt, blame, and hate is to learn to forgive others as well as ourselves. Too many people are stuck in bitterness and self-righteousness, seeing the speck of others and not able to see the log in our own eyes. We even confuse reconciliation with forgiveness. The two key practices are firstly, to learn to meditate on Jesus' death on the cross, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Secondly, it is to confess our wrongs.

#8 - Invitation to Wait

"We are more busy than bad, more distracted than nonspiritual and more interested in the movie theatre, the sports stadium, and the shopping mall and the fantasy life they produce in us than we are in church. Pathological busyness, distraction and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives." (Ronald Rohlheiser)

Waiting has a lot to do with trusting. Only by trust can we learn to wait. Our need for control often stumbles our waiting disposition. We are addicted to hurry and short-termism that we set unrealistic deadlines. Learning to practice sensing God's presence daily, and to pray regularly will help us wait better. Move away from expectations toward expectancy. Let our waiting be unconditional. Learn from Scripture how patiently people wait. Resist demanding things from the world, and replace them with desiring more of God.

#9 - Invitation to Pray

"Several times during the day, but especially in the morning and evening, ask yourself for a moment if you have your soul in your hands or if some passion or fit of anxiety has robbed you of it. . If you have gone astray, quietly bring your soul back to the presence of God, subjecting all your affection and desires to the obedience and direction of His divine will." (St Francis de Sales)

Praying is trusting and desiring God at the highest level. Beware of hurry, tiredness, anger, and all kinds of emotions that wear us down or keeps us from trusting God in prayer. The biblical characters of Hannah, Jacob, Miriam, Elijah, Job, Jonah, priests and prophets all prayed. Learn the Lord's Prayer by heart. Pray. Believe.

#10 - Invitation to Remember

"One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are and waste a lot of time and energy to prove what doesn't need to be proved." (Henri J. M. Nouwen)

Knowing who we are requires remembering our story in God.  Beware of bitterness, neglect, or missing the presence of God in our life. Remember our stories well, especially our own "exodus story." Remember who we really are. Forgiven, beloved, and dearly loved. The good news goes farther: Memories can be healed and redeemed.

#11 - Invitation to the Most Excellent Way

"The invitation of love is not a proposal for self-improvement or any other kind of achievement. Love is beyond success and failure, doing well or doing poorly. . . Love is a gift." (Gerald May)

The world of excellence demands things from us. It thwarts our sense of worth easily. Yet, the biblical most excellent way is the way of love. It puts others before self. It reflects and learns from Jesus how He cares for people. Beware of self-seeking ways.

My Thoughts

This is a wonderful guidebook for spiritual formation. I like the overall invitation theme. If there is a 12th invitation, I hope to see gratitude or thankfulness. The way Calhoun puts together the invitation and connecting them to the life of Christ is very commendable. It makes this book Christ-centered. For the busy reader, the individual charts at the beginning of each chapter helpfully summarizes what need to be done. While the book is good enough for a self-guided spiritual formation exercise, I highly recommend this book be practiced with a spiritual director or with a spiritual friend.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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