catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 5 :: 2004.02.27 — 2004.03.11


?Return to your fortress, O prisoner of hope?

David and Naomi Wenger are co-directors of The Hermitage, a retreat community in Three Rivers, Michigan.

This text from Zechariah 9:12 pictures for us what it means to pursue God with a disciplined life.

One of our hermitages, Caryll House, is an octagon with four large picture windows facing north, south, east and west. A male cardinal repeatedly hurls himself into the windows for several hours each day. Some of our guests have speculated on the reason for his odd behavior. A common suggestion is that since male cardinals are territorial, perhaps he is flying at his reflection in an effort to chase away an intruding male. Perhaps this is so, but I don’t think this is the reason. His flights are more frantic than aggressive. Sometimes he flies hurriedly from one window right around the corner to another an on to a third before he rests on a nearby limb.

In an effort to understand his strange behavior, I walked around the cabin, trying to gain a cardinal’s-eye view of Caryll House. Looking at the windows from his typical low perches, I was astonished to see only a reflection of the woods around the cabin and above that, the clear blue sky. Clearly reflected is a whole new world to inhabit. More, seemingly endless territory is there for him to conquer. The expansive sky above the trees is apparently there inviting his flight. And so, he returns day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute, trying each upper corner of this impenetrable wall of glass, seeking entrance to that other place which is ever so elusive. Why doesn’t he give up? I think he is a prisoner of hope. Maybe this time or the next will be the magic one when the wall will open and let him through to the far kingdom.

We, too, are prisoners of hope. Each Lent, we see the buds on the trees begin to swell, but we feel the bitterly cold winds blow our breath away. Still we know spring is on the way. Likewise, we spend this season of the Church year walking with Jesus through fantastic demonstrations of his healing power and wise teaching but with full awareness that he is marching to Jerusalem a final time. He will enter that city like a returning war hero but will leave a condemned criminal carrying his own cross.

Especially during Lent, we are prisoners of hope; spring will come, the Christ will be reborn from the womb-like tomb. He will say with the angels, “Do not be afraid.” He will tell his followers, “It is I.” He will be known in the breaking of the bread. He will be present at the breakfast of fish. He will appear in the locked chamber. He will be real. He will be there. He is alive! Yes, we are prisoners of hope.

When we return to the fortress as prisoners of hope, the spiritual disciplines are what we do to keep the hope alive. Disciplines need not begin as radical lifestyle changes. (But beware! They are.) God is a gentle lover, wooing us outside of our fears and replacing our wants with true desire. The disciplines are God-enabled. We, none of us, can do these things on our own without the gentle pull of the Holy Spirit. The encouraging news is that the Spirit is pulling all the time.

Disciplines can appropriately be thought of as the means to discipleship. A disciple is one whose goal is to be like the master. As followers of Christ, our goal is to be like Christ. We are to think like Christ: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). We are to love like Christ: “Live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). We are to call God our Father, like Christ. We are also to die like Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is 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 up for me” (Galatians 2:19-20). This is discipleship. And the cost is high. Our very lives are at stake.

However, those who follow Christ, who abide in Him, who lay down their lives for him are promised not only life again (remember the hope of the resurrection?), but ABUNDANT LIFE! Better than what you give up, this new life in Christ includes, in Dallas Willard’s words, “abiding peace, a life penetrated by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s good governance, hopefulness in the midst of the hardest of life?s trials, and power to do the right thing and to withstand evil.”

If you are tempted to think that the cost of discipleship—of entering into a disciplined life—is too high, consider the cost of non-discipleship. The peace, love, faith, hope, and power of the true disciple are simply not available to the non-disciple. The best one can hope for is the unending pursuit of happiness.

What can we do then, to become disciples? There is only one way given to us; do what Jesus Christ did. We must die. And here is the rub. We are each very much alive. This is where the disciplines come in.

But we must not do them thinking that by some denial or extraordinary effort we will gain “a better place in God’s kingdom.” No, we do them to help steel our resolve to die. The disciplines, like the season of Lent, are really a descent. They do not elevate us to special spiritual status. They are tools of self-denial, stripping away the will to live outside of Christ.

If the spiritual disciplines are our practices as prisoners of hope, the fortress in which we abide is awareness. What we become aware of is reality; the reality of God as the one who made us, loves us, remade us and lives in us, empowering us for death and then life in Christ. As Richard Rohr writes in his book, Everything Belongs, “All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can live in the Presence [of God]. Disciplines exist so we can see what is. We can see who we are and see what is happening.” All disciplines lead us to admitting that we have been born blind and are willing for Jesus to heal us, to make us see what is already here (cf. John 9). When we are aware, we begin to understand that our life is not about us, but rather about God. Consider the Transfiguration of Christ. What the disciples saw was not a new and different Jesus, but Jesus as he really is, full of glory and honored by his Father.

While we might take our little bird-friend as an example of courage in the face of insurmountable odds, let’s not forget the reality in which the bird lives. If he would simply turn and fly away from the reflected world, he would find himself already in the place he seeks. We, who are prisoners of hope, may, through discipline, one day, one moment, get a glimpse of the reality in which we live. We may gasp at the momentary sight of the glory that surrounds us. And just then, we may turn away from the mere image and fly freely into the bluest of skies. We would be flying out of our prison and into a realized hope, to a true restoration, to the rebirth of one who has died and to our own resurrection.

Swallow me up, Lord.

Help me when I cannot stand,

When I feel like falling under the weight of your hand.

Face me toward your face.

Uncover me,

So that the fierce light of your glory

May burn off the sin and self

That clings and hinders my own progress

Toward glory.


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