Three Surprising Activities That Make Me Feel Closer to God

creation-of-adam

Intimacy with Christ is perhaps the single most worthwhile thing that any person can seek. And, as we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength, there are different ways of drawing close as there are different degrees of proximity. For me, the trifecta for such abiding intimacy is worship, prayer, and reading the Bible (in that order) – exponentially increased if I remove myself to a “secluded place” as in Mark 1:35. Those may be obvious spiritual methods; in this post I will describe three surprising activities at the level of the soma (a physical body, which all living things in our universe have) that, for me, foster a subjective feeling of closeness and deeper appreciation of God.

1. RUNNING

I am not much of a runner. I can’t remember the last time the Nike running app on my iPhone was activated. Running always seemed masochistic to me, and it wasn’t until my wife suggested a Couch-to-5k plan as a potential shoulder-to-shoulder bonding opportunity that I reluctantly began to enjoy the activity.

Besides the eventual endorphin release, putting on my brightly colored running shoes and hitting the pavement brings to mind the many, many analogies found in scripture that compare the Christian life to running a race.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1).

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).

I also can’t help but think of Olympic athlete Eric Liddell as depicted in the film Chariots of Fire. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

2. DRINKING WINE

I am also not much of a wine drinker. I dabbled in and enjoyed the fine Pinot Noir that comes out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I have been to a few wine tastings. I even read the book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar. Still, nobody would confuse me for an oenophile. If I have any beverage of choice it is coffee, hands down ( I recently identified coffee as one of my core seven life interests). Also, I lived in Asheville, NC – “Beer City, USA” – for many years and was exposed to local craft beers that would make the snobbiest of Belgian monks green with envy. What’s more is that my current day job precludes my consumption of any alcoholic beverages.

But still, drinking wine makes me feel closer to God.

Jesus was a fan of wine. Our Lord and Savior’s first recorded miracle involves transmuting water into wine (John 2). His opponents actually accused him of being a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). This was real wine, not “grape juice” as some have attempted to twist the biblical language to fit human traditions.

Growing up in a very “low church” setting, I did indeed drink store-bought grape juice in a tiny paper cup and eat a cracker for Communion (I can’t bring myself to refer to an ounce of grape juice and a cracker as the Lord’s Supper). I have even heard a former youth pastor joke about offering purple Gatorade and potato chips. Although I am not a proponent of “means of grace” sacramentalism, I have a strong sense that Evangelicalism’s Communion resembles very little the Last Supper that Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. In contrast, I have a sense of reverence whenever I visit a Lutheran service and dip my bread into a goblet of wine, feeling the slight alcoholic sting of the “blood of Christ” on my tongue.

What interests me most are the words of Matthew 26:29: “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my father’s kingdom.” There is an actual promise from Jesus to his disciples that he will pop a cork and drink wine with them during his coming kingdom. Drinking a glass of wine makes me remember this promise and look forward to spending time with my God.

3. BIRD WATCHING

What? Did you say bird watching?!? Fifteen years ago I would have ranked bird watching one step above stamp collecting as the most boring and unmanly hobbies of all time. So what changed? First, I saw the Academy Award-nominated documentary Winged Migration. Second, I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Third, I began to notice interesting birds such as wild turkeys, owls, and even a massive turkey vulture near the places I lived in North Carolina. Those events helped me appreciate the diversity of ‘little feathery animals that fly around’ significantly more. On a fun factor level, bird watching can tap into the same treasure-hunting impulse as letterboxing and geocaching.

More recently, the Campus Pastor at my work has repeatedly commented on the deep impact his mother’s advice had on him as he grew up: “Look at the birds…” She would reference Jesus in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father” and Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!”

To combat worry and fear, this boy’s mother would recall the Word and enjoin him to spend time in nature contemplating God’s design and goodness. These memories were so meaningful to this Pastor that if he were to plant a new church he would affix the name Sparrow Ridge to it, out of every possible name one could choose. I too am learning the art of quieting myself and appreciating God’s creation, allowing his General Revelation to speak to me and remind me of my father’s ways.

The Angel of the Gap

The Gap

As my years of being a professional crisis interventionist came to a close, I checked back through my agency’s electronic database to see how many ‘crisis intervention’ notes I had written. Each note would represent one “event” or “interaction” with a person in crisis. Some of those notes would have been dispatch phone calls. Others would have been “follow up” visits to persons who had been in crisis. A few would be “repeat” customers, so to speak. However, the majority would be one-time events in the community with strangers in crisis – homicidal, suicidal, psychotic, addicted, or otherwise overwhelmed.

I had approximately 780 crisis notes recorded in the system.

Adding on three additional months of crisis intervention work I did later, and two years working for a suicide hotline, I have had a lot of interactions with persons in crisis. Now, many of those people thinking of ending their lives may not have gone through with it, or would have been unsuccessful, or could have sought help elsewhere, or somebody besides me might have intervened. How many did I actually “save?” Although I will never know the actual number, I could conservatively estimate that a bare minimum of ten people would be dead right now if it were not for my personal actions. Those were the very high risk ones, impulsive and with no will to live. It is for at least those few that I knew then and now beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had saved a life. The number could be significantly higher, but I just could not say with certainty.

Donald “Don” Richie was an Australian who came to be known as the ‘Angel of the Gap.’ He was a naval veteran and retired insurance salesman who happened to live across the street from a cliff in Sydney that is a notorious suicide hotspot. Don would watch from his window, and when he saw someone lingering near the cliff he would calmly approach them and ask if there was anything he could do to help them, often inviting them back to his house for a cup of tea.

Over forty-five years, Don was officially confirmed to have prevented 164 suicides, but perhaps as many as 400. For this service, this otherwise “ordinary man” was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006. Don reportedly did not seek fame, recognition, or reward for what was essentially a solo volunteer effort that stretched five decades and certainly involved a measure of personal risk.

I have frequently wondered what kind of impact I can make on the world. What change, what lasting mark can be my contribution? How will I go down in history? Or, if not that grandiose, how will I be remembered and by whom? Starting to do crisis intervention in a small corner of America did not seem to be the grand destiny I had in mind. However, I have come to realize that saving lives, even if nobody else ever knows or cares, is truly priceless. I could build a “body of work” over my lifetime that I would never regret, even if I were to die in obscurity.

Don Richie completed his masterpiece… his magnum opus. His great life’s work was sculpted with the rescued souls of men and women standing at the edge of the precipice. In the art of saving lives, he was one of the greats. He may have been an “angel” to many, but to me he is a muse.

Prolegomena – Confessions of a Theology Geek

Clarion & Coffee

When I was younger, I assumed that the Bible was all one needed to attain perfect understanding of spiritual matters. I attended seminary for the purpose of obtaining a Masters degree in Pastoral Counseling (which I did); theology was nowhere on my radar. Instead, I found a lot of my counseling courses to be fluffy and vague, and discovered a deep love for theology that I never expected. This began a passionate affair indeed. I lay awake many a night pondering theological puzzles. I obsessively revisited and revised my Amazon wishlist with new must-buy books that I would have little time to read. Often my deepest desire was to simply sit down and discuss theology over coffee with someone, anyone who was game. One night I even forgot to shower, floss, and brush my teeth due to my preoccupation!

The doctrine of perspicuity or clarity of Scripture teaches that “…those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (Westminster Confession). And I would agree with the qualifier, “for salvation.” Yet, on other topics we find well-intentioned and Christ-loving people with access to the same growing number of respectable Bible translations arriving at opposite, mutually-exclusive conclusions on various points of doctrine and belief. Not only the Bible (which must be primary) but also our underlying philosophical assumptions / axiomatic beliefs come into play. Interpretation matters.

Two years ago I launched my Theology Geek blog with the aim of finding out for myself exactly what I believe and why – to build my Christian theology from the ground up. I desired to end up with a compendium theologiae novum, a summary of a new systematic theology. As I set out on this complex thought experiment, I committed to pursue objectivity. I needed (and still need) to transcend family and church tradition, tribalistic denominational loyalty, and popular beliefs originating in by-products of Christianity rather than the source. Today, I know more than I did two years ago. I know more now than I did two months ago. By the grace of God, I hope to know more next week than I do today. A lot of my mental agitation or cognitive dissonance has leveled out as my theological hypotheses have become sharpened. On other matters, I hold the various theories on this doctrine or that like a deck of cards in my back pocket, ready to shuffle and deal out as needed.

I’ve met many people who roll their eyes when somebody starts spouting off about theology. Some people have no interest whatsoever in the subject (which is fine) while others prefer to swallow the wholesale interpretation of others without exerting any effort of their own toward understanding (not ideal). Theology has been called ‘the queen of sciences.’ Josef Pieper described theology as “the study of sacred documents.” My theology professor in seminary referred to theology as “a way to worship God with our minds.” Whatever the case, I believe it is a very worthwhile pursuit. Systematic theology, for me, is the highest achievement of mankind in regards to special revelation.

Here are three reasons that you should join me on this continuing journey:

1. Theology is COOL

Proverbs 25:2 tells us that, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” Christian Theology is the one and only discipline that peers behind the veil of the weightiest metaphysical realities. Studying theology is like choosing to take the ‘red pill’ in The Matrix.

2. Theology is HARD

“Even though most evangelicals agree that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant … Word of God, sometimes groups among them arrive at contradictory doctrinal conclusions” (Walls and Dongell 2004, 22). And many of these points of disagreement are not trivial, but rather are deemed crucial by those who have debated them for thousands of years. We must stand on the shoulders of giants while not being trapped by their errors (made inevitable by their finitude and imperfections). Question everything and follow the evidence wherever it leads.

3. Theology is IMPORTANT

Bad theology has been used to justify evil acts, such as antisemitism. Individuals with good theology have been burned at the stake and drowned as heretics by those with opposing views. Theology at the highest level trickles down to the masses and impacts society. Theology is important because, ultimately, what you believe should determine what you do.

Be strong and very courageous. The truth is out there!

 

Hitting the Reset Button

Escher Hands

Welcome! My name is Justin Gabriel. I am a Christian Author, Mental Health Advocate, and Theology Geek. This blog represents a ‘soft reboot’ of my online writing presence. By the grace of God, my lifelong dream to become a published author took a giant leap forward when I signed a publishing agreement for my forthcoming novel. Acknowledging the likelihood that I may step into the light of public awareness, I wanted to launch Select Arrow with a few goals in mind:

  1. Consolidate my current (and some former) online blogs into one
  2. Bring a clear, unified voice to bear on my diverse interests
  3. Replace the formal anonymity of my past endeavors with a cohesive identity
  4. Polish and repackage some of my favorite past writing
  5. Build relationships with readers
  6. Experience less stress about maintaining and updating multiple blogs

Select Arrow was actually the name of the first legit attempt at a blog I recall launching (the name comes from a passage in Isaiah 49 and has a deep personal relevance for my life). Through the years, I’ve worked on a political blog, a satirical blog, a steampunk blog, a serialized science fiction blog, Thank You Jesus For These Pop Tarts, a blog about evangelism in Japan, Theology Geek, Crazy Church, Flatland Pilgrim, and the Organic Mental Health Manifesto (I’m surely omitting some). Now I come full circle.

The unifying focuses of Select Arrow are ‘Theology, Mental Health & Art.’ The majority of my posts will fall somewhere between those three core passions of mine. I reserve the right to blog about other things as well, so as not to experience the urge to create additional blogs as has been my pattern in the past. My former blogs will live on in new form – as categories for my new blog posts. Here is a quick category guide:

Justin Gabriel – posts about my books and myself as a writer

Theology Geek – sharing my deep fascination and love of Christian theology

Crazy Church – compassionate mental health advocacy from a Christian perspective

Flatland Pilgrim – works of art that reflect the Image of God in humankind and the ex-nihilo creativity of the Creator

Thank You Jesus For These Pop Tarts – reflections on life and culture

Kamikaze & Umeshu – Japan, Japanese people, and Japanese culture

Thank you all for joining me for this new venture. I appreciate your thoughts, comments, feedback, and dialogue. This is just the beginning.