Forward: As part of the internship at Regeneration we are asked to write a reflection of the books we are assigned, because I am apparently somewhat of an exhibitionist I decided to do this via a blog post, we are assigned 12 books throughout the year, so this is part 1 of 12. Enjoy.
“Compared to the cosmos, what are human beings, that you pay attention to them? Or human offspring that you care about them? You created them a little less than supernatural beings. But you let glory and majesty rest on them! You cause them to rule over the works of your hands and put everything on Earth under their feet!”
“Stated in other words, the intention of God is that we should each become the kind of person whom he can set free in his universe, empowered to do what we want to do.” Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, pg. 379
I recently hiked a mountain, or maybe you would consider it a big hill, I’m not sure of specifics in Orology, regardless, it was difficult. Last week we drove from Oakland, across the Bay Bridge, though the twisty uphill downhill carsickness inducing streets of San Francisco, over the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge into Marin, California. We drove through the one way tunnel, parked at Rodeo beach, found a path, and took off sauntering. Or, what I thought would be sauntering, (if you’re interested in Thoreau and some interesting etymology, check out this article about the origin of the word saunter.)
So, the hike starts so wonderfully, sure I am slow and out of shape, but I can handle this. We make it to the top of a hill and check out the old WWII batteries, then set off again, this is where I begin to realize what an undertaking I have just set off on. We are going to be walking a short distance to the next beach over, Tennessee Valley Beach, it’s a short distance, but the path is not a low grade, or really well marked, or what my grandmother would consider very safe.
Getting to the top killed me, then we had to go down. Slowly and carefully I shimmied down the lose dirt path that led to the secluded beach cove below us.
It was beautiful, it made the hike so worth it. Stunningly gorgeous. Ethereal beauty. (Also, a dead seal, but still cool!)
|Tennessee Beach, so worth it.
We sat and ate our pb&j lunches, a paupers lunch in a kings court, it seemed, and gawked at God’s creation. Each thanking Him in our own way.
Then the time came: we had to hike back out.
If hiking in was difficult, hiking out was miserable.
I am overweight, I am slow, I am out of shape, I have asthma. I am so many things that are the opposite of good hikers.
Sure, I love a good hike, and love admiring God’s beauty, but I am not used to working this hard to do it.
By the time we reach the zenith of our mountainous undertaking I was D E A D.
D E A D but so thankful.
I had done it, I didn’t fall backwards down the crag onto the beach to my final resting place beside the old dead seal. I conquered that mountain. I needed coffee ASAP.
Am I being dramatic? of course, but what good story doesn’t embellish the edges?
The point is, I did something I thought I couldn’t do.
This is exactly how I feel about finally finishing The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.
“I DID IT! I’M FINISHED!” I exclaimed today in Blue Bottle after finally finishing the last page of this book.
Not since college, or possible not ever, have I had to read a book in which I had to regularly pull out a dictionary, or put my context clues to good use.
This book pushed me to my limits, it was a proverbial hike up a mountain, and then back again. (Tolkien reference intended, nerds.)
So, what I have gleaned from this experience?
As you could probably guess, SO MANY THINGS! But, for the sake of my own processing and clarity (and because Steve’s making us write about the book) I want to share with you my encompassing thoughts regarding Willard’s book, as well as what I will be taking from it and how it has already begun to shape me.
“Thou and thou only, first in my heart, high king of heaven, my treasure thou art”
The above quote comes from my favorite hymn, Be Thou My Vision, the idea that God should be our treasure, our highest desire, our heavenly and earthly king is something I have often contemplated.
Willard says that disciples, (or those who learn from [Jesus] how to be like [Jesus] (pg. 276)) “in order to be brought into a full and joyous love of God, must see their very own life within the framework of unqualified goodness.” (337)
We, as little Christians, folks learning from Christ how to be Christ like, must feel that our path in God’s kingdom is the highest calling, “that we have no doubt that the path appointed for us… is good.” (337)
Willard continually harps on that fact, that we must feel deep in our being that this life, this call to being a part of God’s flock is the highest calling and most important defining piece of us.
He quotes a Franciscan brother saying “Once you come to know the love of Jesus Christ, nothing else in the world will seem beautiful or desirable.” (336)
Jesus should be our treasure. I believe Willard wants to help bring us to a place where Jesus is the compass in our heart, and God the wind in our sails.
This idea is a wonderful one to dwell on, that Jesus would actively be our King, and treasure, that our lives should be a yearning to grow closer to God daily, to expand and develop his Kingdom in our world, but how do we begin do this?
Prayer is a great start. Spending great meaningful quality time with Jesus will help begin the reset of our hearts.
If, perhaps, we want to start influencing and impacting our friends and family for Christ, we want to live a life that reflects Jesus commandments from the Sermon on the Mount, or we want to detach ourselves from a world revolving around wealth and materialistic things.
“The answer is prayer, asking God.” (235)
Willard gently, and kindly lets us in on a secret, or perhaps a truth we once knew and have forgotten: “In many ways it is the life of prayer that discovers a space in which all can live.” (236)
“The goodness of the kingdom heart is the positive love of God and of those around us that fills it and crowds out the many forms of evil.”Willard, pg. 168
The notion that dwelling on the goodness of the kingdom will bring the kingdom here now was not a new idea to me, necessarily, but perhaps Willard was one of the firsts to flesh out this idea so extensively.
Willard seems to have a knack for taking my thoughts on a subject, putting them in a mason jar and shaking them up until they turn from cream into butter.
For example, to continue on with the theme of his thoughts on prayer, I loved his deconstruction of the Lord’s Prayer, and truthfully out of everything in the book, this may be what sticks with me most.
Willard rewrites the prayer like this:
Dear Father always near us,
may your name be treasured and loved,
may your rule be completed in us-
may your will be done here on earth in
just the way it is done in heaven.
Give us today the things we need today,
and forgive us our sins and impositions on you
as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
Please don’t put us through trials,
but deliver us from everything bad.
Because you are the one in charge,
and you have all the power, and the glory too is all yours-forever-
which is just the way we want it!
Love love love this. I love the simplicity of words, yet the richness of tone.
My version might go something like this:
“Father God, who is always near me, I want to do your will. Help me, forgive me, help me to forgive others, guide me well. I will follow you, I want you to be my field guide.”
“Jesus looks outward to the cosmos and to the sweep of human history before and after. He tells us we have no need to be anxious, for there is a divine life, the true home of the soul, that we can enter simply by placing our confidence in him: becoming his friend, and conspiring with him to subvert evil with good.” Pg. 215
My final thoughts on The Divine Conspiracy are a bit hazy, foggy even; I feel like I can see the tips of the major ideas sticking out in my head, like the towers of Golden Gate Bridge in the fog. I have lots to mull over and process.
The book has challenged many of my preconceptions about what God is truly calling humankind to take part in when we partner with Him, are we Christians so we can go to heaven, or are we Christians who happen to get to go to Heaven in the end? It has challenged me as a leader to communicate clearly a true message of Christ Jesus, not the popular easy version of them. It’s made me question a handful of topics I had deep-rooted beliefs in, prayer and the message of the beatitudes for two easy examples.
Would I recommend this book to someone? Honestly… maybe?? Maybe not??
Some parts of this book felt like taking a drink out of a fire hydrant, not a refreshing thing to do. I am pleased to have finished the book, but like I said before, it was an arduous task.
If you chose to take this journey, bring snacks and friends. It’s dangerous to go alone.
I’ll close with this, I did so appreciate that while Willard’s writing is dense and sometimes so antithetically terse, he did have a light hearted spirit woven into his thoughts.
Here are two gems that will stick with me:
“There will be lots of laughter in heaven, you can be sure, as well as joy, for our finitude will always remain. Just imagine an eternity in which no one laughs!” (238)
“‘Just the way we want it” is not a bad paraphrase for “amen.” What is needed at the end of this great prayer is a ringing affirmation of the goodness of God and God’s world. If your nerves can take it, you might (occasionally?) try “Whoopee!” I imagine God himself will not mind.” (269)
Until next time,