Excerpt from Learning to Be

I have often heard peo­ple in recov­ery talk about hit­ting rock bot­tom. Hit­ting my own bot­tom of depres­sion has enabled me to come to an amaz­ing aware­ness: I had been sourc­ing my life from an illu­sion. I had been run­ning on emp­ty for a long time. Not until I hit rock bot­tom did I real­ize that the gas gauge with­in me was dam­aged. I need­ed a deep­er real­i­ty. I was begin­ning to know the mean­ing of Acts 17:28: In him we live and move and have our being.”

The Source of My Being

My being is the me that man­i­fest­ed in divine love at my con­cep­tion. In Christ there is full­ness of life, not the coma that I had lived through rote activ­i­ty and damn­ing rules. I had lived as though my activ­i­ties sourced my life — as though they gave me life — only to find that while they may have seemed like good activ­i­ties, in time they lit­er­al­ly drained the life out of me. I need­ed to be recharged, but I didn’t know this until I was on emp­ty; hit­ting the bot­tom helped me to know what my emp­ty was like.

Some folks have a longer bat­tery life than oth­ers. Per­haps their lives are not so demand­ing. Per­haps some of us are poor­ly charged for the tasks of life await­ing us. Or we start out of the gate at such a pace that by our mid-thir­ties we find our­selves deplet­ed. For all my life to this point I had pre­sumed that my effort sus­tained me, crazy as it sounds. But through the depres­sion, I was being freed from those notions of self-sustainability. 

Thank God for this awak­en­ing. In the depth of the dark­ness I found my being in the pres­ence of God. I knew intu­itive­ly that all I was had been in God alone. It was clear that in the same way the lotus flower blooms in mud­dy waters, God brought me to life amid the mud­di­ness of my rules, per­fec­tion­ism, and striv­ing. There was noth­ing in that aware­ness but pure grat­i­tude, relief real­ly. Now I knew where my sus­te­nance was com­ing from, and I was being fueled and filled.

I had been parched by life, sucked dry. I was hum­bled, grate­ful beyond words, thrilled speech­less in the pres­ence of God who was quench­ing in me a thirst that only God could sat­is­fy. I was being ener­gized and charged to live and move and to know what it meant to be ful­ly alive. God met me at the lev­el of my thirst. There was no effort on my part, no sched­ul­ing, no doing, no talk­ing, just being, and being ful­ly aware that that was all I need­ed. My alive­ness was God’s doing, and being was my response.

God’s Crash School

As I gained con­scious­ness after the ini­tial months of the crash,” I became increas­ing­ly aware that I was in a school of sorts; I was being home­schooled by God. God was instruct­ing me on how to live out of my ground of being, and God was that ground. I was learn­ing to be still, to be calm, to be cared for, and to know God’s love. I was being taught that to live my life in the pres­ence of God was to know total suf­fi­cien­cy. I was learn­ing how to be present to God’s uncon­di­tion­al and lim­it­less love, and I was grow­ing to see that love wasn’t out­side of me but rather in my own heart. I was expe­ri­enc­ing it as pow­er flow­ing through me, and it was giv­ing me life. God was instruct­ing me to stop doing and just be. I was being invit­ed to surrender.

Dis­cov­er­ing New Spir­i­tu­al Practices

A year or so before the crash, I had been intro­duced to Richard Fos­ter, author of Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline. His book was on my book­shelf, but I had only glanced at it occa­sion­al­ly. Meet­ing Richard and learn­ing of his min­istry Ren­o­varé exposed me to spir­i­tu­al prac­tices that I wasn’t aware of and intro­duced me to schol­ars and authors like Dal­las Willard, Emi­lie Grif­fin, James Bryan Smith, Glan­dion Car­ney, and, lat­er, Chris Hall and oth­er spir­i­tu­al icons of our century. 

I was invit­ed to serve on Richard’s min­istry team and found myself fre­quent­ly sit­ting with peo­ple I had grown to admire and revere. I often asked myself, How did I get here? How did I get to sit with these incred­i­ble spir­i­tu­al gurus and mys­tics? In their pres­ence I felt like a kid get­ting to have lunch at school with my heroes and sheroes. They were so hum­ble, and they made it so easy to be present, but that didn’t stop me from won­der­ing just how the gods had seen fit to invite me into this orbit.

One spir­i­tu­al prac­tice I became acquaint­ed with was lec­tio div­ina — pray­ing with the Scrip­tures. I was first intro­duced to this prac­tice in a small group with Marie Noack when I attend­ed her week­ly cen­ter­ing prayer gath­er­ing a few months before the crash. Lat­er, months into my recov­ery, I expe­ri­enced lec­tio div­ina at the Cena­cle Retreat House in Hous­ton, where I qual­i­fied as a cer­ti­fied spir­i­tu­al direc­tor, trained to com­pan­ion oth­ers on their spir­i­tu­al jour­ney under Sis­ter Mary Den­ni­son, the program’s founder. I had been inter­est­ed in the Cenacle’s train­ing, but the tim­ing nev­er seemed right. Now, as I was rebuild­ing my life, I had plen­ty of time. So, I applied and was accept­ed into the pro­gram about two years after the crash. Lec­tio was a com­mon prac­tice in the train­ing pro­gram, and I grew to love it and share it when­ev­er I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly with my children.

Lec­tio div­ina invites slow, med­i­ta­tive read­ing of a few vers­es at a time. Though I stud­ied about twen­ty hours a week to pre­pare for Bible study or to preach, I lacked the dis­ci­pline of read­ing my Bible so it could read me. Through lec­tio div­ina then and now I learn more about myself, God, God’s love for me, and who I am in God. God’s pres­ence in the text gives me life. Some­times it offers clar­i­ty to my think­ing or invites me to reflect on what I had imposed on the text, often to find new mean­ing and insight.

Let me explain what I mean. I enjoy when Mom­mie cooks her Thanks­giv­ing meal. I always ask for extra dress­ing since hers is the best. I love the savory spices she uses and the way her corn­bread dress­ing awak­ens good mem­o­ries in me while it bakes in the oven — mem­o­ries of being loved by her. The smell of Thanks­giv­ing din­ner fills the house. I don’t know her recipe— I’ve nev­er asked; I sim­ply receive it as a gift, a token of her affec­tion and care toward me. Now, my father’s eggnog isn’t made from scratch, but I can sense the love with which he offers it. Grow­ing up, Dad­dy would have Nat King Cole singing The Christ­mas Song” on the stereo. He would pull out the spe­cial occa­sion glass­es with the sil­ver band around the top. Noth­ing says the hol­i­days like the ambiance Dad­dy cre­ates when offer­ing his fla­vor­ful and fra­grant eggnog.

That’s what lec­tio div­ina is like. It’s not just a meal, but a meal with love and mem­o­ries. We walk away awak­ened to some­thing deep­er and more life-giv­ing than just know­ing about the text— we come to know the Beloved of our soul and the care that went into pro­vid­ing this gift of soul food.

As I enter into a lec­tio div­ina read­ing, I am aware that some­thing in me will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be more gen­tly ground­ed in God’s love and pres­ence. Some­thing will be offered that will robust­ly invig­o­rate me or will offer a new aware­ness or hope con­cern­ing cir­cum­stances that are not life-giv­ing for me.

Will You Let Me Take Care of You?

I love Psalm 23. Madear, my mater­nal grand­moth­er, taught it to me before I could read, and in lec­tio div­ina I came to see for the first time how the Shep­herd cares for me and has invit­ed me to allow that care in my life. 

After med­i­tat­ing on the text dur­ing one of my fre­quent vis­its to the Cena­cle for my class­es in spir­i­tu­al direc­tion, I cre­at­ed a sim­ple, child­like piece of art that sits on my desk and reminds me of the expe­ri­ence. It was then the Spir­it asked, Will you let me care for you?”

Tears stirred behind my eye­lids, and I exhaled deeply. God had been long­ing to care for me, but I had been too busy to receive it. For so long I hadn’t want­ed to both­er God, I hadn’t want­ed to seem, well, needy. God watched me do my thing while wait­ing patient­ly for me to slow down enough to desire God’s guid­ance, heal­ing, love, and companionship.

Lec­tio div­ina invites us to come home to God in a child­like way — full of trust — that encour­ages us to lay aside every­thing else. We are invit­ed to lay aside masks, pro­jec­tions, fears, hurts. Here in God’s pres­ence, in this place of being, there is spa­cious­ness, lumi­nos­i­ty, and an aware­ness of being deeply loved.

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Adapt­ed from Learn­ing to Be by Juani­ta Camp­bell Ras­mus. Copy­right © 2020 by Juani­ta Camp­bell Ras­mus. Pub­lished by Inter­Var­si­ty Press, Down­ers Grove, IL. www​.ivpress​.com.

Pho­to by Joshua Brown on Unsplash

Originally published September 2020

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