Friday, May 28, 2010

Whatever Happened to Wisdom?

I recently saw a statement by a denominational leader I look up to. He heralded efforts to step away from a system of seniority in pastoral placement in favor of valuing innovation and youth. I do believe that we can become imprisoned in a system that protects the interests of leaders more than the mission. But I wonder to what extent this rhetoric is grasping at straws.

What has happened to wisdom? Is it no longer valued? I am favor of passion and innovation. I myself have been a part of two successful new church starts and tried many ways to creatively share the gospel in a post-modern culture. But at the same time, I wonder why we seem to be replacing biblical language of spiritual gifts and graces in determining pastoral placement, replacing biblical language of wisdom and discernment in valuing experience, and replacing biblical language of the fruit of the spirit in measuring effectiveness. To simplify the matter to the juxtaposition of seniority verses innovation seems flat to me.

The future of protestant life in our country has to do with restoring our commitment to being a movement rather than an institution. It may seem counterintuitive for me to claim that it is wisdom we need the most. But it seems to me that we need wise and understanding leaders because we do indeed need change, but change in itself is not a solution. Change on behalf of the values of the kingdom of God, however, can be lifegiving.

Pictured: Engraving of King Solomon, People's Standard Holy Bible (1872), Ziegler Publishers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Whisked Away Into the Life of God

Once in a while, I am given an experience which seems to whisk me away into the life of God for a moment. Sometimes these experiences are mystical, as the Holy Spirit communicates with me through prayer or scripture or a sense of divine presence. Sometimes these experiences are very human, for God uses people to speak to me. I think of these as consolations, little gifts from God that give me comfort in the midst of life.

I recently had the privilege of helping with the funeral of a dear friend from a former church. Afterwards, an old friend pulled me aside along with the present pastor, saying she felt it was a bit “selfish” but since we were both there she wanted to have some prayer with us. Her daughter, whom I had baptized a dozen years ago after founding a new church, was about to profess her faith and become a member of that church. She led us in a prayer of thanksgiving for “the hands that baptized my daughter and the hands that will confirm her on Sunday.”

That prayer time was far from selfish. It was a gift to me. For a moment, it felt as if I was transported over space and time and all the other things that separate us from one another. Each of God’s children is on a journey home and I got to be a simple and humble instrument in one child’s life. What else matters in ministry?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Sext" as a Window into My Spirituality

Recently it has dawned on me that not only do we have seasons of the year, we also worship in seasons of the day. In traditional liturgy, this is known as the canonical hours or the divine office. I have enjoyed through my visits at the monastery and my involvement in the Academy for Spiritual Formation becoming immersed in this ancient way. It is so freeing.

I call them "seasons of the day" because they each have their special significance and they are windows into larger aspects of the spiritual journey. Vigils emerges in the darkness and reminds me of the language of the Dark Night of the Soul. Lauds is sung at dawn, which reflects the beginnings of light which transcends the darkness. Prime is aptly named, as the day of work is passionately before us. Terce is sung as mid-morning brings the fullness of the day into being. Sext occurs at noon in the midst of the whole, with half the day behind us and the other half before us. None is sung in the afternoon as the shadows begin to fall, and Vespers is sung at evening when night is approaching. Finally, Compline is prayed toward the close of the day.

Each of the daily offices has a rhythm and a fire. Now that I am 45 and (hopefully) right in the middle of my career and of my life, being in the responsible generation both at work and in my family, I wonder how much my spirituality is Sext spirituality. It is the "high noon" time of my life, the time of the most passion and productivity, a time to pause in the midst to see more clearly both where I've been and where I'm going, with both of these perspectives on life (the forward and the backward) being fully weighted. Sext is the way I am praying these days. I've been through the dark night and my soul has been awakened and enlighted. I have ventured into the life of ministry, hit my early snags, and found a way to smooth them out. Now I am in the midst of life's movement, and I wonder what is next.

It is interesting the Sext is mostly psalms. The deepest of traditional prayer occurs here. One of my beloved holy places is called Sumatanga, which is a Himlayan word for a "place of vision and rest." It is a flat place on a mountain where one pauses to gain perspective. You can look down and get a good view of where you have been, and you can look up and see where you are going. This is where I am in the middle of my life. So I sing the psalms and the songs of my faith, with joy. I have both a sense of calm at all that has resolved before, and a sense of anticipation at the journey ahead.

For many, noon is a time of rest and renewal. It is when we take a lunch break and refresh our bodies with food. I pray that it is just so for me, as I am in the "noon" of my life.

P.S. - I am aware that in today's world of mobile phone texting, the word "sext" has taken on a negative connotation. I hope it doesn't get completely hijacked!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Being Present to Christ

"To be present to Christ, we have to resist going out and finding a new recipe for happiness."

This quote from Sister Kathleen Flood has been resonating with me ever since I came home from my last week at the Academy for Spiritual Formation in Iowa. I am yearning to be present to the moment. It is so tempting to embrace cultural values such as "bigger is better" and "new is true." The last dozen years has been quite an exercise in realizing how much I truly swallow these untruths.

I love and long for a deeper relationship with Christ and with others, but it is not a new gimmick or a new book or another retreat or a spectacular new ministry experience that I need. It is not a new path that I need but an old one.

Abundant life is being present to the gifts God has already given me, becoming more deeply rooted in the soil that is already underneath me. Lord, help me to be more present to you. Let my presence be full of your presence.

Pictured: Trail to the stations of the cross at the Abbey at Gethsemane in Kentucky.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Love for the Academy for Spiritual Formation

This past week, I finished my journey as Worship Leader for Academy #28 in Wisconsin and Iowa. I have recently been reflecting on why I love the Academy for Spiritual Formation so much. I thought I would share it with others.

I have been drawn to the ministry of the Academy since I attended Academy #20 from 2003-2005. I came to the Academy after grace had already initiated in me an active spiritual search for depth and wholeness. Though I have been nourished by spiritual growth ministries over a lifetime of retreats and church experiences, this more intense yearning emerged from the early years of pastoral ministry. This calling of the heart first led me to a series of private retreats at the Sacred Heart monastery in Cullman, where I discovered writings ancient and new as well as the joys of the rhythm of the daily office and prayer. It was as if a whole new world of spirituality had opened for my exploration. I also began to develop covenant relationships with others in group spiritual direction through Renovare, which introduced me to one who would eventually become my spiritual director.

As part of this intense period of spiritual growth, I applied for and went to the Academy. My two year experience, as well as continued leadership in the Academy Forum, brought great healing as well as integration into my life and ministry. A more complete statement of my spiritual journey and how I grew interested in spiritual formation studies can be found using the link on the right under the tree.

The Academy is an amazing ministry. It is the one formational experience that I have found that is modeled in a way that seems truly integrated between the head and the heart, between the traditions of prayerfulness and the contemporary call of vocation. It provides a unique learning environment because of the balance of academic learning, silence, daily office and prayer, the Eucharist, and covenant relationships. The Academy not only delights the soul but brings rhythm in a world that is increasingly prone to lack of balance between doing and being. This rhythm patterns the lives of the participants as they go out into the world, thus shaping the heart of the church. The Academy runs counter to a culture focused on productivity and functionalism, in the midst of a church climate that is highly anxious over institutional decline and divisiveness. The Academy stands as an emergent witness for the kingdom of God, helping people move forward by returning to our truest roots in a culture more fascinated by what is new and different.

The best way I can describe how the Academy touches the lives of those seeking a holistic journey is to briefly share what has become my sacred metaphor, the image of the tree. Before attending the Academy at a difficult point in my ministry, I was on a personal retreat at the monastery. I serendipitously became enthralled with a large Magnolia in front of the building and spent a couple of hours meditating on its huge trunk and large branches. I was overwhelmed by a singular thought. In order for this tree to reach up so high into the sky in praise of God, and in order for it to reach out so far into the world in love for others, it had to have really deep roots. At this pivotal point in my journey, roots were what I had been neglecting. Roots were what I needed. Coming home from that retreat, I began planning my application for the Academy.

This metaphor of the tree is how I continue to understand the ministry of the Academy. Without deep roots, our tree will blow over when the winds come. The Academy enlivens and nourishes these roots. It deepens us in the ground of our being, so that we might reach up to God in praise and out to our neighbor in love. It immerses us in the flow of centuries of spiritual waters. It gives Christian leaders not only a balanced model for indepth learning but a community in which to find healing and wholeness. The focus is not some sense of spiritual “self-fulfillment” but on becoming formed in the image of Christ, just as we were created to be.