artisanalway


Renewal and Delight — a Prayer
September 6, 2011, 9:35 am
Filed under: church renewal, delight | Tags: , , , ,

Why are you here, and where precisely is here? If you are beginning (or continuing) a pursuit of a degree in higher theological education, you will hear this question in a particular way. Perhaps something like: What led you to pursue the degree? Why did you choose this particular institution? What role did (or does) the Spirit of God play in that learning, leadings, and choice? If you do not have that context or path in your mind as you hear the opening question, you may hear it with a much larger existential pull, I would suspect. What purpose do you identify in your life, in your day-to-day activities and in the largest frame possible—earth, the universe, the cosmos—and how do you conceive of that frame, that here? What if you cannot sense any purpose at all? What then? In either case, answering such a question can overwhelm or irritate each who listen to it, especially if a) we don’t have a clear sense of the answer or b) the answer seems to change over time.

So comes the cliché many of us try to resist for fear of a relativism or irresponsibility in what we value most: context is everything. Context determines how you hear speech. It shapes your body (appearance, choices of food, even comfort levels), your mind (habits of your community and history of family narratives), and even what we might call your spirit or your soul (hopes, dreams, imagination-visions of what is possible).  Then we hear, whether as protest from the deepest places of our spirit or from the communities in which we share faith: context is not everything. Nothing is impossible for God, especially with those who love God in Mind (Romans). We have inherited deeply rooted truths, Truths, both specific and shaping, particular and reliable. This Truth is not human-made nor negotiable, not within our grasp nor conceivable by (our) small minds. “Lord, Your thoughts are not our thoughts…” an apostle said once. Given the many ‘worlds’ we now inhabit—geographical, institutional, virtual, and more—our ‘being’ or our ‘loving’ (to honor Jean-Luc Marion’s wisdom) is shaped so intimately by things of which we are barely aware, let alone conscious.

In this largest of frames and broadest of questions, I invite you to reflect briefly on what “renewal of the church” means in your own response to the questions of purpose and context.

[I mean it…take some time to listen to your breathing, ask yourself what ‘renewal’ means in your context…]

For those matriculating into the educational setting and ministry at United Seminary, “renewal of the church” that is “Spirit-led” has guided communal formation and institutional growth for several years now. Each of us laboring in this vineyard will have an interpretation or ‘take’ on the momentum that has been built—Built—in these things, the ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘where’ of it all. Here you’ll glimpse dimensions of the response, character, interpretation I have received of these things. I do not claim it to be the way, or even a necessary meaning of renewal. I do profess its significance to be heard. If we’ve learned anything from the Spirit today, as in yesterday, it is her utter pragmatic and intimate knowledge of the difference in approach and need, in each of us, for what precisely and only the Spirit can give, available to each and all willing to open his/her heart-mind-body-spirit.

Any renewal of the church that is Spirit-led has, in its participants and its recipients, an ultimate signature of an expressive delight able to companion the suffering of self and others. Some of us call it a ‘kingdom’ quality. Others prefer the term “reign” to describe Spirit’s fruits received, harvested. Jewish brothers and sisters may name these fruits in the World to Come, result of tikkun olam or ‘the repair of the world.’ This is not to say all these terms mean the same thing or that each of us—or even each religious tradition—is all about the same thing. We’re not, and they’re not. See S. Mark Heim’s work (particularly Salvations) if you’d like to pursue that further. But in a phenomenal sense, in what can be observable and articulated in the realms of lived experience shared across irreconcilable difference, there are fruits by which we know the Spirit. There is a quality and character of being fully human invited within each and all of us. I call it an expressive delight able to companion the suffering of self and others, a descriptor of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians) that fulfill and extend human life, human capacity to be fully human, what God intended each of us to be in our particularity and to live together in our community(ies).

The tricky part, of course, is living into what is already given, right within us, right in front of you, even in the face of injustice, poverty, systemic sin or evil. Perhaps especially in the face of those things. For this delight is not a head-in-the-sand escapism from all that the world requires of us. Nor is it a communal lament and rage against what they have done to them about which we engage activism for us or ours. Nor is it even an insisted, persisted grasping of the Truth you know to be True and about which they or others seem to remain forever ignorant. No.

An expressive delight does just what it says: express itself. It flows out of you from the abundance of Spirit, rooted in your spirit’s life received in such Spirit. It is not achieved nor earned nor enacted nor learned. It is received, allowed, surrendered, released. And nothing will be as difficult or as demanding of you as learning this simple task, again and again: play your part, however small, and risk big, however foolhardy. Do the work in front of you. Listen for those voices silenced within your own body, your own home, your own faith community. Whatever you fear most? That’s the first confessional step toward sanctification, receiving your redemption in your flesh to offer as gift for us all.

These postings offer breadcrumbs that come to me for this time in shared communal life, from my own receivings of answers and unknowing in Spirit’s tether. For now, I’ll encourage you to listen in regular rotation to the facets or dimensions I know to be significant for a life of expressive delight:

  • When was the last time you were in your own body, not for satiation of some hunger-need-desire, but simply within, listening for Spirit’s touch in felt-sensation?
  • Of what does your prayer-life consist, at this moment? Solitary? Silent? Scriptural? Shared? Who knows, really knows, the struggles you are having in your own discipleship? God, of course, but who else here, to listen alongside you, challenge you, open you anew to who God is, the One-in-Three Whom you’ve not met yet?
  • About what are you curious these days? How open-ended is this curiosity? Does your faith require strict boundaries about even which voices you allow yourself to hear…or are you willing to listen to anyone who talks/rages/laments/opines with you, trusting that God will always be bigger than your fears, your doubts, your faith that will be broken open again and again or else be dead on the vine?
  • How goes the command to love your enemies? Those whose politics make your blood boil and whose faith or doctrinal belief you know is wrong? Do you feel devotion and self-sacrificial love for them?
  • When you come up against your own finitude—when you simply cannot love your enemies or you cannot seem to continue with loving the work and persons right in front of you—then how do you let yourself be led, to return yourself to the Holy Well, to the One who can do all those things if you but set your boundaries, rest in your own limitation, receive nurture in what you need? How do you relinquish control?

Renewal means many things to many people. The invitation here is to remember your own goodness as a creation of God ever being renewed, re-created, in Spirit’s time. Fallen, sinful, yes, but faithful when in your body, persistent with practice-rhythms of elation and dryness, curious and openhearted, loving, and limited. Attentive to these things, you may be startled sooner than you think with an abundance that flows out of you, strengthening your capacity to companion suffering within yourself and within the paths and practices of those next to you.

That is my prayer for us all: a life of devotion, worthy of the One who offers it to all those who receive it. That also happens to be my answer to the question of renewal of the church, Spirit-led: a prayer.

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8 Comments so far
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I know that I will need to ask myself these questions often. Some I have already asked of myself, with few answers as of yet. I have not asked lately what I am curious about, I will have to revisit that one. I was raised in a home, community and church environment that didn’t explore many shades of gray. It will be challenging to consider and become involved with church renewal in light of the unanswered questions, “the voices silenced”.

Comment by Phyllis Lemon

Hi Dr. Hess. Some great stuff here. I had a question, though. When you say, “the One-in-Three Whom you’ve not met yet?” I am not really sure what you mean by “not met yet.” I am currently under the persuasion that the Holy Trinity has met the Body and is intimately acquainted with Her. If you have time, could you briefly explain? Also, I get the distinct impression that you encourage pastoral vulnerability. That’s refreshing! Thanks again for the article.

Comment by George Fenley

I was discussing these very questions with my mentor today. I love moments when it is so clear that God’s hand is upon me and at work in the world. Coming home to read your offering this afternoon is truly confirmation of the Holy Spirit’s renewing energy;God’s hand at work. Thank you!

Comment by Brandilynne Craver

Dr. Hess,
What a powerful and rich piece of writing! It’s powerful because it’s Spiritful. There were many things which you mentioned that I deeply resonate with. One of them was you comment, “The tricky part, of course, is living into what is already given, right within us, right in front of you, even in the face of injustice, poverty, systemic sin or evil. Perhaps especially in the face of those things.” I believe that our willingness to step into the our calling or to live into our gifting is a revolutionary thing. It is this, I believe, that is missing from our churches and even in our leadership. Your comment is a clarion call to us all to trust that God’s direction and guidance will lead us as a body to the places and spaces that God desires us to be and to trust the leap of faith…the transformation that must accompany it! Thanks you!
Peace and Blessings, Afi.

Comment by Afi Dobbins

Wow! Great questions that really make one look into the innermost fabric of their being. Up to this point I would have said that the pace of life has prevented me from setting aside consistent time to look at myself in response to these questions. Your opening video was thought provoking as well! I’ve been in search for a long time as to my specific purpose, It seems as though I am moving in the right direction to answer this very question. Bleesings upon you!

Comment by Damon Spencer

Wow this article really got me thinking and to realize that I need to get more intentional about my relationship with Christ. I was reflecting on some of the questions asked. I honestly can not remember the last time I was in my body just listening for the Holy Spirit. Often when I communicate with God I easily get distracted. What I need to do is to discipline myself to allow at least 5 minutes each day where I am silent before God and allow Him to speak to me. These posting really challenge me. I know that ministerial formation will challenge me as well.

Comment by Michelle Wilkey

Hello Dr. Hess! This was GREAT!!

I truly stopped and thought about what renewal meant to me and I found myself thinking the same ole regular definition of renewal… but there’s more because of where I am in this journey. This paragraph was very moving to me… “An expressive delight does just what it says: express itself. It flows out of you from the abundance of Spirit, rooted in your spirit’s life received in such Spirit. It is not achieved nor earned nor enacted nor learned. It is received, allowed, surrendered, released. And nothing will be as difficult or as demanding of you as learning this simple task, again and again: play your part, however small, and risk big, however foolhardy. Do the work in front of you. Listen for those voices silenced within your own body, your own home, your own faith community. Whatever you fear most? That’s the first confessional step toward sanctification, receiving your redemption in your flesh to offer as gift for us all.”

I just had a class on sanctification at my church and this first step would have brought the class completely together for a lot of the students. I’ll share… Thank you!!

Comment by Traci L. Draper

I agree entirely. As a fellow lover of the Providence of God (big P), I have found that every book I read nails me between the eyes (perhaps because I hardly ever read fiction, other than maybe something like “The Shack.” This happened within the two weeks. Though I don’t necessarily follow Rosenberg’s philosophy entirely, yet his NVC video and book made me see and understand “needs” in the pathology of others (and me). This is going to be a slow process of getting used to this way of thinking. But it is absolutely essential for real understanding and empathy. It also just so happens that I am experiencing a huge dilemma in this area right now. Anyway, just an acknowledgment of this article. Thanks!

Comment by George Fenley




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