Friday, December 21, 2012

Entering Darkness & Silence on the Longest Night

Entering Darkness & Silence on the Longest Night --
Finding Mystery

             Darkness begins to settle, and the shadows cast from dozens flickering candles create a shadow dance on the walls of the dimly lit sanctuary. The profile of the cross, backlit to dramatic effect, calls us to lift our eyes and turn our minds toward Christ. The aroma of freshly baked bread permeates the air we breathe in anticipation of the meal we will share. The faithful who are called to this discipline enter and gather in silence, each immersed in his or her thoughts. TaizĂ© music plays softly in the background.

At the hour, the chime calls us into awareness of our oneness within this group and with the whole church as we share in the timeless rhythm and practice of Evening Prayer and Eucharist. The vesper candle is lit and the leader intones, “Light and peace in Jesus Christ,” and the response is chanted, “Thanks be to God.”

Thanks be to God indeed for the gift of Evening Prayer, in which we join our prayers with those of the whole body of Christ in unceasing prayer and praise to the one who made us. We settle into the rhythm of song and prayer, intercessions, scripture, and silence that I have come to understand as story and relationship. Through those simple means we affirm who God is and who we are in relationship with the Holy One.

We share the stories of our faith, stories of God’s faithfulness and active presence in the lives of his children throughout many centuries. Hearts open and thoughts soar as we settle deeper into the mystery, “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts” (Ps. 42:7). The intercessions, sharing of present hopes and troubles, and lifting prayers for others bring into sharp focus just how much we need that relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we are aligned with the reality of God active and present, here and now. A deeper knowing assures us that the God who was and is, is also the God who will be always and forever real in our lives. (Suzanne Clement)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pushing the Pause Button

From the Introduction: Pushing the Pause Button
Teaching contemplative prayer practices, which nurture per­sonal faith, presents two challenges. First of all, these practices are “nonpractices” in the sense that they call us to pause in our busy lives. These are more about listening than speaking. It takes time for people to learn the art of such a pause. Second, these practices, developed in early Christian monastic settings, only recently have returned to pub­lic awareness. We are thus seeking to learn and teach these practices largely “on our own.” Most of us in the Protestant traditions do not have the sustained daily rhythms of a Christian monastic community in which to cultivate this heart of God’s presence. We are seeking to inte­grate such practices into family life and active participation in the world.

The gentle presence that we cultivate in spiritual formation prac­tice is described well in Parker Palmer’s understanding of a “circle of trust.” He contrasts a circle of trust with the circles we ordinarily convene.
A circle of trust is a group of people who know how to sit quietly “in the woods” with each other and wait for the shy soul to show up. The relationships in such a group are not pushy but patient; they are not confrontational but compassionate; they are filled not with expectations and demands but with abiding faith in the reality of the inner teacher and in each person’s capacity to learn from it. The poet Rumi captures the essence of this way of being together: “A circle of lovely, quiet people becomes the ring on my finger.” (A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004, 59)
Does it make a difference if we learn to appreciate one another within our congregations across theological and cultural differences? Today it is essential. It is not a luxury. I’ve come to deeply appreci­ate any practice that puts some space between our quick reactivity and our actions. A few decades ago, such practices were denigrated as self-absorbed navel gazing. Quite the contrary, such practices are essential to break the imprisonment caused by naming anyone differ­ent from ourselves as “enemy.” We must examine such attitudes and break their power over us in the name of Jesus’ calling to compassion. 

How do you "push the pause button?"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sharing Thin Places

Each month I will post excerpt from A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life (to be published, February, 2013, Upper Room Books). Please respond with your experience or questions related to the practice. -- Dwight Judy

This month's post is from a group of 6 women who have met weekly for 6 years. They follow the method of group scripture reflection (lectio divina) as outlined by Norvene Vest in Gathered in the Word.

After a short period of “coming together” we quiet ourselves by lighting a candle or striking a small Tibetan bowl to prepare ourselves for “hearing the Word.” The leader reads a selected scripture twice after which members are invited to repeat a word or phrase that has stood out for her. Following the next reading we reflect upon and share how the phrase has touched our lives. After a period of silence as the scripture is read once again we listen for an invitation as to how we might respond to the Word in the coming week. Allowing further time for individual contemplation and having listened to each others’ responses, we end with personal prayers that include a prayer for and about the person seated on our right.
As time has evolved, leaders have occasionally brought added material such as poetry, hymn verses, or other short readings. Other formats have been introduced, such as the examen, in which we review life experiences looking for God’s presence, but we have primarily stayed close to the lectio practice.
The group has provided a context for stimulating both discipline and new directions in individual contemplation. It has been a private journey traveled alongside people we have come to love and trust. Certainly we have encouraged each other to keep up daily devotional reading and meditation and we have pondered the meaningful phrases in what we’ve read. We have learned to pray our gratitude and concerns aloud even as we’ve wrestled with our “images” of the God we are addressing.
In a way, being there for each other has become an expression of the “yearning.” We have shared “thin places.” The experience of God’s Presence has been powerfully felt in the weekly prayers for each other and as we have coped with serious illness and the deaths of loved ones. It has been a sustaining energy for one another – a place where we can bring our vulnerability and can count on needed support. The power of this time together remains central in our lives and has provided the bond that keeps us together. None of us has become a mystic, but we have realized that God is in relationships to one another and our loving response to the needs of the world.
While our group itself is not obvious to the congregation, our search for spiritual depth was recognized and supported by our pastoral staff, and over the past six years spiritual formation offerings have become prominent in adult programming.

Have you shared "thin places" with others in your small group experience?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Available, February, 2013, A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life, will be published by Upper Room Books. Over 40 contributors have described significant positive impact within their congregations with use of spiritual formation practices.

This blog will host continuing conversation on these practices and will serve as a place for people to discuss "best practices" of spiritual formation for congregational life.