Abbey Focus Workshop #3: The with-God-life

This is a recap of the Abbey workshop on Monday night during Kaleo Focus. We have been thinking about what it looks like to pay attention in 3 directions: inward (at the self, with God), outward (at others, with God), and upward (at God, with God’s help!). There are three spiritual disciplines that undergird each of these directions, and can be remembered by the phrase: Stop, Look, and Listen.

 

  • In March we looked at ways to STOP or pause, namely via silence and solitude.

  • Last month we talked about ways to LOOK and increase our awareness via a regular inventory like prayer of examen.

  • This month we focused on how “looking upward” at God changes the shape of our lives “down here,” with lectio divina (or Holy LISTENing) as the recommended contemplative practice.

 

This last workshop had me reflecting on the importance of a well-rounded integration of:

  • the three “directions” (inward, outward, upward),
  • Nouwen’s three spiritual disciplines for remaining a faithful disciple of Jesus (solitude, community, and ministry),
  • and the three bedrock contemplative genres (stop, look, and listen).  

I had been thinking about them all as a “three-legged-stool” but while preparing for Monday, was picturing discipleship more like a ferris wheel. In reality, we hop on when we can, and when there’s an opening. For some of us that’s through community, others during a really compelling ministry, and others via some loss that catapults us into solitude with God. The point is not to stay in that spot perpetually, however,  but to keep cycling through these different important aspects of our faith, giving special attention to the directions or disciplines we don’t naturally operate in.

 

Although the “upward” direction (paying attention God; living in light of Christ) is initially really appealing to me, in reality it’s a full-bodied and paradigm-challenging invitation. The with-God-life challenges my perspective on:

 

1. Death - True spirituality isn’t necessarily “good for our health,” in that it may lead to our physical death (like Jesus and 11 of his original disciples), and surely to the death of our false selves, perhaps several times over. “There are some things worse than death. To deny one’s integrity of personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of those things.” - Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited

 

2. Life after death - Remembering heaven, and not only as the place “up there,” but the renewed earth down here with Jesus personally present, which seems like the long-term plan...

 

3. Time - Not as something I own, but as something I’m swept into, and as a means of salvation (2 Peter 3:15)

 

4. Patience - As a basic constituent of the Christian life; not as a necessary evil, or something to get through, but as a posture to be found at peace in (2 Peter 3:14-15)

 

5. Joy - Well-being of the soul, but not necessarily well-being emotionally, circumstantially or economically; a joy that isn’t removed from pain and suffering but often found in, through, and alongside them

 

6. Success - As fruitfulness (not expertise or rightness), which we may never get the satisfaction of seeing, knowing, identifying, or tasting ourselves, and borne out of pain, vulnerability and losses (“The fruits of your life come only after the plow has carved through your land.” - Henri Nouwen, Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry)

 

Lectio divina, which means “holy” or “divine reading,” is even better understood as “holy listening," because its basic presupposition is that God speaks, making us the “spoken to” (how dignifying, radical and needed!).  Although it’s mainly understood as a prayerful way of engaging this God-who-still-speaks in Scripture - in order to hear God’s personal word for us - “holy listening” can be a posture in all of life as well. We can look for God’s personal word to us in art, in music, after a conversation, a meeting, at the end of a year, or after watching a show. The goal of lectio divina (or lectio on life), isn’t to become an expert at anything or to collect nuggets of insight, but to more and more deeply internalize God’s love for us and develop a palate for God’s truth in our lives. The way Jesus accessed and embodied the Old Testament Scripture during some of his most uncomfortable and painful moments (think the wilderness and the cross), is a model for what it can look like to really meditate on and digest God’s words to us and for us.

 

These are some of the things we talked about on Monday night. :)

Take-Aways from Shane + World Vision

A few weeks ago - along with some of you - I went to hear Shane speak a couple times at Victoria’s first Starfields festival. It was great. We lived near Shane and Katie in Philadelphia so it was fun for me to feel worlds “colliding” a bit here. Then yesterday morning I went to a Victoria Church Leaders Forum with World Vision and heard from Keith Stewart, a pastor in Texas doing really inspiring things with his church in their community.

 

I gathered a few inspirations, observations, and questions from what I heard from the two events. If you were at any of them (or even if you weren’t), I’d love to hear what you think too!

 

First Take-Away: Talking can really help.

I remember how much I resonated as a late 20-something with Richard Rohr’s statement that we aren’t "changed by sermons but by experiences," and that we don’t “think our way into new ways of living,” but rather “live our way into new ways of thinking.” I still agree, BUT these two events reminded me how good and important talking can be on the way. We walk and we talk. The journey isn’t once and done, the talk informs our walk, and our walk informs our talk. I'm now realizing the Shema already said this: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. TALK about them when you 1) sit at home, 2) walk along the read, 3) lie down, and 4) when you get up.” Right.

 

Second Take-Away: Such question-provoking quotes!

All the talks got me thinking so much, wondering a lot, and asking myself questions. Katie Withrow told me that this was the main thing she got from hearing Shane too: a broadened imagination. Asking “What if….?" about this and that and this person and this problem...wondering with God about the radical life and opportunities for growth and life and engagement right under our noses. Here are some of the quotes that broadened my imagination and some of the questions that followed:

“So often those of us with resources still aren’t often in relationship with people without resources.”

Shane referred to someone saying the (North American) church has a “compassion problem,” but he took it further and said we have a “relationship problem,” not often enough in relationship with people without resources, because that draw towards cultural and socio-economic similarity (and status quo) is so strong, and largely unquestioned. He shared how Mother Teresa said that the “circle we put around our families is far too small,” and that although it may “become fashionable to talk about the poor, it will probably never become fashionable to talk to the poor.” Wow.

Made me wonder: 

Who are the people with very little resources in my life right now? What would it look like to prioritize relating with them more, and more mutually? How could I cross paths with people with less resources than me more often? What little things could I change? Any big things?

 

“You are what you eat.”

When Shane spent time with the sisters of Calcutta in India, he was included in their daily 5am prayer and communion. When he asked why they took communion so regularly, one nun said: “Well you know the phrase, ‘You are what you eat?’ That’s what we’re going for.” He said their posture in prayer was the same: it wasn’t about saying anything, but just “soaking up Jesus” so that when they touched someone that day, it would be Jesus touching the person, and when they looked at someone, it would be Jesus’ eyes seeing that person.

Made me wonder:

What if I saw prayer as a “soaking in and up” rather than something I do/perform/complete? What prevents me from seeing myself - my expressions, communication, interactions - as a conduit of Christ’s presence and love? What would it be like to “soak up” Christ one morning, and spend the day assuming God’s love was flowing through me?

 

“For some reason, God wants to change the world with us.”

Shane shared that one of his favorite miracle stories is the feeding of the 5,000, and that his favorite part is that the little boy who offered up his lunch got to be part of the miracle, as well as the disciples. Jesus could have done it all himself, but he involved them: “For some reason, God wants to change the world with us.”

Made me wonder:

How does God want to change my corner of the world with me? How does God want to change Victoria with us? How IS God changing Victoria with us? Where is the Spirit’s renewal activity already evident? What should we join? What am I drawn to?

 

“Don’t chase issues.”

Keith Stewart quoted a friend (who I picked up from the airport once in Philly!) who told him this, as his church was wondering “what to do” about the poor. The implication was that God’s invitation wasn’t something to be ran down “out there”  but rather awakened to “in here.”

Made me wonder:

What are our blind spots as a church? Who among us needs to be fed, touched, visited? Whose cause needs to be understood and defended? Who might not “have a voice” in our church? What jams people up in Victoria? What isn’t fair?

 

 

Third Take-Away: So what now?

Well, I feel totally roused from sleep. Not once and for all, and not from a deep sleep, but from one of my many half-naps. Here are some of my plans:

  • Tell you about it so that I’m held accountable to following through on some of what Shane and Keith stirred up in me.

 

  • Have our May Evensong as a walk and talk, specifically, walking down Pandora, looking for shapes of suffering and signs of hope, stopping a few times to pray a different version of the Lord’s Prayer, and then convening at a coffee shop downtown to share observations, inklings, and ideas about next steps as individuals and as a church.

 

  • Keep walking, and talking (with you)! (If the comments work, please throw any of your reactions, questions, or ideas into the mix!)

Abbey Focus Workshop #2: The Role of Others in our Spiritual Formation

This is a recap of the Abbey workshop on Monday night during Kaleo Focus. We have been thinking about what it looks like to pay attention in 3 directions: inward (at the self, with God), outward (at others, with God), and upward (at God, with God’s help!). There are three spiritual disciplines that undergird each of these directions, and can be remembered by the phrase: Stop, Look, and Listen. Last month we talked about “stopping” practices, namely silence and solitude, which help us “stop” our frantic activity (within and without) and make space to listen to God and be exposed to God’s healing love in deeper ways.

 

This month we talked about the role of “others” in our spiritual formation, remembering how our own development is inextricably indebted to and reliant on an “outward” focus, or an ability to pay attention to, make space for, include, love others, and receive love from others. We began with this go-around question: Who is someone that you’re really indebted to, who was important to you at a particular point in your life, or who you really blossomed around? (Don’t think too hard; share the first person that comes to mind.) We then got to hear - more beautifully than I would have been able to “teach” - the ways God uses people to communicate God’s love in very specific and life-saving ways.

 

The main question we ended up working with was:

What can it look like to have an “outward” focus - a readiness to identify with, include, and love others - while living within our limits and staying replenished by our ultimate source (God)?

 

I offered these 5 observations about sustaining an “outward” focus:

 

  1. It’s complicated

    1. Our culture’s hyper-individualism says we can do anything we want (if we really want it and are savvy enough) and that we can meet our own needs. Church (and nonprofit) culture, on the other hand, can be hyper-others-ism, encouraging an uncritical outward focus (or “servanthood”) that can actually be more about image maintenance or self-protection than actually loving others, and leading to feelings of failure, burnout, or resentment. Like Paul (kind of said): things aren’t always what they seem. We need God to help us sort out what a healthy outward focus looks like for each of us.

 

  1. We can’t talk about “others” without talking about “self”

    1. One way to hear Jesus’ commandment is as “Love your OTHERS as yourSELF.” Life - and love! - is one who cloth: when you tug at one end, another end flutters. As much as it might “feel” like it, “There is no outside (the) text” (Derrida). We can’t stand “outside” of ourselves and love others “purely,” just like we can’t stand “outside” the church, noting the brokenness we see, without acknowledging our complicity. I’m making this sound like bad news (which it is sometimes), but it’s also good news! It means that our ability to love others is inextricably tied to our own sense of our belovedness; we aren’t expected to “output” without the “input.”

 

  1. It takes a group to know a person, and it takes a group to know God

    1. In The Four Loves, CS Lewis has a great story about how each person in a (small) group brings something unique out of each other person. When one person isn’t there, you’d think you might be able to get “more” out of each other (less people = more time). But Lewis says it’s the opposite - you actually get “less” out of each person because you don’t have that person who brings out something only they bring out in each.  That’s a long way of saying we get “more” of God through one another, and more of God’s image is brought out in us by doing life with others.

 

  1. An outward focus starts “at home”

    1. Any ethic for loving others has to include the “furniture” of our lives - the people that we most take for granted, see the most, pass the most, use the most, forget about the most. It can be strangely easy to drum up feelings for loving “capital O” “Others,” and forget that includes the (unglamorous) others we live with or work with or sit in pews with. Like Anne Lamott posted on Facebook a few years ago: “Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way you can do this work in comfortable pants.”

 

  1. An outward focus will take us “out of our way”

    1. Among other things, Jesus’ whole ministry can be characterized as one of crossing boundaries: divine/human, clean/unclean, religious/gentile, heaven/earth, etc. Taking the great commandment seriously means we will go out of our way to include, identify with, and love others. I remember reading in the parenting book, Blessing of the Skinned Knee, about the Jewish custom of crossing the street whenever you see someone you remotely know. Having the margins, and priority, to “cross the street” for others is one way I understand having an outward focus. In his lent devotional, Walter Brueggemann imagines a church with an “outward” focus, describing it as people who “foot the bill for neighborliness and mercy when we have many other bills to pay,” and who “pay attention to those disqualified by the capitalist system.”

 

A tool: LOOK (daily awareness)

Sustaining a healthy “outward” focus, however, requires discernment and “cross-pollination” with the inward and upward focuses. One great tool for discernment is the prayer of examen, also known as daily awareness, daily inventory or review, or LT3F. This practice, grounded in Psalm 139, gives a chance to pay attention to our real lives, become familiar with the Voice of the Good Shepherd,  and sort out the invitations from God from our default instinct and feelings, which may or may not be leading us to love God, self, and others more. Those who came to the Abbey workshop took home a Daily Examen workbook, to try for a week or longer. Feel free to print one out or make something similar to use yourselves (*it’s formatted to be printed out as two double-sided sheets, and then folded in half).



 

Abbey Focus Workshop #1: Leading with an Inner Life

This is a recap of the workshop I led on Monday night for Kaleo. I wanted to practice simplifying the idea more, and thought perhaps some of you might enjoy having a “peek” into the still-forming Abbey track, or into Kaleo, or into a more clarified version of what those of you who were there heard on Monday night :D.

 

Contemplative Leadership

 

If I had to say what “the Abbey” + discipleship looks like, I’d call it “contemplative leadership.” The word contemplative connotes old-man-stroking-chin-image at first for me, but I’m using it in relation to its latin definition, which is “the act of looking at.” It’s a seeing-kind-of-knowing more than a thinking-(stroking chin)-kind -of-knowing. And our “seeing” of anything is predicated on God’s prior (and truer) “gaze” on us (“This is love: not that we loved God but that He loved us…” - 1 John 4:10). Here are 3 implications of contemplative leadership:

Happy Half Lent!

3 Reasons and 5 Ways to get into the second half

 

Elaine taught me a new word this week: laetare. Laetare Sunday is the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, marking the mid-way point. Surprisingly (to me), it means “rejoice,” and from what I gather, it’s to be a pause or reprieve from the fasts of Lent with an eye towards Easter. Other words for the day are “Mothering Sunday,” and “Refreshment Sunday.” Sounds nice. I guess it’s like the water station or massage table at the midway mile of a marathon (do they have those? I wouldn’t know).

 

Anyways, it got me thinking about the first half of Lent. How I started off the season like I do the new year - with anticipation that it could be good, with a sense of what to resist (or fast), and with the memory that things don’t always go as planned. And my fast hasn’t gone as planned. I feel a bit overwhelmed with just life chores and all the possible time investments. The weather was really cold and then really warm; some of the cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen, others haven’t at all.

 

I don’t want to give up or write-off the season just because here at the halfway point I’m not sure what to make of it. I wondered if some of you might be in the same place (?), so I wrote out a few reasons why we should do the second half of the marathon, even if we are not where we thought we’d be, and even if we never started it at all.

 

3 Reasons

7 Observations from the Prayer Vigil for Bishop Trevor

A week ago today was the 24 hour prayer vigil for Bishop Trevor(pictured above). It was good to do and surprisingly enjoyable. 8 people joined in person over the 4 hours, and some of you prayed at home. I keep thinking about what I learned from it, so thought I’d share 7 of my observations so far.

 

1. It reminded me that healing was a major part of Jesus’ ministry on earth, so much so that sometimes He seemed to heal indiscriminately, just left and right, and all of them. (?)

Whoa. For all the ways I follow Jesus, praying for others’ healing isn’t ‘a major part of my life of ministry. Should it be (more)?