Looking for Jesus

13 06 2011

by Carolyn Brock
Spiritual Formation and Wholeness Ministries

Who is Jesus, really? How do my ideas, images, and experiences of Jesus impact my spiritual life? Am I really a disciple of Jesus? Is his way, his vision, his life pattern, his consciousness, his oneness with the Divine the way I am willing to have my identity and choices be shaped? Am I willing to follow Jesus into wilderness places of ego-unraveling, soul-forming encounters with God?

Am I willing to receive sacred sight, a compassionate heart, inner hearing, radical courage, and a blazing vision of healing and justice for the creation of God? Do I really want to go that far, be that counter-cultural, work that hard, die that much, or be that consumed by divine stirrings and longings?

How deep and real is this Jesus thing? And what would it mean for his radical way of knowing, and being, and yearning, and yielding, and healing, and dying to become the door, the gate, the path, the center through which I am drawn into oneness with the Holy One he loved?

These questions haunt me. They feed my ongoing, flawed pursuit of the real Jesus; the yet-alive and accessible Jesus. We are called to pursue the mission of Jesus Christ with renewed clarity and fervor. We are told that passion for mission begins in transformative encounters with Spirit. How do I learn this truth from Jesus?

How do I go with him into the cave of the heart, the still, empty, receptive place where Spirit blows and speaks, caresses and shapes? How do I feel one wave of the divine longing, see one glimmer of the passing holiness, hear one whisper of the eternal voice that so captivated and compelled Jesus? How am I sent into mission from this place of encounter intimately known by Christ?

Lots of questions. Perhaps endless answers based on our diverse spiritualities and Christological perspectives. The two spiritual practices on this page support my search for the Spirit-drenched Jesus. Both involve the gift of divine imagination and the practice of spiritual attention.





Blessed to Be a Blessing

11 06 2011

Ministry is helping children escape the pangs of hunger.

by Jeri Lauren Lambert
Children and Family Ministries

It started with a simple message: “You need to know kids in this area go hungry when they are not in school.”

Standing in the aisle of the Tunnel Hill Congregation in Illinois following a worship service, I was met by a former school administrator with this unsettling news. Three more times I received this same message from the same person, always brief, always disturbing.

I began to picture children riding the bus with mine, eager to get to school on Monday, though not to see friends or a favorite teacher, but to have breakfast after a weekend with little or no food. And I began to be sick to my core, often in tears on Sunday evenings as my own children bickered over meals.

I shared my discomfort with the Tunnel Hill Congregation. Following a service a tearful woman approached me and said, “I will help you do whatever needs to be done.”

While researching childhood hunger we discovered an organization based in Louisville, Kentucky, called Blessings in a Backpack. Angie Harner and I learned we would have to raise $8,600 annually to do the program, given the need in our school.

Within five weeks we had the money from a rural community with a population of fewer than 1,000. Now each Wednesday volunteers assemble 60–75 bags of food delivered to the school by a grocery store. On Fridays, while the children are at recess, teachers put the bags into children’s backpacks.

When we participate in the sacred meal, the sacrament of Communion, we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, and we recommit to being the hands, feet, eyes, and ears of God in our community. We are energized for the work of bringing the peace of Jesus Christ to the world.

For Angie and me, we are blessed to be a blessing.





Blessings in Abundance

9 06 2011

Linda McDaniel (l.) provides Lenten ministry

by David R. Brock
presiding evangelist

I can’t decide.

 

Do I tell about Evangelist Digna Altamirano of Honduras traveling (through the generosity of tithes and offerings) to Cartagena, Colombia, to offer ministry of blessing where it has never before been offered?

 

Do I tell about the 10 evangelist blessings, four baptisms and confirmations, and the classes and visits with Pastor Yaneth Hernandez to members and friends in just a few activity-packed days? Or maybe I should just tell about 80-year-old “Abuela” (grandmother), who hugged Digna and gave her a blessing with a prayer of encouragement and the accompanying presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

Or, maybe I should tell about the noon-hour Lenten journey experiences at Shalom Place in the Temple each workday from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday. I could describe the Native American “Wiping of Tears” ritual with sage and eagle feathers and ceremonial tobacco and the silence and the prayers and the drumbeat and the song to the four directions and the Presence that freed some to ask Community of Christ elders to offer the sacrament of healing afterward.

 

Should I tell about the pain and struggle that so many carry as secret burden: the child who suffers from mental disease; the struggle for strength to break a debilitating habit; the loss of trust in a relationship? Or, I should try to describe my own feelings as I lay my hands on one of those heads, with no answer, no solution, yet knowing God heard and responded as tears of relief flowed?

 

But, there also is the homework club in Spokane Valley, Washington, USA, or the Homestead Community Café at the Guildford Congregation in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, or the amazing story of how Edwin Wanyando came to be ordained as evangelist in Nairobi, Kenya, a few weeks ago.

 

So many instances of sacramental living daily brought to my awareness in our faith community, in the human community, in creation. Which one do I choose?

 

I can’t decide.





They Will Be Comforted

6 06 2011

Elaine Watsonby Elaine Watson
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

On October 15, 1980, our oldest daughter died, the result of a traffic accident that occurred two days earlier.

Cheryl, 18, had been unconscious and on life support from the wee hours of Monday morning to Wednesday. The medical staff asked for permission to remove the resuscitator after doctors established conclusively that Cheryl had suffered a brain death. The electro-encephalogram tests showed no brain activity for two consecutive days.

Matthew 5:4 NRSV states, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Yet I wondered if I would survive this intact. How could I ever be happy again? I felt I never would smile again. But we received support from so many sources.

Jean Black, a friend from our congregation, joined us in the hospital waiting room outside intensive care.

Many women—a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker—told me their stories. Each also had lost a child. They supported me. One of my patients (I was a visiting nurse) had seen the shooting of her husband and children. And I thought my loss was unbearable?

My mother had lost a baby daughter and a grown son. These examples made me realize I could and would survive this.

My husband, Jim, awoke one morning after dreaming that Cheryl and his dad were…laughing, and filled with joy.

After that we clung to the belief that Cheryl was with her grandfather and was happy.

I received comfort from unexpected people. A supervisor from one of our nursing offices who had no children of her own sent me a note that touched me greatly. The mother of the children I babysat as a teenager in our hometown was awesome. When we went home for Christmas after Cheryl’s death, she invited me to sit with her, and we cried together. She allowed me to talk. I didn’t have to avoid using Cheryl’s name.

Patients told me about near-death experiences in which they experienced peace and felt Jesus’ presence. One patient told me about the death of his wife, who had been comatose. Just before she died she roused and said, “It’s a bright new world!”

I heard these stories when I needed them most.

It is when I look back that I recognize all the support I received. I believe that “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”





Holy Space

4 06 2011

Blake Westby Blake West
Topeka, Kansas, USA

For the first part of my 30-minute organ recital at the Auditorium, we had only five people. But then seven more—tourists from Wyoming—joined us.

They were thrilled to be able to sit up by the organ. I was concerned about one rather-elderly woman who had come alone and wore a special magnification visor over her eyeglasses. But she was happy to climb the steps, too.

I played a program of music for Lent with a little cheating. In honor of Jehan Alain’s 100th birthday, I did two of his works, including “Litanies.”

To be audience friendly for some-
thing that gets a little dissonant, I mentioned how that piece starts with a melody/prayer that implores over and over, becomes plaintive, fervent, and eventually leads you to the end of your rope!

At the end of “Litanies,” there was a moment’s silence. Then that sweet lady said, “I’ve felt like that, myself, sometimes!”

It was great.

After everyone else departed, I helped her down the stairs. She stopped me to say that she vividly remembered her parents saving and saving during the Great Depression. They eventually sent a check to the church for $15—a massive amount in their lives—to help build the Auditorium.

I hugged her, she cried. We talked about how her family helped make that organ, that recital, and that worship space possible for generations. Their sacrifice was incredibly meaningful because they gave all they could.

And it was part of what made that space holy.





The Most!

2 06 2011

Dave Brockby David R. Brock
presiding evangelist

It’s not a hymn; more like a psalm-song, or psong (as gifted writer Joy Howard calls it). “The Most” by Lori McKenna is a psong for confession in worship.

Lyrics that are prayer because they are vulnerable ask honest, troubling questions in real-life language and end with glints of hope—colorful tiles in a mosaic of truth. There is not much God talk, but it is a start-right-where-you-are moment of confession that can end only in some derivation of “Please, God, lead my lost soul home!”

My life is a grocery store line
A “we’ll be just fine”
Don’t know how we survive, but we do

My life is an early spring snow
The last thread of hope
That I just keep hanging on to

My life is pieces of paper that I’ll get back to later
I’ll write you a story, how I ended up here
Why the little things make us and how long it takes us
To figure out what matters the most…

Someday, well, I’ll look back and wonder
Someday comes around a little quicker than they told you
Asking, “Did I do what I was supposed to in my life?”

How long will it take me to figure out what matters most? How long did it take you? How did you do it? Who was your guide? Will someone please tell me if I’m doing what I’m supposed to with my life?

Instead of giving our passion and energy to “what matters most” we may spend too much time asking, “What’s the matter?” which may become a judgmental, “What’s the matter with me?”

We’re either worrying about our own health and well-being or how we fail to measure up to our expectations…or someone else’s! And, if we get finished with “What’s the matter with me?” we are prone to focus on “What’s the matter with him (or her, or the huge indefinable them that is the other political party, denomination, faith community, nation, or cultural group)?”

I’ve heard Community of Christ congregations that spend a big piece of their pie chart of passion wondering, “What’s the matter with us?” “We’re so small, have such a tight budget, lack the quality of worship, preaching, teaching that is needed to grow, expand, serve!”

It’s a play on words in English, so it might not work in Urdu or Oriya, but what if every time we want to ask the “What’s the matter with ___?” question, we transformed it to “What matters most?”

What if we shifted our focus to God’s counsel as expressed in fresh ways in Section 164 of Doctrine and Covenants?

As President Steve Veazey stated in his April 10 address to the church, what matters most now is what mattered most from the beginning. It is what the prophet Isaiah, by the power of the Spirit, knew mattered most more than 2,500 years ago. It is what Jesus, by that same Spirit, knew mattered most some 2,000 years ago.

We know what matters most, at least in our best moments. If we have any lack of clarity about what that mission is, President Veazey’s sermon again makes it clear.

In August 1991 at the church in Springfield, Virginia, I stood with the congregation to sing the opening hymn for a prayer service at the in-town reunion. In the midst of that hymn, unbidden and unexpected, came upwelling Truth and indwelling Presence. And with them the clearest penetrating understanding: There is no greater joy than the joy of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. Twenty years later that truth holds and endures.

Makenna says,

My life is green grass through the snow
A sweet reckless hope
And baby, I know what matters the most

In the tongue spoken by disciples of Jesus in Community of Christ, we say, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead!”