Glimpses of Healing and Hope

December 4, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Rescue rant...rip open the heavens

The pastor I heard preach the Advent 1 service at my mother’s retirement community Sunday called Isaiah 64:1-9 a “rant for rescue.”  Whether the passage begins with “O that you would rip open the heavens and descend” in The Message or “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down” in the New Revised Standard Version, the implication of desperation is clear.

“The author of this portion of Isaiah most likely wrote these words during the time following the Israelites’ return from their exile in Babylon. Having made their way home, they were wrestling with questions of what their life, their community, their relationship with God would look like now. Isaiah 64 gives voice to their longing for a God who seems absent, even as they grapple with guilt over their own brokenness,” according to Jan Richardson’s post at The Advent Door back in 2008.

As Pastor Ray at the retirement community explained to his listeners, the people in this text are yearning for release from their exile: the opportunity to return home to a life as they had once known it, yearning to go back to the vineyards, to the relationships left behind.

A fog of despair settles over them when they realize Jerusalem has been destroyed and their own neighbors no longer want them to come home.  Isaiah speaks into this darkness, repeating the cry of the people, reminding them of their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, reminding them that the Divine can heal the hopelessness of their lives.

“If we are honest, we will identify with the exiles,” Pastor Ray asserted.  In our darkness we cry out, too, yearning for a sense of God’s presence.  Advent, this season of hope, begins by inviting us to own our darkness, he observed. 

Richardson suggests from personal experience that “at the heart of my resistant longing for God is the knowledge that to call upon the living God, to ask the Creator to tear open and rip into my universe, means giving myself to the prospect, the surety, that God will draw me out to places from which I can never return....I cannot control the direction this will go.”

A somewhat scary proposition, then, “this business of asking God to come close, to tear through the separateness in order to reach us: that’s not how it really works, of course. The tearing doesn’t go in that direction, as if God needed to punch a hole in some far-off heaven in order to come down to us. The incarnation, which we anticipate and celebrate in this season, reminds us that God is ever present, immanent, closer than our breathing.”

Richardson aptly calls our attention to  English mystic Julian of Norwich, who said, “Betwixt us and God, there is no between.” And further, Richardson offers, “If God pervades all creation, pervades us, then the barrier that needs to be torn away isn’t outside us; it’s within. In our own interior universe, in the cosmos we carry inside us, God lives, moves, breathes. What do we need to tear away, to tear through, to tear down, in order to receive this? What do we balk at tearing because we think it is too precious to us or because we fear to lose control over the direction it will go?”

The retirement community service closed with communion yesterday, as the pastor served bread and wine as symbols that the darkness will not always reign.  “We gather to celebrate that the darkness will not put out the light.”

What does your personal darkness look like this Advent season?  In response to your rant for rescue, imagine the Divine penetrating your darkness and welcoming home the parts of yourself that live in exile.  Make it an Advent practice this year to claim the light that overcomes your personal darkness.

Add a comment

November 27, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Gratitude board…thankful for family and friends and food and warm houses and the glories of nature and so much more!

A proliferation of gratitude stories is lighting up the internet this Thanksgiving season with news that gratitude is beneficial to your health.

The University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine has discovered that more grateful people enjoy better health than less grateful folks—specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms, according to Sacred Science writer Nick Polizzi who quotes the study’s author, Paul J. Mills:  The grateful people revealed “a better well-being, a less depressed mood, less fatigue, and they slept better. We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk.”

Author Polizzi suggests that it is “almost impossible to be upset and grateful at the same time,” adding that “being thankful flips a switch inside of you that clears out any negative feelings you were experiencing a few moments before.”

Polizzi offers “three easy ways to bring more gratitude into your life” including offering thanks for each new day, breathing a daily gratitude prayer one meal a day, and keeping track for the next 10 days of one thing for which you are grateful.

And he has compiled a list of potential gratitude “inspiration” ideas as you ponder those things for which you are grateful…consider what you like about yourself, what you are learning from challenges, your favorite people, the good things about your job or your location, what you are looking forward to, the state of today’s sky. Certainly there is no end to the things for which one might muster up gratitude, even at the close of a year which may have seemed more trying for many Americans than usual.

A USA Today article advises that feeling gratitude, keeping track of why you are grateful, seeking out things for which to be grateful even in difficult times, and expressing gratitude to one another are sure-fire ways to develop “appreciation for what is valuable and meaningful in life.”

The article cites Shilagh Mirgain, a health psychologist with University of Wisconsin Health, as saying, “Research suggests that individuals who feel grateful experience lower blood pressure, improved immune functions, recover more quickly from illness, and can more effectively cope with stress.”

And “a sense of gratitude can reduce the lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse disorders,” according to the article, which reports that “gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health, more so than even optimism.”

This Los Angeles Times story details “10 reasons why it’s beneficial to cultivate an attitude of gratitude” that extends beyond Thanksgiving: gratitude empowers you, helps fight addiction, combats the Facebook blues, boosts self-control, helps you sleep better, fosters a sense of community, aids in fending off depression, facilitates your becoming a better spouse, makes you an improved boss/manager, increases life satisfaction for kids.

Joan Chittister in The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer says that “Gratitude is not only the posture of praise but it is also the basic element of real belief in God. When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good. We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves. We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God. Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.”

Chittister speaks of “coming to prayer with an alleluia heart.”  Her gratitude prayer goes like this:
“Thank you for the new day.
Thank you for this work.
Thank you for this family.
Thank you for our daily bread.
Thank you for this storm and the moisture it brings to a parched earth.
Thank you for the corrections that bring me to growth.
Thank you for the bank of crown vetch that brings color to the hillside.
Thank you for pets that bind us to nature.
Thank you for the necessities that keep me aware of your bounty in my life.”

How are you expressing gratitude to the Divine and those around you? 

Add a comment

November 20, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Soaring with music to the dizzying heights of St. Monica’s vaulted ceilings

A good friend from Kern Road offered to take me to Vesper Chorale’s performance of Brahms’ Requiem, perceiving that it might play a role in my navigating the grief journey of losing a parent.

The chorale, which rehearses at Kern Road Mennonite Church, is conducted by KRMCer Wishart, and for this past weekend’s concert included Kern Road singers Mary, Brenda, Vic, and Nevin, among other personal friends and acquaintances from the surrounding area.  I had no trouble imagining losing myself in this performance, to be staged in the beautiful St. Monica Catholic Church, Mishawaka. For this opening concert of the chorale’s 25th anniversary season, KRMCer Murray played tympani, and many others who identify with the congregation were among appreciative listeners.

Having sung the requiem twice more than 20 years ago, I was already acquainted with the music’s soaring, surging power and both the English and German words, but I became particularly attracted to the possibility of basking in the piece as part of the journey of loss after reading Rhonda Miska’s post, Grieving with Brahms’ Requiem, at the U.S. Catholic website in preparation for the concert. 

“After a death we often struggle to integrate the reality that our loved one is gone and yet somehow mysteriously not totally gone. I had been with my grandmother when the veil was thin, during her final hours when it felt as though my role was to be a midwife for her departure from this world. After being at that precipice, in that intensely powerful space between life and death, being back in the world of making hotel reservations for the funeral, organizing photographs for the wake, and tracking down the email addresses of second cousins was disorienting,” Miska wrote.

Following her grandmother’s death, she said, “I craved a lodestar to orient myself amid the waves of grief, a channel for my prayers I couldn’t begin to put into words. I wondered how to do this—for my grandmother, for my family, for God, for myself. Beyond the many practical logistics that come with a death in the family, how was I to chart the way?....I found an answer to my questions and to my wordless prayers in 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem)—a great work of art that became a trusted roadmap as I traversed the grief at the passing of our family matriarch.”

According to conductor Wishart’s program notes, “No one is quite certain why Brahms undertook to compose a requiem in his own language to a libretto that he assembled himself from Luther’s translation of scripture.  His sorrow over the death of his mother in 1865 as well as his continuing grief over Schumann’s untimely death nine years earlier certainly impacted this decision.”

And, the conductor continued, “Uncertainty also surrounds his motivation for the theme and choice of lyrics.  Why quote so much scripture when his belief system no longer supported it?  We know from his comments that he hoped to write a requiem for the living—to imbue the music with comfort for the sorrowing.” Unlike a typical mass for the dead in Catholic liturgy, this requiem offers consolation to the mourners, in the words of author James R. Oestreich in a New York Times article posted in May 2017: “Rather than dwelling on the judgment of the deceased, (Brahms) seemed intent on consoling those left behind.” Oestreich adds that the piece “has become something of an anthem for our time, with grand social and political reverberations” about which you can read more at this link

I enjoyed learning more about the requiem at this Harrisburg Symphony Blog post, which includes details about each movement (and a no-longer-available recording of a performance of the requiem at the Vienna Musikverein). In his introduction to the work prior to its performance, conductor Wishart suggested that one way to experience the music might be “to close your eyes and let the music wash over you. The more often you hear it, the more meaningful the music becomes,” he added, noting that youtube.com features many renditions.   

“What good art can do for us is offer a container for universal human experiences—like grief—which are at once common and deeply personal. While the many tiny particularities of our departed loved ones—the precise way he laughed, the specific way she brewed her coffee or folded the laundry—are what we most remember and miss, the grief journey is common and fundamental to our existence. Artists like Brahms extend an enduring hand across space and time to accompany us and offer the consolation that while our particular loss is unique, the human experience of grief is shared,” Miska concluded in her article on grieving with the requiem.

In Singing, A Mennonite Voice, authors Marlene Kropf and Kenneth Nafziger propose the theory that “music gives us (Mennonites) a faith with flesh and blood and breath and ushers us into realms of glory and grace.” They are speaking of congregational singing when they say, “We will know that the Lord is still our Shepherd because our songs will set the truth quivering in our bodies, minds, and souls.  Singing will bring us into the presence of the Shepherd who leads into green pastures and beside still waters to the eternal feast of God’s presence.” For a similar reason, I suggest listening to Brahms bursting in air (quote from the conductor’s introductory comments) offers solace to the grieving soul.

Add a comment

November 13, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

 

Transitioning from this life to the next

Pastor Janice spoke two Sundays ago, as we observed All Saints Day at Kern Road, of the recent loss of her aunt. In the last year of walking with her father’s sister before her death, Janice said she saw her aunt give up possessions and her apartment, her strength and independence. 

Whether our sorrow at the loss of loved ones manifests as “crying, weeping, wailing, silence, pondering, wondering,” Janice suggested “our grief means that our love is strong, not that we don’t trust God.” Of those who have gone before us, she said, “We honor them because we love them, we miss them; ordinary things become extraordinary because they remind us of those we love…smells, sights, sounds we shared.”

Though my 96-year-old father had fractured his hip a week earlier in a fall, I could not have known that I would be looking back on Janice’s words of wisdom so soon, as I left church after that All Saints worship service for the drive to eastern PA. Daddy had eaten a hearty meal of pureed food soon after surgery that morning to repair his hip, according to my mother and brother who visited him, but, by the following day when I arrived, my dad did not recognize any of us. 

I had not waited with a loved one seemingly in the act of dying since I was 12 years old, when my great grandfather passed away at his home on the fainting couch as my mom and I and my six-year-old brother visited. This time I waited again with my mom, who carried on with grace, caressing the forehead of her partner of 72 years while the room filled and emptied as med techs from my mother and father’s personal care apartment, a long-time friend of mine, some of my parents’ church friends, women who lovingly serve meals in the personal care dining room, nursing and hospice staff floated in and out to the tune of Daddy’s slightly labored breathing and a CD of old hymns playing quietly on a boom box in the background. 

Mom and I wondered, quietly to ourselves and aloud to my dad, who would greet him on the other side of this transition…might it be his son Greg, who died 43 years ago, or his parents, or some of his father’s large family of aunts and uncles and cousins who would welcome him at the close of his nearly 97 years here on earth?  Whatever one believes about the past, present, or future, these passages are difficult, perhaps most difficult for those who do not easily imagine a life after this one, where the joys of reuniting with family and friends suggest memories of failing bodies, failing minds, and the general absurdities of life could melt away.

“Death is disorienting,” a good friend texted, and so it was, in a new way each time we passed another milestone: upon first learning Daddy had broken his right hip, realizing he likely had had a stroke after surgery, discovering he no longer recognized us, watching him begin hospice, seeing him propped up in the sunshine in a wheel chair, being there as he took his last breath (which we recognized as his last breath only because another never came), IDing him for the undertaker, seeing his obit at the funeral home’s website, viewing a photo of the newspaper death notice.

My two brothers and I are grateful for cousins who helped transport our mother to the hospital to see our father in our absence the week after his fall; for medical personnel who took care of our father and supported us in our exploration of what to do next; for social workers from inside and outside our family who helped us comprehend hospice and when to begin using it; for retirement community caregivers, other staff, administrators, residents who lovingly inquired about our parents and lifted us up in the midst of a difficult time; for the hospice nurse who visited on Sunday to pray with my mom and my dad and me; for the gift of pre-paid funeral arrangements made nearly two years ago and the minimal funeral home follow-up necessary in the moment of loss; for local PA friends who made visits to our mother on occasion, some with flowers and another with a Ten Thousand Villages “strength” stone.

And what helped us carry on in the short run? Chuckling together with family and friends and caregivers, not only at Daddy’s foibles but at all the ways he made us laugh, brought comfort. Debriefing nightly and eating ground cherry pie with the local friend who housed me was invaluable. As the one of my dad’s three children most likely to post on social media photos and shout-outs for accompaniment on the journey of waiting together, I took consolation from my Facebook friends, including a high school classmate who reminded me of Daddy’s living on through his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I loved the many-colored heart emoticons and expressions of caring left by friends and family and acquaintances.

A friend from Jim’s earliest days of teaching college in Upland, IN, wrote:  “Oddly, it seems to me, one of my favorite memories was being with my father when he passed. I hope you will have the same experience. Our love to you and your family during this difficult time.” Countless family and friends wished us peace and blessing, love and prayers, light and strength, grace, hugs, and the comfort of memories.  One shared that he was leaning my way, another that she was crying with us, yet another said, “May God hold you all in your grief and breathe comfort and joy over you.” I am grateful for each and every sentiment that came our way.   

My mother’s youngest sister fondly recalled via email the pastel pink, blue, yellow, and green glass tea set my dad gave her when she was a child.  My uncle happily agreed to share at an early December service a tribute to my father, with whom he worked as a research chemist in the early years of their professional lives. 

When I arrived back home, the KRMC senior breakfast folks offered a warm space Thursday morning to share semi-publicly for the first time about my dad’s death, more KRMCers spoke condolences and came along side on the journey of loss Sunday morning, some with heartfelt hugs and tears in their eyes. Another invited me next weekend to hear a performance of Brahms’ Requiem, a wonderful piece I have sung several times but never in the midst of personal loss.  It opens with these words,  “Blessed are those who mourn.” 

The Open Fifths and Notable Women provided solace through their Saturday night concert at Goshen College, where songs like Abide with Me (which I already had chosen to be included at my dad's memorial service), along with Wanting Memories, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Angel Band opened the floodgates and spoke to my personal grief in myriad ways. 

How we confront crisis and find comfort will look different for each of us…combing through old photos, writing, listening to good music, and connecting with family and friends console me. How have you accompanied others on the grief journey?  How would you want to be accompanied?

Add a comment

October 30, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman 

Lighting candles for those we have loved and lost...

Last year’s blog post for All Saints’  Day began like this: “How do you keep alive the memory of those lost to you, sometimes much too soon, sometimes after long, meaningful connections?  When do you take time to recall those who have gone before you…perhaps on their birthdays or the days of their deaths?  All Saints’ Day, observed on November 1 on the liturgical calendar of the church year, offers another occasion to reminisce about family and friends we have loved and lost.”

Twelve more months have passed; new input from my favorite spirituality writers and my own experiences add robust material to a burgeoning file on All Saints’ Day and coming to terms with new ways of interacting with those we have loved and lost. I am intrigued by the questions Jan Richardson raised in her keynote address at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Orlando this past August.  “When absence erupts in our lives, how do we call upon the presence of love that goes deeper than our loss? How do we open ourselves anew to the presence that endures far, far beyond death?”

Speaking of the recent loss of her husband of several years, Richardson explained to her listeners, “I will tell you there have been nights when the only prayer I could muster has been to simply listen to the beating of the heart inside me and to trust that Gary’s heart was in mine and mine was still in his, and that both our hearts are held in the heart of God, who encompasses us, and holds us, and is present to us in a love beyond imagining.”

Richardson went on to make this fascinating observation: “The mystery in all this is that when our hearts break, they can become bigger.  If we can stay with the sorrow and, more important, if we can stay with the love that goes deeper even than the sorrow, that is more fierce than our fiercest grief, our hearts become more open than we ever imagined they could.”

Claiming in no way to understand her meaning completely, I remain awash in memories of a few weeks back, memories of two young men long gone from this physical world who resurfaced unexpectedly in new ways this month. Just days before observing the 43rd anniversary of the death of my 18-year-old brother on October 15, his best friend from high school sent me a series of journal entries made during their senior year. Shedding light on my brother's jams with his band in my parents' basement followed by my mom's lasagne for supper, summer double dates, Dairy Queen runs, college farewells, and finally the pain of my brother's death and memorial service, the notes gave me a window into the life of the brother I did not get to know during his growing up years from eight to 18 while I was off to college, getting married, and occupied as a young reporter and eventually with our first child.

On the heels of reading those intriguing journal entries, I discovered more good news from another friend, the younger brother of my boyfriend who died just after I turned 16 the summer following our sophomore year of high school; my friend had just learned from their sister that their long-deceased brother planted a tiny weeping willow not long before his death. Seeing that flourishing tree these 55 years later was both astounding and grounding.  Who might have imagined that more about this one, who left us so long ago, could be unearthed even yet?

It is my hope that all who suffer losses would find ways to be in touch with those they have loved and lost. My spiritual director’s comment when I shared these stories gives me continued hope: It’s almost like these two souls are aware of your openness to continue to experience them in a variety of ways.” Another pastor friend commented: these stories remind me of the need to honor the dead and be open to what they bring to life.” I understand that these experiences are not something everyone seeks; neither will science validate or verify such occurrences. And events like these do not become available at our beck and call; we do well to notice them when they cross our paths. I find them sustaining.

Richardson’s sharing with leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States further noted that grief is not something that we can figure out; it’s not a problem to be solved with intellect and reasoning, or with platitudes. When we are sorrowing, when our losses have pushed us to that painful wall, the invitation is to be present, to let ourselves lean, just lean against that wall and press our ears against that wall until we can sense and hear and know something of those presences that abide, that continue, that linger on the other side—those presences that live. To lean against that wall until we can hear their beating hearts—those hearts that continue to beat on the other side of that wall—that, as it turns out, might not be a wall at all; might not even be a veil. It might be something more like a threshold that we will never fully cross in this life, but across which something can still happen: a conversation, a communion.

Here’s another good word from Joan Chittister about All Saints Day: This feast was introduced to show us the kind of people we ought to be imitating if we ourselves wanted to live life well. Death did not silence them. Who are your saints now? Who are the people you look back on with respect and awe? Live in a way that the memory of you lives on in the people left behind.

May you find thresholds of conversation and communion with lost loved ones during this season of All Saints’ Day observance and beyond as you seek what those now gone continue to bring to life and as you live in a way that others will remember well when you are gone. 

Add a comment

October 23, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The evangelical tradition focuses on the proclamation of good news, missional outreach, and the centrality of Scripture

As guest preacher Sunday, KRMCer Josh shared from his growing-up experience in the evangelical tradition, one of the six streams of faith Kern Roaders have learned about in our current worship series. 

Recognized by Streams of Living Water author Richard Foster as the Word-centered life, a life founded on the living Word of God, the written Word of God, and the proclaimed Word of God, “The evangelical tradition is comprised of three great themes: first, and foremost, the faithful proclamation of the gospel; second, the centrality of Scripture as a faithful repository of the gospel; and third, the confessional witness of the early Christian community as a faithful interpretation of the gospel,” Foster goes on to say at the Renovare website.  

Josh began his sermon by mentioning three things that the evangelical tradition is not…it is not limited to individual, personal salvation; it is not about just a literal reading of scripture, and it is not only about winning souls for Jesus, he said.

The gospel has to do with the proclamation of good news, according to Josh, though somehow in some places, the evangelical tradition has become a message of individual salvation with an emphasis on getting into heaven…a narrow view, he said, adding that the good news is more about liberation from oppression or captivity or blindness, usually aimed at the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden.

The good news has many dimensions, he noted, including the individual dimension to be sure, but also political and economic dimensions by which a kingdom/community might be freed from systems of injustice and concerns in the here and now, as well as the future.

A literal view of scripture may bring with it a presumption, Josh said, that lends itself to black and white beliefs. “Jesus shows us how to read Scripture with an eye to new possibilities of understanding,” he offered. Jesus, rather than Scripture itself, is the absolute authority. “We have to read the Scripture individually and communally through the lens of Christ with the aid of the Spirit,” he suggested, pointing out that “words take on added nuance as the Spirit intercedes.  A rigid view of Scripture can lead to divisions over essentials and nonessentials.” 

Noting that Jesus responded to both physical and spiritual needs, Josh said that the evangelical tradition’s emphasis on missionary activity may sometimes leave physical needs unmet.  Noting that Jesus’ healings sometimes led to relief from fever or to standing up and praising, Josh explained that conversion can come in a variety of ways, both physical and spiritual.

The good news, he said, is about liberation, about a deep and rich exploration of Scripture, and about responding to the needs of others…the evangelical tradition is, indeed, an important stream in Christian history.

The Renovare site poses it this way:  As I think about the divinity and humanity of Scripture, I am challenged by this question: What if, instead of reading the Bible, I let it read me? What if I focused less on getting all the way through the Bible each year and more on allowing the good news about life in the Kingdom to get all the way through me, to soak down deep, saturating my soul? (Then) I discover the best news of all. Jesus is alive, immediate, present, and available to teach us how to enjoy life in his kingdom, here and now.”

Referencing the evangelical tradition as the “Word-Centered Life ” or Living the life-giving message,” the Renovare site says the tradition encompasses much more than simply converting people. The evangel–the ‘good news’–is God’s great message to humanity: that all can be redeemed and restored to its intended design. This is the message embodied in Jesus himself, rooted in the word of God, and ultimately expressed through the lives of those who follow Christ. It is a living tale of grace spoken in and through word and action.”

Some of the words and actions Kern has participated in include (top row of above photo collage) teaching our children, singing and praising, retreating and praying; (second row) outreach via our Ten Thousand Villages store, local food pantry collection, 2001 response to 9/11 (at a suburban Chicago church); and (third row) our worship visuals proclaiming Christmas and Easter good news. How have you been part of circulating the good news? 

Add a comment

October 16, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Raising our hands to catch the balloon fire as we sing 'Let the fire fall' 

Today’s blog post highlights the charismatic stream, the fourth tradition in Kern Road’s Six Streams of Spirituality worship series.  To date, we’ve featured the contemplative way, the holiness stream, and the incarnational tradition, with a week off from the series for a Project 606 commentary last Monday while I was out of town, missing the service which featured the social justice stream and, appropriately, the 25-year-celebration of KRMC's Ten Thousand Villages store.  

Streams of Living Water author Richard Foster’s Renovare website reminds us that “the charismatic tradition focuses on the power of God’s Spirit moving in and through us. Just as a car requires fuel to run, and our bodies require food for survival, so our souls rely upon the Spirit of God for spiritual energy. Through the Spirit, we are able to do more than we could on our own steam, and these abilities not only remind us of God’s presence, but equip us to build up our communities in love.”

The Renovare site further explains that “Jesus lived and moved in the power of the Spirit. This Spirit is manifested in so many ways—the wisdom of his teachings, his ability to see to the heart of individuals, his insight into the very dynamics of good and evil. People have wondered where Jesus got his ideas and his convictions; he was filled with the Spirit of God in which he put his full trust.”

Of this tradition Foster says in his Streams book, “Frankly, there are no ‘noncharismatic Christians’….the Christian life is by definition a life in and through the Spirit.”

“What a gift the Holy Spirit is,” Pastor Janice exclaimed, recalling Jesus’ explanation to his disciples: “I have to go away, but God will be present to you through the Spirit when I am gone.” This is what the charismatic stream helps us to know…the life and truth and fruit of the Spirit, she added.

The obvious strengths of the tradition, according to the Renovare site, are “an ongoing correction to our impulse to domesticate God,” a continuing challenge to spiritual growth, and “empowering for witness and service.” The stream's “perils include the danger of trivialization, when we focus on the signs and wonders rather than on the Spirit’s project; the gifts are not an end in themselves, but a means to build the kingdom,” the Renovare writings warn.

As we sang the John Michael Talbot song Let the Fire Fall for our hymn of response, Janice and a helper rained down red balloons on us, which we took turns keeping afloat as they came our way (see photo above). Andrew reminded us during sharing time following the song that it has been said that being moved to laughter and tears on the same day marks a good day; noting that he was moved to tears at memories of singing this song in his youth, Andrew added that a belly laugh followed the tears as he watched Jim kick one of the red balloons to loft it as it settled in our midst!   

My personal experience of charismatic worship is limited.  I remember a short-lived phase of yearning for the freedom to raise my hands in joyful song, but no one around me was so inclined and the desire faded.  One friend, who told me two years ago that he prays in tongues, shared that those prayers rise in response to a sunset or some other thing of beauty...a mode of praise or thanksgiving for him. Reluctant to ask about this prayer expression at first, when I finally mustered up the courage, he guessed, “And you want to hear it?”

I was curious, of course, but would not have made that request.  He prayed a short paragraph of fluent syllables that I did not understand, but I intuited warmth and care and asked if he could translate what he had prayed. “No,” not really, he answered, but his assumption was that what he had voiced had something to do with gratitude for the knowledge that we are God’s beloved children.  That response melted away for me a long-standing childhood prejudice. 

As we look at each of these six traditions individually but begin to connect the dots of our own experiences representing all of the traditions, I find articles like this one from Carl McColman intriguing. “It is perfectly possible for a devout, practicing Christian to be contemplative without any experience of charismatic gifts. And it’s just as possible to be a charismatic Christian without any sense of being called into the deep silence of contemplation,” McColman says.

“But in my experience, many people drink from both wells. Maybe at different seasons of their lives, depending on their needs and the specifics of God’s call in their life. It’s also possible that a Christian enjoy both the restful silence of contemplation and the exuberant joyfulness of charismatic worship as complementary dimensions of one faith in the Triune God,” McColman concludes.

As we learn more about each of these streams of faith, what mix emerges in your own experience? May we become equipped to take in both the restful silence and the exuberant joy along with bits and pieces of the other four traditions!

Add a comment

October 9, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Last week, after the Las Vegas shootings, an Instagrammer I follow posted a beautiful photo of one of her morning glories with the caption:  “Working hard to stay focused on some positive things today, just when you think the news cannot get much worse.”

Already in overload after weather-associated and politically-related trauma, the country fell into new grief and pain on behalf of the wounded, families of the deceased, and those who witnessed the horror. I found helpful posts like “I light a candle for…” from friend June and The Mennonite’s Call to Prayer after Las Vegas Shooting

I heard Rep. John Lewis call for Congress to be bold and brave and courageous, a “headlight rather than a tail light” as the country continues to seek resolution on gun control.  Lewis spoke of “kneeling protests” as we attempt to move forward from yet another outrageous act of violence in our midst.

“Maybe the first change we make is to go through a day and look everyone we see in the eye,” country singer/songwriter Amy Grant said in an MSNBC interview.  “We spend so much time doing so many things that don’t really matter; what really matters is our connection to each other.” 

Psychology Today offered Coping with the Psychological Trauma of a Mass Shooting and Religion News Service’s After Las Vegas, who says prayer doesn’t ‘work’ suggested prayers without action might be suspect. 

But most helpful and hopeful of all the advice and inspiration I came across last week in the wake of Las Vegas was the invigorating worship service I attended yesterday at Salford Mennonite Church, a Franconia Conference congregation in eastern PA, where both Jim’s and my mother’s families worshipped during their growing up years.

Constructed around introduction of the denomination’s work on a new hymnal, the service featured five songs being considered for the new collection and three favorites (For the Beauty of the Earth, I Sought the Lord, and My Life Flows on) shared by members of the congregation, who were invited to offer a story about a “heart song” from the old hymnal that they hope will remain in the new hymnal.   

In a moving Lament for Las Vegas, congregants carrying candles in memory of Las Vegas, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Nickel Mines, and other scenes of recent mass shootings processed down the center aisle to place their flames on deep window sills throughout the church. Associate pastor Beth spoke for all of us in her prayer: “We come to you with our hearts sometimes in shreds for what we witness in our world.  Let us hear your voice that whispers the way that we should go.” We learned a beautiful Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) as a sung response. 

“In 2016 the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee began work on a collection intended to replace Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992) and supplements Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007). This new collection will take into account the diversity of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA and will be available in bound and digital formats,” according to the project’s website which also notes that “some say Mennonites do not have a liturgy or a set form of worship, but it is in singing together week after week where Mennonites express their Christian faith.” 

Donations to Project 606 can be made at this site, where we learn that “hymnals are generational, of a particular time.  Pick up any historic hymn collection and you will find a unique window into who worshipers understood God to be.  Our understanding about God and being God’s people are fluid, not static.  God is revealed to us as we open ourselves to language and art forms old and new, from near and far.” Before the committee began its work, $100,000 of the $606,000 needed for the project had been donated. To date, $378,000 has been raised.

Congregations are invited to download Resonate Sampler 2017 plus accompaniments and artwork here for one-day use Sunday, October 22, during Great Day of Singing worship services.  College Mennonite Church in Goshen will host a regional hymn sing Sunday, October 22, at 2 p.m. in connection with the Great Day of Singing event.  

For more on the new hymnal project, see this YouTube video of singers rehearsing a candidate for inclusion from Zimbabwe and this YouTube video which reveals more about why Mennonites are creating a new hymnal as those working on the song collection consider what the church is singing presently and what the church should continue to sing for the next generation. You can follow the project's progress on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(Editor's Note:  For those of you who have been following the streams of faith stories here the last three weeks, they will be back next week!)

Add a comment