Glimpses of Healing and Hope

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? 

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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!

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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!)

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October 2, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Deep peace of the running wave, the flowing air, the quiet earth, the shining stars…the incarnational tradition focuses on the relationship between the invisible spirit and physical reality, helping us to see Gods divine presence in the material world in which we live.

“Home, for me, this place where I first encountered the mysteries and wonders and struggles of life, is the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up among the tall fir trees and wide and wild rivers and the forceful Pacific Ocean and moss-covered rocks and serious banana slugs. My memories of the Northwest are enchanted: full of wonder and fascination and rapture,” guest preacher Gwen told KRMCers gathered Sunday for the third in our worship series offering glimpses inside the six streams of spirituality described by Richard Foster in his Streams of Living Water.

Describing her connection to the land where she spent her childhood, in particular to a special rock, Gwen spoke of the calming effect of that experience: “Regardless of the circumstance, if I could just sit on that rock, sprayed by the chilly water and touched by the warm sun, watching the occasional fish jumping through the current, sitting on that rock, along the Salmon River, I was in God’s presence. I was at home. Comforted. Loved. Supported. This was sacred space wherein I experienced God’s presence in and through and as the mysterious, enchanted creation that surrounded me.”

Identifying the incarnational stream on which we focused Sunday as “both mystical and concrete, earthy and cosmic, matter and spirit,” Gwen suggested that the “heart of incarnational spirituality” involves living “in the world enchanted by the presence of God expressing love in us and around us and through us,” ultimately preparing us “to pour ourselves out for others, even as Jesus did.”

Also referenced as the sacramental life, the incarnational tradition centers on the relationship between the invisible spirit and physical reality, helping us to see Gods divine presence in the material world in which we live. God manifests God’s self in God’s creation, even in the midst of mundane activities, whenever and wherever we acknowledge God, according to the Foster/Renovare website.

Christine Sine of Mustard Seed Associates speaks of the incarnational tradition as central to Celtic spirituality, in which the presence of Christ was “almost physically woven around the lives of the Celts.” Sine suggests that, in the spirit of the Irish faithful, God not only encircles and protects creation but also enlivens, activates, and inspires it.

Gwen proposed that the incarnational stream begins “with a willingness to step away from analysis and critique and systematic legalization and to rest in the enchanted world that is the embodiment of the love of God made visible to us.” And perhaps stepping away as well from our screens and other preoccupations so that we don’t “unintentionally miss out on the enchanted Presence of the wind rustling through the autumn trees, the crickets joined in a chorus of life as we walk by, the woodpecker, the squirrels, the geese, our own steps through the crackling leaves, calling us to listen. We miss out on the flowing water in the nearby river and the heat from the sun and sound of the mockingbird, calling over and over again. This is the beginning of incarnational spirituality: love made known to us in matter and spirit—right here. Right where we are.”

Her vision of the enchanted life looks like this, she said: “wherein our eyes are opened to be surprised by the wonder-filled and holy presence of the God of Love in the concrete and beauty-filled expressions of love and awe and mystery all around us. And wherein our response to this enchanted life we have been invited to embrace is a free-flowing outpouring of love to the world around us.”

We do not have to look far to find suffering these days, according to Gwen: “In the stories of those whose lives have been turned upside down by disasters in Puerto Rico and Bangladesh and Houston and Mexico, in Syria and Florida and the Gaza Strip; in the trauma and suffering created by a history of slavery in our land and the racial injustice that continues to threaten our people and divide our land into those who have access to wealth and security and sustenance and those who do not; in the pain and fear of those in our midst who are undocumented and living in tenuous circumstances or those who are finding their way in life along the LGBTQ spectrum or those whose daily existence is a challenge because of family struggles or depression or anxiety.”

She challenged us “to find ways to express, in tangible terms, the love that is and can be the source of sustenance for us all. This takes attention and creativity and a willingness and intention to receive the love of God into our lives so that we can find ways to pour it out in the suffering world around us.”

In a small move toward the incarnational tradition, we chose to use grapes instead of grape juice to celebrate World Communion Sunday yesterday. I loved how Gwen prepared us to take in the spiritual significance of this ritual which uses physical props to make its point: “On this day, people around the world will take this very real bread, and these very real grapes and they will hold them in their hands, knowing that these are material things infused with spiritual significance. And these very physical elements will serve to remind and inspire and enliven all who walk this earth seeking to embody love in the manner of Jesus, the Christ.”

How have you been reminded, inspired, enlivened to embody love? In what tangible ways might you share the love that is the source of sustenance for all?

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September 25, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The holiness stream focuses on an ever deeper formation of our inner personality, our heart, to enable us to live whole, functional lives in a dysfunctional world.

Renovare, the organization founded by Quaker theologian Richard Foster, also author of Streams of Living Water, describes the holiness tradition as highlighting “the re-formation of our hearts so that we are able to respond appropriately to the challenges of life. The word ‘holiness’ has some negative connotations today, but the original Greek meaning of the word virtue is simply ‘to function well,’” according to the Renovare website.

“Virtuous life is not about rules or judgement, perfectionism, or some kind of merit gained by good deeds. It encourages us to the ultimate goal: not to ‘get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us,’” the Renovare statement continues. “It is attentiveness to the source of our actions, to the condition and motives of the heart, and taking on new patterns of life that flow naturally from within.”

About this tradition and its connection to Jesus, Foster says in Streams of Living Water, “We see Jesus consistently doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. We see in him such deeply ingrained ‘holy habits’ that he is always ‘reponse-able,’ always able to respond appropriately. This is purity of heart. This is the virtuous life.” 

Yesterday, as our Kern Road worship service focused on the holiness stream, the second in our six spiritual traditions series and what Renovare references as the ‘Virtuous Life:  Responding with integrity,’ we learned from Pastor Janice that this tradition is commonly seen as the one in which Anabaptism came into being.

Becky shared in her reflection on the holiness stream that the word ‘holiness’ reminds her of her “19th and 20th century ancestors founding Bible schools, railing against the vices of alcohol and earrings on women, their strict adherence to the Sabbath, and devotion to prayer and Scripture reading.”

Her words took me back to the early years of my Mennonite upbringing when it seemed to me that the church spent much time exhorting young women in particular not to participate in the ways of the world.  We were expected not to cut our hair, to wear our skirts long and never to dress in pants or shorts, to avoid makeup and jewelry.  Families did not own television sets or buy gas or restaurant food on Sundays. 

While claiming the holiness path as her own, Becky said she resists “the language of holiness because it speaks to me of trying to be righteous and I spend very little time thinking about my own righteousness, or lack thereof.  For me this path isn’t about building up my character, rather it is profoundly outward looking.  It is about reaching out to gain some kind of wisdom about the world so that I may discern how to live in it well.”

Acknowledging that people of faith occupy the streams in different ways based on personal circumstances, Becky noted that her own context, “the suffering of our planet and its creaturely inhabitants” brings a “strongly environmental flavor” to the holiness path in her time and place.  “Deep in the core of my being I know that to be a follower of Christ means that I must attend to the world God created and seek to live in such a way that I am a blessing to it and not a curse.”

For Becky that commitment plays itself out in a variety of ways, including how she gardens, “building up my soil and plantings so that more creatures can find life” and as she composts and recycles and chooses “a plant-based diet to testify to the inherent value of other creaturely lives.”

Janice reminded us in her sermon that a “holy life is one that functions well, rather than (the living out of) a list of dos and don’ts.”  The collage at the top of this post reflects some of the ways Kern Road enables us to function well as a community of faith and as individuals within that community (from top to bottom and left to right): marching for the marginalized, offering gratitude for the harvest, participating in the Indiana/Michigan Mennonite Central Committee relief sale, honoring those who have gone before us, supporting our newlyweds, observing the season of Lent, learning from our Muslim neighbors, celebrating Advent, making music together.

Becky noted that she experiences the holiness tradition “as joyful and electric because I have tasted grace.  God has enthusiastically said ‘Yes’ to me in Christ.  I don’t have to get everything right, but I am asked to live and be in this world in a way that testifies to the good things that God wants for the world.”

And what about her ancestors?  “God has said ‘Yes’ to them too.  Although they got caught up in moral battles that didn’t matter, they also got many things right.  They looked after people in need, treated illnesses without expecting payment, fought for women’s right to vote, and resisted racial injustice where they encountered it.”

How has the holiness tradition impacted your life? How are you being called to respond to your circumstances with integrity, to function well where you find yourself?

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September 18, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Finding places of beauty, spaces of silence and serenity as a contemplative

I created the photo collage at the top of this blog post (above) back in early January 2017 for the first entry of the new year. Writing then about finding quiet spots of beauty and respite, gifts from the Divine that offer balance in chaos, I find now that the same collection of photos provides a proper pictorial introduction to the contemplative stream as Kern Road's current worship series dives into discussion of the six streams of spirituality about which Richard Foster writes in his book Streams of Living Water.

All six of the historic faith streams source back to the life of Jesus; in last week’s introduction to the series, we discovered that new understandings of these streams will help us appreciate Christians who are different from ourselves.  As we learn more about streams other than those with which we are familiar, we hope to grow more balanced and complete in our individual faith journeys. The contemplative stream (the prayer-filled life) focuses on nourishing one’s relationship with God and the inner life through prayer and contemplation.

I am not surprised that natural beauty plays a significant role in the collage; the beauty of creation offers not only respite from chaos, but a replenishing space as well for the interior work to which many contemplatives are drawn as they seek to nourish their relationship with the Divine.

The evocative places in these photos from my life (from left to right and top to bottom) recall moments with local grandkids on a carousel in St. Joe, MI; with Michigan grandkids at Clapton Pond in London; on the Saint Mary’s campus with high school friends; admiring the front porch sanctuary of long-time friends in Lansdale, PA; with a KRMC friend taking in the beauty of her mom’s barn in Everett, PA; viewing with golf foursome women the glorious waterfront in Douglas, MI; enjoying my own backyard in South Bend; inhaling warmth through the window with small group friends at Grandpa’s Woods in Goshen, and appreciating the glory of a sunset overlooking my high school’s memorial garden in Lansdale, PA.   

I discovered in the process of receiving spiritual direction in the middle 90s that I was very attracted to contemplative, listening modes of prayer, and through regular use of those prayer forms, I found myself experiencing perhaps for the first time a sense of God’s unconditional love, so that what had always been pure head knowledge for me gradually became transformed into heart language.

Soon after that realization, a spiritual director friend of mine offered me an image of the contemplative life that I have not forgotten.  Don’t get nervous about whether or not you will be transformed when you spend time with God, she said.  God is like the sun.  If you are outdoors in the daylight, the sun does what the sun does; in much the same way, personal transformation takes place when we spend time with God.  Make the time and space to spend time with the Divine and you WILL be changed, she added! The transformation does not depend on you, but rather on making time in your life to devote to silence, to being with God.”

Well over 10 years ago, I read an inspiring book about finding God in the silence.  W. Paul Jones’ Teaching the Dead Bird to Sing, which I devoured in my down time on a trip to Europe with Jim’s business/econ students, illustrated in a powerful way “both the terror and the exhilarating freedom that come with profound solitude.”

The silence that so threatened the author at first gradually became “a garment of healing” for Jones as he embarked on an adventure of self-discovery, recognizing in time that his capacity for thinking far outshone his capacity for feeling. The plunge into silence ultimately illuminated for him what he called the “elaborate, even skillful, intellectual defenses” he had established to keep feelings at bay. 

The experience of reading about self-discovery and finding God in the silence, even as I was immersed in a whirlwind trip through five countries in three weeks, impressed upon me a serious fascination with the impact of silence on one’s faith journey.

Author/retreat leader James Finley describes silent meditation as a way for contemplatives to experience God’s presence in their lives.  As you expand your meditation practice, in concert with your faith,” Finley says, “you will find that these divine moments come more often, until you are finally awakened to your own deepest self, one with Christ.”

The contemplative journey introduced me to authors like Flora Slossen Wuellner, whose writing taught me that healed wounds can become sources of new life and the channel of healing for others:  that fear when healed becomes compassion, that destructive anger becomes a passion for justice and righteousness, that perfectionism becomes joyous power to build and create.

I was fascinated by Wuellner’s declaration that “the warmth we feel through our whole selves, body and feelings, when we have dared to love, dared to give, dared to meet life with generous openness is the smile of God!” I remember the comfort it was to me to read that, as I had always assumed that warmth might be some sort of smug self-satisfaction!

Not all people of faith will find themselves drawn to the contemplative way. For what it’s worth, here’s a link to Carl McColman’s Is There a Contemplative Personality Type? McColman suggests that contemplation—wordless prayer in which we gaze on Jesus and the mysteries of his life with faith and love—is for everyone, regardless of your personality type. But how we enter contemplative prayer may vary based on our interests and preferences,” according to McColman. Does some part of you relate to the contemplative way of being or yearn to find connection to the Divine in the silence?  

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September 11, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

 This giant spider web appeared by my prized dahlias one day last week and was gone the next...

These last few weeks of hurricane coverage and a Congressional recess have slowed political cable news to a mere dribble, making space in the temporarily quiet eye of the partisan storm to ponder this quote I saved some weeks ago from the John O’Donohue Facebook page: 

“All through your life, the most precious experiences seem to vanish. Transience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign even of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost. This is the art of the soul: to harvest your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience. This is probably why the soul never surfaces fully. The intimacy and tenderness of its light would blind us. We continue in our days to wander between the shadowing and the brightening, while all the time a more subtle brightness sustains us. If we could but realize the sureness around us, we would be much more courageous in our lives. The frames of anxiety that keep us caged would dissolve. We would live the life we love and in that way, day by day, free our future from the weight of regret.” (from his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

The notion from the O'Donohue quote that “nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost” captured my imagination. I was reminded once again of precious experiences vanishing when I ventured to the yard Sunday afternoon for another look at the gorgeous spider web, pictured above, which I photographed Saturday by my much-loved dahlia bed.  Much to my dismay, the web was gone just a day later, with only an anchor thread now visible from a red dahlia to a wire or branch many feet overhead.

Where did the web go?  Was the spider finished with it?  I watch my dahlias carefully enough to know that the web was not in place a day before I noticed it, that it was spun seemingly overnight, and disappeared just as quickly.  I spotted the web on approach because the spider was poised at the web’s center, virtually suspended in thin air.  Said spider disappeared into the closest bloom as I advanced.

In order to bring that beautiful web out of the shadows, I took the photo from inside our garden, so that the web would show up against our fence, and had to work diligently to make the web visible with lightening and brightening filters. Acknowledging to my Facebook and Instagram friends and followers that #nofilter folks would not like this one, I am quite pleased with having rescued the web's beauty from no notice, especially since I found it gone just a day later!

Krista Tippett, host of National Public Radio’s On Being, said this about John O’Donohue in a late August 2017 airing of an interview taped before his death in 2008: he “often wrote about beauty. He believed that the human soul does not merely hunger for beauty, but that we feel most alive in the presence of what is beautiful. ‘It returns us, often in fleeting but sustaining moments,’ he said, ‘to our highest selves.’”

In response to Tippett’s question about his own personal pictures of beauty, O’Donohue answered: “When I think of the word ‘beauty,’ some of the faces of those that I love come into my mind. When I think of beauty, I also think of beautiful landscapes that I know. Then I think of acts of such lovely kindness that have been done to me by people that cared for me in bleak, unsheltered times or when I needed to be loved and minded. I also think of those unknown people who are the real heroes for me, who you never hear about, who hold out on lines, on frontiers of awful want and awful situations and manage, somehow, to go beyond the given impoverishments and offer gifts of possibility and imagination and seeing.”

You can read the rest of the Tippett/O’Donohue interview here.

In his Beauty: The Invisible Embrace O’Donohue says this: “The human soul is hungry for beautiful….When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. For a while the strains of struggle and endurance are relieved and our frailty is illuminated by a different light in which we come to glimpse behind the shudder of appearances and sure form of things. In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act. Beauty brings a sense of completion and sureness. Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.”  

Next Sunday, during the first of six streams of spirituality worship services at Kern Road (based on Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water), we will consider the contemplative tradition: the prayer-filled life, which focuses on nourishing our relationship with God and the inner life through prayer and contemplation.  I would add that beauty, receiving it, reveling in it, recording it, reliving it as/when needed, nurtures the contemplative way, most certainly helping to harvest “your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience. How has beauty enhanced your relationship with the Divine?

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September 4, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Photo by Tom Bishop

Today is Labor Day and I am sorely tempted to observe the day by taking a break from the “work” of writing a blog post for publication on this particular Monday morning. 

Pastor Janice provided plenty of fodder, however, for today’s Labor Day post by inviting Eunice, Loren, Julie, and Gail to share during worship a bit about how they see their work as an opportunity for service.  Eunice spoke of offering care to nursing home residents and asked us to imagine how it might feel to be living in a facility with people we don’t know, fed and clothed by strangers.

Loren and Julie told of their work with CommunityWide Federal Credit Union, which became more than volunteer work for Loren when he developed sight issues some 45 years ago.  The organization assisted many who had no family or church support, Loren said, adding that the credit union’s mission was “to serve members’ best interests in a variety of ways.” Julie noted that a reward of the job for her has been an awareness of representing the face of God to the credit union’s clientele.

Gail, a recently retired long-time academic advisor and counselor at Ivy Tech Community College, said her work typically involved walking with young people who were first generation college students. “Those we serve end up being blessings,” she said, telling the story of a student who offered gratitude for long-ago assistance on the final day of Gail’s work as an academic advisor. “Serving and blessing are reciprocal,” she concluded.

I love Joan Chittister’s beautiful concept of a spirituality of work: “A spirituality of work is based on a heightened sense of sacramentality, of the idea that everything that is, is holy and that our hands consecrate it to the service of God. When we grow radishes in a small container in a city apartment, we participate in creation. When we sweep the street in front of a house, we bring new order to the universe. When we repair what has been broken or paint what is old or give away what we have earned that is above and beyond our own sustenance, we stoop down and scoop up the earth and breathe into it new life again. When we compost garbage and recycle cans, when we clean a room and put coasters under glasses, when we care for everything we touch and touch it reverently, we become the creators of a new universe. Then we sanctify our work and our work sanctifies us.”

Chittister continues her musings about work by acknowledging that “a spirituality of work immerses me in the search for human community. I begin to see that everything I do, everything, has some effect on someone somewhere. I begin to see my life tied up in theirs. I begin to see that the starving starve because someone is not working hard enough to feed them. And so I do. It becomes obvious, then, that the poor are poor because someone is not intent on the just distribution of goods of the earth. And so I am. I begin to realize that work is the lifelong process of personal sanctification that is satisfied only for the globe. I finally come to know that my work is God’s work, unfinished by God because God meant it to be finished by me.”

In 2012 The Washington Post ran an article by Bill Haley entitled Labor Day a time for reflection on the value and spiritual meaning of work.  Haley offers an example which helps us understand the dignity within many jobs which help others succeed through the “provision of food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, a just society, effective government, religious freedom, the possibility of meaningful work, access to the arts, freedom and other things required for a society where individuals can flourish, where others can live into God’s design for them.”

Haley uses this illustration to make his point about the dignity involved in working so that others may flourish...“A lot of different sorts of jobs are required to get food on the table: obviously farmers, but also truckers, grocers, butchers, railroad and transport workers, immigrant laborers, workers in food processing plants, policy makers, journalists covering food issues, and many more. There are the people who package it, people who try to provide food for those who do not have enough food, people who work at the food banks. There are the cooks and chefs, and moms and dads who prepare and provide food for their kids. This is just one example of how God uses people to take care of the needs of others through their work, paid and unpaid, so that others can flourish. For any of these professions, a good and deep answer to the ubiquitous question ‘What do you do?’ would be ‘I help feed people.’” 

Matthew Fox in The Reinvention of Work writes: “Good living and good working go together. Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source….Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contributing to the greater community. A spirituality of work is about bringing life and livelihood back together again. And Spirit with them.”

Paul and Ruth from our own congregation have made seven trips to Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) sites like present-day Houston to assist in cleanup and recovery work following a major storm. Their work typically involved food preparation for other volunteers. Houston opportunities for volunteer work will most certainly be coming our way soon. You can stay abreast of volunteer options in Houston by checking MDS’ Facebook page

Consider on your Labor Day break today how your work, your hobby, your volunteerism empowers others to flourish as they “live into God’s design for them.” Repackaging the words of Chittister into a blessing, “May you care for everything you touch, sanctifying your work so that it sanctifies you.”   

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