Archive - Mar 9, 2017

Ember Letter - Lent 2017

The following is written in the tradition of an Ember letter, but without any specific audience in mind. I am sharing this in that it will help others in their own journeys as those walking with me in my journey.

Over the past few months, I continue to become more and more sure of God’s call to me, and less and less sure about the details of that call. I have spent time with my spiritual director, my priest, and other friends, both lay and clergy in discernment. This coming Sunday, I will say good bye to my priest as she heads off to a new ministry, and I will continue my search to better understand what God is calling me to and who should walk alongside me during this part of my journey.

I have taken a great course in English Spirituality and Mysticism, attended a conference on Pastoral Counseling: Moral Stress and Spiritual Struggles, and started an online course on discernment. I have been on silent retreat, explored new spiritual practices, and gone on a pilgrimage for one of the courses. I have participated in ecumenical and interfaith activities, including dinners, bible studies, worship services, and ministries. I have taken up, again for this year, a Lenten Discipline of writing a poem each day, and have spent much time in reading, prayer, and contemplation.

I recognize that all of this is written from my personal perspective, what I have been experiencing, what I have been doing. It is the only context I have; the only context any of us really have. It is how we understand and speak about our experiences of and relationship with God. Yet it is that relationship with God which is the true focus.

As I’ve written about in the past, this is more about a spiritual journey than it is about a career or ecclesiastical journey. I recognize that these different aspects of the journey overlap, but for now I am focusing on the spiritual side. Because of this, some of the more contemporary books on discernment that have been suggested to me feel like they don’t offer me much right now.

One of the first books I read, which I thinks provides a great starting point is Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. A section from the second conversation particularly jumped out at me:

He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.

It seems like this is a great starting point a spiritual journey such as mine. I found this idea echoed in Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection, “I am nothing, I have nothing; … I covet nothing, but one, and that is Jesus.”

This of course, leads to the question of what we are supposed to do in our love of God. This is the question I am grappling with. It is put nicely in the end of Teresa of Avlia’s poem, “In the Hands of God”,

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me?

I continue to explore my desires. Are they good and from God? How do they relate to God’s desires for me?

When I’ve written about this in the past, I usually refer back to the Catechism in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

I often think of this restoration with each other in Christ as being very social justice oriented, feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless. At times, I think about it in terms of addressing the structural issues that lead to homelessness, hunger, and oppression. Yet as I read this in the context of my recent studies, I cannot help but relate the idea of unity with God with unitive life that the mystics write about. How much of the structural issues we face come from a lack of unitive experiences?

Recently, on Facebook I shared a link to an article, ”59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why”. It is a thought provoking article that we need to be reading and discussing in the church.

What was more thought provoking was the comments I received.

Though not quite a millennial, I was once a youth that wanted with all her heart to believe, and was completely disillusioned by Bible College. I equate my time at a church-centric institution as seeing the smoke and mirrors of a magic show -- and the glamour was forever lost. Christians are 100% the reason I don't believe in gods -- any of them….

Living a good life because it's the right thing to do does feel far more genuine than only behaving good for fear of hell or reward of heaven….

If houses of worship treated adherents like thinking beings seeking inspiration, solace and fellowship rather than as potential sources of income and political clout whose lot is to pray, pay and obey, they'd have fewer empty pews….

How do we embrace the spiritual experience, the relationship to a loving God that calls us to go out and show that love in a way that millennials can hear?

It seems like another one of the authors I’ve been reading may offer a clue. One of the texts for the Spirituality and Mysticism course I’ve been taking is Aelred of Riveaux’s “Spiritual Friendship”. How does the church encourage spiritual friendships, not only for the clergy, but the laity, no matter what their spiritual journey or level of engagement is? This feels like an important unanswered question for me right now.

Whatever the path ahead of me, another the quote from Julian of Norwich comes to mind. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”