Tag Archives: spiritual formation

One year ago… Unanswered prayer… a response and a theology

As I am sitting here at George Fox Sem, I am reminded of these posts from last year. Enjoy!

Folks, I want what I do to be for the village… the community… the place where the spiritual unites with the physical.

So, for me, taking classes at George Fox Seminary to get my certificate in spiritual formation is about more than just me. I am doing it because it is what I must do… for the community and for God.

I recently finished my semester paper for my class on prayer and as I wrote it with the community in mind it is important for me to share it here. I will be posting it up in sections over the next week or so. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To read part 1, Starting with Prayer,  GO HERETo read part 2, Prayer and it’s place in the Spiritual Life (pt 2), GO HERETo read part 3, The difficulty of sustaining our prayer life, GO HERE

Unanswered prayer… a response and a theology

Perhaps the one of the most difficult reasons for maintaining a sustainable prayer practice and perhaps one of the most painful parts of being in relationship with a God who is so much greater than any of us. How do I respond to someone who prays for healing of a loved one and does not receive it? How do I respond to someone who prays in his infertility that God would give him children and yet still remains childless? So much pain and so many unknowns…

I do believe that God calls us to compassion and presence, but not necessarily answers. Compassion is entering into the suffering of another, as Jesus entered into our suffering. This is being the presence of Christ to my community. Compassion may very well be just sharing the tears and the burdens while so deeply dwelling in the terrible, “I do not know…” So someone who’s prayers are not answered? It is the spiritual leader’s responsibility to provide compassionate presence… whether it be from myself, or from the community. Again, there are no good answers as to why or how or when or what… It is so much easier to go into this as a leader, even slightly. How much more difficult it is to allow someone to be in their pain, their anger, and their blame! Walter Wangerin, in his beautiful book, Mourning into Dancing, says that we MUST let the griever blame God. Better God blamed than others because God is the only one that can so lovingly take on this blame. This is hard for the spiritual leader trying to give the “right” kind of help.

Unanswered prayer part 2 can be found here.

Show up and “show home”

One of the biggest lessons I have learned about community is showing up.

Real. Ready. Raw. Authentic. Present and accounted for.b6464860

It’s so hard sometimes… and I recognize the difficulty many have with showing up. It most often comes back to trust. When we have risked and been hurt, risked and been hurt, it gets harder and harder for us to come back. This is why, for many people, church is the last place they want to show up to. It’s just too foreign. It’s not normal. But then again, neither is a yoga studio (and many don’t come because they “aren’t flexible”… I guess you have a bit more freedom with the latter, though, to be who you are. We all have one thing in common… our breath.

It amazes me virtually every time, this showing up… especially the times when I most don’t want to be there. I make up excuses in my head… reasons for closing off the community… preconceived ideas of how people are going to act towards me. It’s like pulling teeth to get myself out of bed, or out the door. But when I come, when I do arrive… so often I am completely surprised by those I come into contact with. As Kat says, “well, I guess you can throw your theory [about what was going to happen] out the window!”

How do we get people to show up, then? How do we create a space where people know that even if they don’t want to be there, it is better for them to be with the group than to not be with the group? My thinking is that it has to do with the group and the atmosphere that the leadership (however defined or undefined that leadership is).

I wrote about the Trust Factor a while back… and I think it really has to do with building this from the beginning. See, a group must have in running through their blood that it is ok for people to be exactly how they are. In fact, this is how we must want people. What has happened to someone in the last week, day, or even hour before arrival colors their entire experience. This is far more important than where we think they should be and if we don’t seek to understand where others are at, we are setting up our communities to hurt people from the beginning.

The other thing, I have found to be very well received, is to walk with people through the layers. Often I hear people say that they it is hard for them to engage in community because they don’t open up readily or trust easily. My response, and it often is in invitation to our Spiritual Integration classes, is to say that we walk there together. We take the layers off, starting with a simple telling of our story and working into processing that together. Whether we easily open, or fearfully close… we want a beginner’s mind that builds from where the most significant need is.

Our communities should feel like home… for whoever comes in our “doors,” first time or long time. Our showing up, present and authentic, is invitation for others to feel that “home” as well. Show them home… bring it with you… this is how we show up and how we create communities that are transformational.

The Material is Just Another Tool

I’ve really lost my appreciation for curriculum… or maybe I never really was a big fan anyway. I think there was something always that didn’t quite fit when I heard that word or when I was told about the latest and greatest new material. Being educated in youth ministry and getting a masters, I heard the word “curriculum” pretty frequently. In the church, I heard it even more. People are always looking for an easy way to get information out there to small groups, big groups, or individuals. And that’s really what curriculum is all about, what material of study for a group is so often about… getting out information.

Do you want to build authentic and transformative community? Do you want to help people do the self work so that they can begin to pay attention to God’s movement in their lives? Do you want to help people learn how to actually talk to each other and even learn from each other? Time to change the way that we look at the material that we use. If our interest is on personal growth and soul formation, THIS must be our main focus, not the material we use.

In the church context, we are so often concerned with getting the “right” information out about how we should be understanding scripture. Granted, this is helpful and appropriate, but do we want Bible scholars or Christ-followers? What did Jesus want? Time to start seeing scripture as one of the means of getting us to the soul work. How do we respond to this text? What is our reaction, positive or negative? What are our questions and resistances? What is God doing in us or teaching us through this? Let’s work with that! Use the text to get there.

I don’t care if the material you are using is sacred texts, a workbook, a novel, a movie clip, a poem, or a YouTube video… if you are interested in helping people grow and figure out God’s movement in their life, you’ve got to see this material as a tool to get to the personal story that we bring with us. The focus is the community, not the information. If someone can tell me how we can do community soul building through sermons, I’d be very interested to know how…

The Trust Factor

My first of many writings on small group life, growth, and spirituality must foundationally be about trust. I hear so often people reflecting on the challenges that come from people committing or not committing, sharing or not sharing, being open or closed, honest and vulnerable or distant and removed. Foundationally, it comes down to trust… and those of us who are seeking to lead or connect people into community absolutely must pay attention to what I’ll call “The Trust Factor.”

Trusting is one of the most difficult things for many, many people to do. It seems, too often, that those of us who trust readily simply assume that everyone else is going to, or “should,” trust as much as we do. Not likely! Every movement towards “the other” in relationship involves trust. At a very basic level, eye contact even involves trust. At the most significant level, giving of ourselves sacrificially to share our souls and serve involves trust… and of course is the final act of replacing our need to trust in humans with a trust of the Divine. Everything in the middle, from talking to physical contact, to speaking up in a group, to sharing our stories (good and even painful), to showing emotion, to committing time and resources, to being present and available… all of these involve trust on many different levels.

We, as leaders, must pay attention to, affirm, and celebrate all positive movements in the Trust Factor. It’s pretty easy to figure out where someone is with how much trust they will give. The natural movement of conversation is entirely based on it. Eye contact, small talk, greeting (hug or handshake?), life stuff, struggles, commitment for further conversation, etc. We test the waters of trust without even knowing it. The extent that we become aware of where someone is, determines how able we are to meet them where they are and invite them into deeper levels.

Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate all displays of trust. Remember that most people DO NOT trust readily. Even a hug versus a handshake is an enormous step for some people. Even a two-armed hug versus a one-armed hug is something to rejoice over. Let us, as leaders and inviters into community, begin to pay attention to the Trust Factor. Only then, will we be able to invite and welcome others into spaces where the Trust Factor may build in strength. More on that to come…

Practicing stillness

The men’s group that I am a part of has recently renewed our desire to focus on spiritual disciplines as the focal point of our gathering. Our desire is to look long and hard at our lives and listen (in ourselves and each other) for the areas that we would like to grow… areas that could use a bit more breath of the life-giving spirit.

I have been thinking quite a bit about my tendency to drown out the thoughts that are happening in my head. Music, internet, reading, movies, a beer, working in the yard, splitting wood… the list goes on… and I am continually reminded that stillness is something that is lacking in my life. It bleeds over into my presence with others, also, as I often find it difficult to sit still, pay attention, and respond out of my presence with them. I figit, daydream, or wish i were somewhere else. This is so far from the offering I hope to give to people.

So my practice is to begin sitting, without moving, for given periods of time. I am going to try 15 minutes three or four days a week. No moving, no music, no reading… just me, the Holy Spirit, my prayer, and my breath. I am also working on not moving around when I am listening to others.