Presbyterians Today

FEB-MAR 2018

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22 FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay hunger has grown in recent decades as members seek more from their churches, their faith walk, their lives and from God. They are finding that extra dimension together in the ancient and not so ancient practices of spirituality. Those who haven't found it in the church, though, have left and increasingly are declar- ing themselves to be "spiritual but not religious." Does that make us religious but not spiritual? In my years as a pastor and spiritual counselor, I've noticed how much we've Americanized Christian spirituality. How? We've treated spirituality as though it's largely individual — as a matter of just Christ and me. Almost all the ways we focus on spirituality tend to be individualistic, or if we take a communal approach, it's only tempo- rarily communal. I remember a pastor lamenting to me her experiences after going on a weeklong spiritual retreat. She said, "You wouldn't believe how electrifying it was. I was learning so many ways to pray, and I could feel God. One day I went for a walk and stared at a flower for 15 minutes and I sensed God saying to me, 'This is you … you are that flower to me.' Then I came home and it was like nothing had ever happened. Nobody understood my experiences. I was back to being a pastor to people who didn't understand." So again, what we need to be mindful of is that spiritual practices were never intended to be individual. Sometimes we Presbyterians can be somewhat dismissive of Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox brothers, sisters, monks and nuns. We think of them as people who have withdrawn from society to live in cloistered, protected communi- ties. What we don't realize is that most of our spiritual practices came from these communities and were intended to spiritually build up their communities. They can build up ours, too. Lectio divina I had the honor of pastoring Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, for more than 21 years. One of the major features at Calvin Church was that we inte- grated spirituality into the life of the congregation not by starting with a focus on individual spiritual practices. Rather, Calvin Church began weaving such practices into the various groups in the life of the church. For example, over the years there, I taught our confirmation class a practice called lectio divina, which translates as "divine reading" or "spiritual reading." This is a multistep practice of reading and reflection dating back to around the 10th century. A reader slowly reads a small passage of Scripture and then invites listeners to sit in silence as they meditate on the passage and think about what God is saying to them through it. Then she or he slowly reads it again, and afterward invites listeners to pray silently about what they heard. Then she or he slowly reads it once more, and afterward listeners sit in silence, centering prayer, letting all thoughts fade away as they simply sit with God. In the 12th century, a monk, Guigo II, said lectio divina is like taking a mouthful of Scripture and slowly tasting it, chewing it and swallowing it so that it nourishes our soul. This is not the intellec- tual kind of reading Presbyterians tend to do. There is no analyzing or parsing or debating. There is only listening with the heart. In Guigo II's community, they did this every night as part of their prayer time together. In teaching this practice to a confirmation class of teens, I was amazed at how much the teens always took to the silence and slowness. One teen emailed me after a prayer retreat, telling me, "I never knew until our prayer retreat that I was attracted to finding God in silence, but even more how powerful it was to do it with other teens." It wasn't just the spiritual practice that mattered. It was doing the practice as part of the commu- nity of the class and church that mattered to this teen. It was the shared experience that strength- ened the ties among them. Labyrinth walking — together Another practice that was intended to be part of a community, but has turned into an individual practice, is walking a labyrinth. A laby- rinth is not a maze. It's one path that always winds to a center. A person walks the path slowly as it twists and turns toward the center, creating a slow, spiritual walk intended to help the walker connect with God. Modern labyrinths are often based upon one from the 13th century that was laid onto the floor of the magnificent Chartres Cathedral in France. It was designed around 12 concentric circles that lead the walker along a twisting path toward the center. The turnaround points (labyrs) of the path form the outline of a cross. Spirituality is hard to nurture in a vacuum when we are our own gurus. This is why Christian spirituality has always flowed out of community.

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