I glimpsed what the Church should be during the five Courage to Lead retreats 2006-2007. (Thanks to Jan, once again, for the amazing image of Courage, below.)
At these retreats we were invited to practice being the people God is calling us to become, and as I think about it, what better purpose for the Church than that?
The Courage to Lead series of five retreats for clergy and lay leaders provided:
* a time and a place designed to enhance our opening to the movement/voice of the Spirit
* an emotionally safe environment
* opportunities that challenged us to move out of our false-ego's comfort zone
* a context of both solitude and community, both of which are often required for courage to emerge
* the patience to give over a year for all five retreats, an acknowledgement of the difficulty of this process
* a pattern of "real world"/retreat/"real world" that also took the difficulty of this process into account
* competent, inspiring, and commited facilitators who shared the path with us
The purpose of the Church is viewed, variously, as service to the world, transformation of the world, being sent as disciples of Jesus Christ "to bear witness to God's reconciliation and healing" of creation, to be Christ's body now on the earth. It seems to me that all of these purposes begin with transformed individuals who, as transformed, now see the truth of themselves as an integral part of community. At the heart of our transformation is becoming increasingly more like Jesus the Christ--a process that entails removing the obstacles to that becoming. It's not that God's purposes are denied until we reach a certain likeness--no, at any point in our lives God's purposes can be accomplished through us. But the more conscious we are of this process of becoming authentic and real, the more effective we are and the richer and more beautiful life is.
The process of becoming is so very difficult, so counter-cultural, so painful. It takes courage and deep commitment. The Courage to Lead work provides a powerful opportunity to practice this courage and commitment in a community of like-minded people. What a rare and wonderful blessing.
Oh, if only the Church could see the power of God at work like this. To see it in action is to be confronted, I think, with the many ways we trivialize the Church, its work, and who we are as Christians. We forget that we are in the world to change the world, not to buy into its greed, its fear, and the many ways it strives to remain unconscious. This work of cooperating with God to change the world begins by cooperating with God to do the powerful, painful inner work of allowing ourselves to be changed.
I have so many obstacles still taking up space within me, obstacles to becoming more authentic, obstacles to the shining forth of the imago Christi within me. One of these obstacles is how I have rejected my own embodiment. I'm 51 and it's been a rare day in my life when I have been able to love and celebrate my own body. I can look back at all the work I've done on becoming more authentic--I've been at it for about 20 years now, I guess. I look back and can say with real integrity that I've learned to love and like who I am. But, really, is that even possible when I do not include in this loving and liking the very body in which my self resides? Oh, it's possible--I am my body, and yet am I also more. That's the idea upon which I have based this separation, anyway. But the Incarnation affirms God's love for the world, for material reality, and for the human body. It is not right for me to continue to believe the lies that tell me my body should not be celebrated because it fails to meet certain cultural standards. That is a trivialization of who I am as a Daughter of God. God calls me to wholeness, to a oneness of self and embodiment in this life.
With more time to slow down and reflect, taking vacation so soon after our last Courage to Lead retreat is helping me understand and experience this truth more fully. It's painful for me, but I must change my beliefs, align them more with what I understand God affirms. This rejection of my embodiment is an obstacle to the abundant life that is mine through Christ. I know what loving and celebrating my body would look like--I already have a powerful and FUN image of it, an image that has helped me before and that I know is right there, available for me to live into more fully.
...Now for the courage I need to do that more often.