Thursday, February 23, 2012

Miracle of Spirit at Work Within Us on Ash Wednesday

There are moments in ministry, such beautiful moments.

Last night.  Ash Wednesday.

I didn't plan this per se, but just spontaneously, as each person approached and stood before me, I touched them lightly on the shoulder, to sort of ready us both, then I caught their eyes and held them (if they allowed that), smiled, opened myself to them in their uniqueness.  Then I slowly made the sign of the cross of their forehead, saying their name, and then, "Turn from what is false within you, and truly live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Oh, it was so powerful!!

We burned the pieces of paper on which were written everyone's confessions.  I "declared God's mercy," and then I told those gathered that I had a gift for each of them.  Just a little fresh flower, but very pretty.  Yellow.

I went to each person there -- we had 40 or 45 -- as they sat in their pew.  As I handed them the flower I said something about it being a reminder of their God-given beauty.  So many people had tears in their eyes.  Including me, of course.

What made the service one of those moments in ministry was, as always, that "I" dissolved.  And "I" was never more fully present.  It's the miracle of the Spirit at work within us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Non-Traditional Ash Wednesday

I'm not focusing on the mortality issue during Lent this season. This church has had lots of experience with that these last few months. Instead the season will be about 'taking our masks off.'. Being authentically who we are before God. We'll do the ashes on Wednesday, and we'll do a confession. But I'm going to buy a fresh flower for everyone who comes to the service and present it to them after the ashes. Wondering what words I should use for that. Any ideas?

 The words I'm saying as I impose the ashes are: "Turn from what is false, and LIVE the Gospel.". Very non-traditional, but once in a while I think that's OK. What are YOU doing for Lent?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Power and humility

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola include the idea that there are three kinds of humility.  The third one is described as pure "grace-gift."

As I did the Exercises these last couple of weeks, I've remembered what it's like to receive this gift.  These are the mystical moments for me when everything falls away and I am one with Christ.  (Sounds kind of 'puffed-up,' doesn't it? -- "I'm one with Christ."  Ha!  No, it's OK.  As always, it's paradox at the heart of truth.) 

These mysterical moments are experiences of No Fear.  All concerns dissolve.  I want nothing the world has to offer, and yet I delight in my experience of living.  I'm a fool for Christ and loving every minute of it.  I feel losses deeply, but have no need to attach myself to them. 

These experiences don't happen often, but their "effectiveness" certainly endures.  They are now my foundation, the steady ground upon which I always walk, even when I'm otherwise feeling some vertigo! (that is, letting old fears motivate my behavior). 

As I remembered all this recently, something else occurred to me.  I think the spiritual growth I've experienced these last few months is an outgrowth of the inevitable fecundity of these mystical moments, these pure "grace gifts."  I hadn't put that together, but being a "fool for Christ" linked it in my mind.

When my church protested the American Family Association's sponsorship of the political prayer rally in Houston last August, it got some news coverage.  Since then I have been a target (albeit a tee-tiny one) for some people who seem unable to tolerate the tensions involved in the true spiritual freedom Christ offers and living the Christian life.  I've received some emails that took me to task for not believing the Bible, that called me un-Christian, that question my worthiness as a leader.  One of the emails I received came months after the event and was from a man who apparently supported the guy who shot the doctor for performing abortions a few years back; he warned me against supporting the "homosexual agenda." 

There was a time, not too long ago, when that kind of vitriol coming at me would've upset me, concerned me.  But I don't care so much anymore what other people think about me in this regard -- I can be a "fool" in their eyes because the pure "grace gift" continues "working" in me.  Its fecundity is everlasting.  So powerful, yet such true humility.