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11.5.17 Human Sinfulness

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Last night, our community was blessed with the gentle guidance of Phileena Heuertz as we continued our journey through the themes of Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. This week, we entered into a reflection on our sinfulness. While most of us would rather not engage our personal sin, it is an incredibly important part of our journey. If we are not in touch with the depth of our personal sinfulness, we will not be able to grasp the great depth of God’s personal love for us.

Phileena’s wise teaching helped us move beyond a shame-based view of sin into a vulnerability-based model. God does not require us to be cleaned up in order to be loved. We are loved us just as we are, and God demonstrated love in an extravagant gesture of self-giving, self-emptying love on the cross. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

If we are going to be formed into the people God created us to be, we must move beyond sin as bad things we do and begin to identify the desires behind the activity. Phileena shared the Ignatian perspective of sin as disordered desires, and she incorporated the teaching of Thomas Keating and Henri Nouwen as a helpful way to identify our disordered desires. (You’ll want to listen to the podcast to get the full teaching.)

We were then led in a new practice for our community, welcoming prayer. Welcoming prayer is a practice that invites God’s healing presence into the ordinary activity of daily life. Phileena helped us practice this discipline as a way of growing in our ability to identify the disordered desires that lead to sin and welcoming God’s loving, healing presence into our disordered desires.

Kingdom Practices
Phileena beautifully shared that love is the foundation of our whole journey. So let’s continue to practice the “be-loved” breath prayer at least 15 minutes a day.

In addition to the breath prayer, let’s also be intentional about noticing this week.
Let’s notice when we find ourselves emotionally triggered, and in our noticing, let’s be curious about what is behind the emotion. Is there a disordered desire at the root of the emotion, and if so, will you pause and practice the welcoming prayer Phileena shared with us?

Additional Resource
Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Action
Pilgrimage of the Soul by Phileena Heuertz
Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz

10.22.17 Called to Freedom

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Sunday night, our journey through the Spiritual Exercises continued as we explored the Ignatian concept of indifference. We entered into a holy space, asking God to reveal where we might be clinging more tightly to a gift rather than the Giver of the gift.

Ignatius taught that we should be “indifferent to all created things… so that we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.” This means desiring God and God’s will so deeply, so passionately, that everything else pales in comparison.

Our ability to surrender attachments is deeply rooted in love. Without an understanding of God’s incredible and personal love, we cannot truly surrender. We can only be “indifferent to all created things” when we know God loves us and all things are a gift from God.

Ignatian indifference is found throughout scripture. We see it in the life of Jesus, his followers, and Paul. And while they may use different language, every Christian tradition places indifference, or surrender, at the center of our journey. I firmly believe surrendering to God’s will and falling more deeply into the immense, personal love of God is the essential element of our entire journey of faith.

Our practice for the evening was a reflection on God’s love for us, and an exercise in letting go of an attachment. We held an image of God’s personal love in one hand and a rock in the other. We identified something we struggle to surrender, and we clung to the rock as tightly as we cling to that thing. We wrestled with our attachment. Then, to represent our desire to surrender all things to our loving Creator, we placed the rock at the foot of the cross.

Kingdom Practice
We know that the wrestling and surrender we did Sunday night was just one more step on the journey. Undoubtedly, we will find ourselves picking up our rocks this week and holding onto the gift more tightly than the Giver. Because indifference is grounded in love, will you continue praying the “be-loved” breath prayer at least fifteen minutes each day with me? We will continue this practice through our time in the first movement of the Spiritual Exercises.

For the next two weeks, let’s also be mindful of our attachments. If you were with us last night, we brought home a rock to place in a visible location as a reminder to surrender to God’s loving will. (If you were not with us and you can get to Willow, I would love to give you a rock.) When you find yourself holding something too tightly, will you pause and reflect? And if you are willing to let go, will you pray this prayer to mark you desire to surrender?

Suscipe of St. Ignatius
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me:
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more.

10.8.17 All is Gift

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Last night we continued our journey through the themes of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. You will remember the Exercises help us grow in union with Christ. They place us in a position to be formed in Christlikeness, so that we may live more fully in God’s will for the sake of the world.

Friends, last night was one of the more meaningful practices for me in a long time. I came into the night feeling frazzled. Then during our gratitude practice, I was reminded of God’s loving and patient presence in all things, and I was struck—there really is no other word for it—I was struck by the incomprehensible nature of God’s love for me.

I came into the night feeling disconnected and left with a full heart and a profound sense of God’s enormous love. Joan said opening ourselves in gratitude allows us to more fully receive God’s love. That statement could not have been more true of my experience last night.

One of things I appreciate most about her teaching is that Joan always turns gratitude back to God. Many treat gratitude like a strategy to be happy, but if we do not recognize and respond to the giver of all good gifts, our gratitude will not form us in Christlikeness. Joan shared too many wonderful things for me to express here, so have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practice
For our time in the first movement of the Spiritual Exercises, we want to continue praying the “be-loved” breath prayer at least fifteen minutes each day. I hope your practice of this discipline has helped you rest more fully in the truth that you are God’s beloved child.

For the next two weeks, we also want to include the gratitude practice Joan led us in last night. At least once a week between today and our next gathering, will you make time to engage this practice? Spend some time opening yourself to God in gratitude using these three questions.

Where did you notice and experience God today/this week? In His creation, His word, in His people?

As you review your week and each noticing of God, what specific characteristic(s) of God did He reveal to you?

Write a prayer of gratitude to God.

9.17.17 Created in Love

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It was wonderful to be together again last night to kick off the next season of The Practice. For the majority of this year, we will be walking through the themes of Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Ignatian spirituality has had a significant influence on The Practice from the beginning, so we are really excited to dive in more intentionally this year.

I cannot think of anyone I would rather have launch us into this season than Father Michael. Last night, he introduced us to the themes of the Spiritual Exercises. The Exercises begin, Father Michael explained, with an understanding that we are loved simply because we are God’s children. I find it so interesting that Ignatius would wait to guide someone through the Exercises until they had an abiding sense of their belovedness.

Father Michael then led us in a practice to help us rest in God’s love. We began with a reflection on the sign of the cross, and then practiced a simple breath prayer, “be-loved.”

Kingdom Practice
Because this foundation of being grounded in our belovedness was so important to Ignatius, we want to really sink into this prayer. Our kingdom practice for the entire journey through the first movement of the Spiritual Exercises will be to pray the simple breath prayer Father Michael taught us last night. As you inhale, “be,” and as you exhale, “loved.” As we journey through this first movement of the Spiritual Exercises, let’s commit to practicing this prayer at least fifteen minutes each day.

If you would find it helpful to begin your daily prayer time with the reflection Father Michael led last night, you can find it here.


Additional Resources
Putting on the Heart of Christ by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ
The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien, SJ
Inner Compass by Margaret Silf

8.20.17 A Practice Update

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Friends, it was so good to be back together last night. From Please Speak to the Doxology, it felt right to gather once again and celebrate the Eucharist in holy community. After our opening liturgy, we shared an update on the future of The Practice.

For the last two months we have been gathering information, having conversations with members of the community, and praying. In all our prayers and conversations, I consistently came back to two questions that guided our discernment. How is God leading us, and what is best for this community?

During one conversation, the possibilities opened up in an exciting way. In addition to the three options we were already considering (planting a church, launching a regional, or building a spiritual formation institute), we were given the opportunity to propose what we would need in terms of staff and budget to continue The Practice gathering twice a month.

Because we feel this is exactly where God is leading us, and it best serves our community, we are working through a proposal with Willow leadership on what we need to continue this fall. Our plan is to launch the next season of The Practice with a gathering on September 17th. We will continue Practice Tables and come together for two gatherings a month.

After the update, Lori led us in the practice of intercession. Adele Calhoun says, “Intercessory prayer invites us into God’s care and concern for us, our families and friends, and the entire world.” In this practice we hold someone in the presence of God. “We become aware of God’s prayer for a person and join in that intercession.” Last night, we held the Practice community, the Practice team, Willow leadership, and the Willow congregation in God’s loving presence.

You can hear the full update and join in our practice on the podcast.

Kingdom Practice
Our kingdom practice for the coming weeks is to continue interceding for the Practice community, the Practice team, Willow leadership, and the Willow congregation. Let’s continue to hold these groups in the presence of God.

6.25.17 Celebrating God’s Work

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Last night was a bundle of emotions. It was joyful and celebratory, deeply reflective and full of gratitude, and there was a healthy dose of sadness. At times I found all of these emotions swirling at the same time. No matter what emotion was rising to the surface, every bit of the night was a beautiful reflection of this community and the work God has been doing here.

We opened with a journey back through the liturgy of our very first Practice gathering. Aaron reminded us of the road we traveled, and the one and only Father Michael guided us in an Examen focused on the last three years of The Practice. Then we shared our reflections.

My friends, thank you for sharing so honestly and vulnerably. This time was a deep expression of what church should be. We entered into the stories of our community and allowed them to lead us into celebration and worship. Thank you for the way you entered in last night, and the way you have entered into this journey in the last three years.

Then we carried our celebration to the table. The table has been the high point of every single Practice gathering, and it is the place Alexander Schmemann called “both the source and fulfillment of joy, the very sacrament of joy, the Eucharist.”

Finally, we celebrated Aaron. There was something so right about this moment. It is absolutely true that the glory is God’s. Any impact The Practice has had on our lives was because of the work of the Holy Spirit, yet Aaron had to be faithful to God’s calling. Aaron created a space in both the form of the gathering and the liturgy to help us open ourselves to the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And for that, Aaron, I know I speak for everyone in this community when I say, “Thank you.”

Kingdom Practice
Our final kingdom practice for this season of The Practice is a reminder that God never moves in our lives for the sake of moving. God’s work in us is never an end, it is always a beginning. So while we do not know what the future will look like, wherever we go, let’s carry the work God has done with us. Let’s bring the love and grace and peace and joy of Christ with us and pour it out for the sake of the world.

Discerning the Future
The Practice as we know it is ending, but we are in the process of discerning where God might be leading us next. We don’t know where the future will take us, but one thing we do know, community will be a central part of our future. That means we will continue Practice Tables. Whether you have been a part of Practice Tables in the past or not, if you would like to be connected with a table, will you please sign up here. Tables will not be meeting in July, but we will resume in August, gathering together to pray, read scripture, and share the Eucharist in community.

We are also committed to including the community in the discernment process. To do that we are going to begin a new email list. If you are a part of the local Practice community and you would like to be a part of The Practice’s future, will you join this email list (sign-up below)? On Friday, I will email an overview of the discernment process. And then we will gather back together in community at the end of August and lean into the future of The Practice together.

If you would like to be included in discerning the future of The Practice, please join this list.

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6.11.17 The Paschal Mystery

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This season feels uncertain, a little chaotic, and unformed, but the Holy Spirit was certainly hovering over us last night. We began with a liturgy ordered on Genesis 1. Someone once told me a proper understanding of God as creator is essential for our journey as disciples. If our Creator can take the formless cosmos and bring order in creation, God can certainly do it in our lives.

Then Jonathan Martin brought the word of God to our community. I genuinely believe this was one of the richest messages Jonathan has ever brought us. We often expect God to meet our personal hopes for me and mine, but these hopes are too small. The only way for God to liberate our hope is through death and resurrection.

The way of the paschal mystery is surrender. We must to let go of our expectations. When we release how we think God should move, we make way for something more beautiful. God wants to do something wider than we could possibly imagine. The way to this wider hope leads through death, because in death, there is nothing left for us to do. Resurrection is our Creator’s job.

Lori helped us engage this journey by leading us in an imaginative prayer exercise through John 20:11-18, and then we turned to the practice that embodies the paschal mystery, the Holy Eucharist.

This summary cannot do the night justice, so please have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our kingdom practice for this week is to sit with whatever the Holy Spirit was stirring in you last night. Make time this week to sit in silence. Open your hands as you sit with God. Let your hands be a reflection of your heart’s posture. If the Holy Spirit was identifying ways you are clinging to the God you have known, hold your hands open as an act of surrender. If the Spirit was leading you toward the new ways God is making Himself known to you in this season, hold your hands open as a way of receiving new life.

We also invite you to join us in a season of discernment. On Wednesday night, we had a meeting to talk about options for The Practice moving forward. In our time together, we discussed three possibilities:

  1. What if we built a community of tables swimming in these deep waters with a monthly service? What if we gathered twice a month in community to pray, engage scripture, and share the Eucharist, and then we came together as a whole community once a month? In addition to these gatherings, we would create retreat experiences that would build into our community, and introduce others within Willow to these deeper streams. Or…
  2. What if The Practice branched off into a Willow Regional? Or…
  3. What if The Practice launched out with the blessing of Willow to plant a church?

As we enter this season of discernment, we are asking God, “What is your invitation to me and to this community in this season?” Will you join us in this prayer and wait on God’s response?

6.4.17 Writing a Biblical Lament

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It was such a gift to be together last night for Pentecost Sunday. Our evening began with an acknowledgment of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in the Spirit’s presence we turned to the biblical practice of lament.

Jenna helped us lean hard into God with our grief. She taught us that pain demands to be felt. Though we may try, we cannot run around our pain. Our path is through it. So many of us have been told either directly or indirectly that grief should not be expressed. The tradition I grew up in said that rather than feel our pain, we should claim victory in Jesus. But this perspective ignores a third of the Psalms. More than sixty of them are laments. As Jenna said, expressing our grief in lament is God’s idea.

Jenna led us through the nine movements common in the psalms of lament, and after beginning the work of writing our own laments, we brought our grief to the only one big enough to hold it at the table.

Download a copy of the guide to use as you listen.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s not put our laments behind us too quickly. Our journey this month will lead us to hope and celebration, but for this week let’s allow ourselves to feel the loss. Pray your lament each day and pay attention to where you sense the Holy Spirit stirring.

5.21.17 Practice Family Announcement

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Last night was a very emotional night as we announced June 25th will be the final Practice Gathering. This decision was not reached easily. For months we have been looking for the strategic place of The Practice within Willow Creek. After countless hours of conversation, tears, and prayer, we could not find a space that was both available and made sense for our gathering. So we came to the sad conclusion that we could not keep The Practice service going.

As we move into the future, we will be experimenting with ways to bring the spirit of The Practice to the larger Willow community in retreats, cohorts, and other experiences. We will also continue Practice Tables as a way of building and supporting practice-based community.

Have a listen to the full announcement on the podcast.

Please note that the Q&A portion of the night was primarily “family business” and not appropriate to include on the podcast. If you typically attend The Practice in person, were not able to attend, and would like to hear the Q&A, please email Jason  for a copy. 

Kingdom Practice 
In this season, we are all swimming in deep emotion. I am comforted as I remember the prophet Isaiah called Jesus a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) The one we follow is not only familiar with the emotions we are feeling, but he is with us in it. As we live through these coming weeks, can we all commit to lean into Jesus?

Embracing the Mothering Images of God

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What a beautiful night! From the liturgy to Meredith’s teaching and the playful practice, it was such a moving evening. Our opening liturgy gave me something I really need in this season, to know the comforting, nurturing presence of God. Then Meredith lead us through the story of God using a number of passages highlighting God’s feminine attributes. She helped us explore the beginning of our story in belovedness, the breath of God that gives us life, and the invitation to stop striving and rest in God.

Then we looked at God’s invitation to rest. Sabbath, of course, is a commandment, but it is also an invitation to release our striving to find our value in anything other than our identity as God’s beloved children and embrace joy. So we took an opportunity to engage in some childlike play as we walked around the room blowing bubbles. It was a beautiful, tangible picture of embracing God’s invitation to joy.

Have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our Kingdom Practice this week is to explore how we can more intentionally respond to God’s invitation to enter Sabbath rest. What productive activities tend to define you or give you a sense of worth? What must you do to cease these for one day a week? And what brings you joy? Can you embrace joy and play on Sabbath? You may find it helpful to use this worksheet to craft or refine your Sabbath practice.