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A Community Examen

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Our last two Practice gatherings have focused on community, specifically the practices of spiritual direction and listening groups. Community is an essential element of following Jesus. Jesus did not invite us into a solitary journey, this road was always intended to be walked together. This week, we would love to invite you to make room to reflect on your spiritual practices of community in the presence of God.

A spiritual practice is any intentional activity that cultivates deeper communion with God’s presence in our everyday lives. Spiritual practices may help us grow in awareness of God’s loving presence. They may help us develop ears to better hear God’s voice or help us to surrender obstacles to deeper communion with God.

Spiritual practices of community are simply disciplines that directly involve other people to cultivate deeper communion with God. A few examples of these practices might be spiritual friendships, spiritual direction, small groups (including practice tables and listening groups), and spiritual mentors. In this Examen, we will reflect on our spiritual practices of community in prayer. Let’s hold our experiences of community in God’s presence and listen for anything the Holy Spirit
might reveal to us this week.

You can download an print a copy of this Examen here.

Step 1: Acknowledging God’s presence
Settle into a comfortable space without distractions. Take a deep breath. Wherever you are in this moment, you are in God’s loving presence. Take another deep breath. Remember that God is closer than the air you breathe.

For the next few moments, invite God to speak. Hold your hands open as a sign of your willingness to receive from God. Express your desire to listen. You may use your own words or echo the words of Samuel, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

Step 2: Review your spiritual practices of community in gratitude
Now, remaining in God’s loving presence, consider your spiritual practices of community. In this season, what spiritual practices of community have you experienced? How have you experienced the presence of God in relationship in this season? Consider both the community you have intentionally engaged as a spiritual practice, and the community that you did not seek intentionally but God brought to you. Name these experiences, you may even choose to write them down.

Take a moment now to thank God for these experiences. You may write a prayer of gratitude in the space below.

Step 3: Examine your spiritual practices of community with God
Consider the spiritual practices of community you identified a moment ago. Take a moment to examine your experiences of spiritual community with the following questions in mind. Listen for anything the Holy Spirit may be calling to your attention.

How have you experienced God drawing you into His life of love through practices of community?

How have spiritual practices of community fallen short, disappointed you, or failed to invite you in God’s life of love?

Step 4: Respond
Is there a particular experience that stands out from your examination? Was there a strong emotion, positive or negative, that stands out? Is there one experience you feel the Holy Spirit is drawing you toward, one you are being invited to hold a little longer in God’s loving presence?

Use this time to respond to God. Is there anything you want to say to God about this experience, anything you would like to ask? Speak to God, and listen for God’s response.

Step 5: Looking forward
In our final movement, let’s turn our attention forward. As you consider engaging spiritual practices of community in the future, what emotions arise? Do you sense an invitation from God? Close your time in prayer by holding your future practices in God’s loving presence.

9.16.18 Listening to God in Community: Listening Groups

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Last night, we continued our time in practices of listening to God in community. Following a beautiful liturgy focused on the theme of walking with Jesus, we considered the importance of listening well. We explored the concept of “holding space.” When we hold space, we set ourselves aside in order to be fully present to another person. We allow her or him to feel what they need to feel, name what needs to be named, receive what needs to be received, and be who they were created to be all in the loving presence of God.

We then engaged a practice that helps us to hold space for one another, listening groups. In her book Seeking God Together, Alice Fryling says that listening groups “provide a place where individuals can experience what it means to be listened to and loved by others, so that they can learn to listen more attentively to God in their daily lives and be used by God to spread God’s grace and love throughout the world.”

This season at The Practice, we will be offering listening groups as a practice of formational community. Beginning on 10/14, all who are interested will gather in smaller groups to hold space and grow in community. If you are interested in joining a listening group, please let us know.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to tend to whatever we heard from God in our time together in listening groups. If you were left with some questions to ponder, let’s ponder those questions. If God spoke some truth, let’s rest in that truth. If you sensed an invitation from God, let’s respond to that invitation.

We also want to spend some time in the coming weeks examining our spiritual practices of community. Anyone who is following Jesus will engage some kind of formational community. There are a number of practices that help us to live more fully in God’s presence in community. Spiritual direction, spiritual friendships, small groups, Practice Tables, and listening groups are just a few. If you don’t have a regular practice, what might God be inviting you into in this season? If you do have a practice, how is it helping you to live more fully in God’s presence? How are you being formed through your practice?

9.9.18 Listening to God in Community: Spiritual Direction

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What a gift it was to have Carolyn Arends and Lacy Borgo with us Sunday night! Carolyn joined the band to help guide our opening liturgy, and Lacy walked us through the holy practice of spiritual direction. “It is a remarkable thing,” she said, “to tend to the presence of Christ in another person.” Lacy shared how spiritual direction helps us to pay attention and lean into God. In direction, we find the sacred in the ordinary.

Lacy guided us through a series of reflections reminiscent of those we might engage with a spiritual director. We listened to God in two texts (Acts 8:26-39 and Luke 24:13-35) and explored a childhood image of God. Lacy helped us engage our imaginations as we drew our reflections in crayon.

If you weren’t able to be with us, please make some space this week to listen and engage this practice.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to tend to the presence of God in whatever surfaced for us our reflection, and if let’s also consider if God might be inviting us to explore spiritual direction as a practice. If you are interested in finding a director, you can explore the following sites:

Network of Evangelical Spiritual Directors
Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association
Sustainable Faith

8.26.18 The Eternal Current: We Need Everybody

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What a joy it was to have Aaron back in the room last night! A beautiful opening liturgy led us to God, through confession and assurance, and culminated with Jesus declaring “I am the bread of life.” Then Aaron guided us through a teaching and practice of examining our faith tradition.

Within our community there is a great diversity in our faith traditions. Some grew up in a mainline Protestant churches. Others came to faith in the Evangelical tradition, while others experienced a Catholic, Pentecostal, or social justice upbringing. In his teaching, Aaron helped us to understand that regardless of our tradition, there are great blessings for us to hold on to. It is good for us to name them and thank God for them. It is also true that every tradition has its limitations. How can we name those limitations so we might grow to embrace the goodness of God revealed in other traditions?

Aaron then guided us through an examination of our tradition. We reflected on our experiences, but we also made space to listen to God. What is God inviting us to hold onto, and what might the Lord be inviting us to let go of from our tradition? In a time like this when we tend to view the world through a binary lens (something is either entirely good or completely bad), making space to identify and hold the tension of the blessings and the limitations of our tradition is so helpful and necessary.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to reflect on our experiences and listen to God. Where might we need to name the blessings, and where might God be inviting us to identify and grow beyond the limitations of our tradition?

8.12.18 Making Space to Grieve

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In a season like this, when our community is in pain, I am so grateful we have someone like Deirdré to guide us as we make space to grieve. We talk a lot about tending to Christ’s presence in our lives, but we cannot bring our whole selves into the presence of Jesus if we are not first present to ourselves.

When we find ourselves in seasons of pain, our natural tendency is to run from being present to the swirling emotions. Which is exactly why pausing as we did last night to grieve is so important. Deirdré reminded us that Isaiah called Jesus “the man sorrows, acquainted with grief.” We can allow our hearts to fully feel our sadness and loss in the pain, she said, because we follow one who knows personally what we are experiencing.

Deirdré then led us so beautifully through a practice of grieving. She helped us identify our emotions, hold them in the presence of God, and experience God’s loving comfort.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to stay present to ourselves. Grieving is not a one and done practice. In the coming weeks, we will undoubtedly feel our emotions percolating to the surface. Let’s commit ourselves to stay present when they do. You many even choose to come back to this podcast and make space to let Dré guide you in this practice once again.

7.17.18 Acorn Faith

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Last night, was a beautiful reminder of God’s loving presence. Sam led us in a beautiful liturgy of rest, and then we had the privilege of welcoming Kristen Leigh Kludt to The Practice. What a gift Kristen was for our community! She shared deeply from her story and offered how she learned through a difficult season to have the faith of an acorn.  I loved these wise words from Kristen’s spiritual director, Sister Margaret, “This earth is very old, and our God is very patient. God is a gardener. Gardeners don’t go around kicking the cabbages telling them to grow faster.”

“Life with God is not about getting it right,” Kristen said. “When we let go of striving to make ourselves perfect and let God’s Spirit do that for us, we can find solace and delight in God’s love for us exactly where we are.”

How can we slow down enough to be present to our longings in God’s loving presence? How can we trust in God’s formational work in our lives, so that like a small acorn, we can grow—even through seasons of drought—so that we may grow to have the faith of an oak?

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to creatively make space for God in our everyday lives. Let’s slow down enough to pay attention to our longings and questions. And let’s listen to what God may have to say in our questions.

Kristen’s Field Guides for the Way is an exceptionally helpful resource for making intentional space in our everyday lives. Please take a look at her resources.

6.10.18 Stories from the family of God

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This month we have been acknowledging that our formation into the people we were created to be is always for the sake of the world. Last night, we had the joy of learning about serving those struggling with poverty from the Executive Director of Open Arms Ministry, Darrel Washington.

Darrel encouraged us to sit, do, and become. We need to sit with our brothers and sister, to spend time with them and build relationships with people who are different. Only after sitting with someone can we know what we can do. When we begin with a relationship we are not just doing something for someone, we are doing with them. When we have sat with someone and learned how to served them, we are able to become one, unified in Christ, with our brothers and sisters.

Darrel left us with these three questions to ponder.

  • What opportunities is God giving to me to sit with people who are different?
  • How can I be certain what I am doing is beneficial for those I serve?
  • How am I becoming one with others in my community and in the larger world?

 

Kingdom Practices
My prayer for our community is that we would be attentive to the way the Spirit is stirring within us to join God’s kingdom work in the world. I want each and every one of us to be able to name how and where we are serving the kingdom. I want people to look at the Practice community and say, “Those people are contemplatives in action!”

So, let’s continue to listen to how we are being invited to join God’s kingdom work in the world and respond to God’s invitation. How are you serving the kingdom?

As we seek to join God’s kingdom work, Darrel shared some opportunities to join the work he is doing with Open Arms Ministry.

  • We can give financially here.
  • As a small organization, much of the work is done through committees. There are opportunities to serve on the following committees:
    • Finance – to insure all finances are handled properly, including day-to-day finances, audits, taxes, and investments.
    • Fundraising – to raise funds through grant writing, individual donors, special events, corporate/foundation giving, etc.
    • Outreach & Engagement – to build, maintain, and retain a base of volunteers, establish relationships with colleges and universities for internships and service opportunities, and build relationships with the business community, like-minded organizations, as well as local, state, and federal governments.
    • Communications and Marketing – to get the word out and create branding for Open Arms using social media, web, newsletters, and other online spaces.
    • IT – to support Open Arms’ IT needs including website design, maintenance, building a client database, data analysis, etc.
  • Open Arms also has multiple open seats on its board. There is a need for people with the passion and experience to help advance the vision and reach of Open Arms Ministry.

If you are interested in any of these opportunities, you can email Darrel at darrel@openarmsministry.org.

6.3.18 Stories from the Community

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We have just finished a journey through the themes of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. The Jesuits, the order begun by Ignatius, are often referred to as contemplatives in action. Ignatius understood the work God does in our lives is intended to influence our actions in the world. Our formation in Christlikeness is always for the sake of the world, and last night we had the great opportunity to hear how God has been stirring people in our community to join God’s kingdom work in the world.

Ashlee and Delwin Eiland shared God’s invitation to adopt. I was so moved by how their understanding of being adopted into the family of God influences their journey and their journey is deepening their understanding of being adopted into the family of God. (You can learn more about their journey here)

Keri Wyatt Kent shared her call to serve a local Syrian refugee family. It is beautiful to see Keri’s love for this family, and her willingness to simply be present with them and to bring joy into their relationship. (You can learn more about the organization Keri is working with here.)

Finally, Lori Shoults and Rhianna Godfrey shared how God has been moving them to join the work of City of Refuge in Ghana. I love seeing how their formation into the people God created them to be is guiding their journey, and God is using their passions and gifts to join the important kingdom work happening at City of Refuge. (You can learn more about City of Refuge here.)

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to listen to how we are being invited to join God’s kingdom work in the world and respond to God’s invitation. You may choose to spend more time listening to God using the questions from last night.

  • Where have you sensed God stirring in you recently? Where have you been moved to sorrow or anger? What has broken your heart? Spend at least five minutes listening to God. Do you hear an invitation to join God’s kingdom work in this space?
  • What are some obstacles to responding to God’s invitation? Where is there an internal resistance? What external complications threaten your ability to join God’s work? Spend at least five minutes talking to God (speaking and listening) about these obstacles.
  • Finally, ask God if there is a specific invitation to respond in some concrete way in this season. Spend at least five minutes listening to God.

5.20.18 Resurrection Love

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For nine months (nine months!) we have been walking through the themes of the Spiritual Exercises. We rested deeply in God’s personal and creative love for us and owned the sorrow of our inadequate response. We engaged the life and teaching of Jesus as we used our imagination to enter the Gospel texts. (You can find the imaginative prayers Father Michael mentioned here.) We joined the suffering of Jesus on the journey to the cross, and we celebrated the fully embodied resurrected Christ.

Last night, Father Michael beautifully brought our nine-month journey to a close leading us in the four-part contemplation of God’s love. “God’s love,” he taught, “is expressed in deeds not words.” It is marked by mutual sharing. It was a beautiful night. If you weren’t able to join us, I would encourage you to make some time this week to engage this four-part practice.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to contemplate how we are called to embody God’s love. How might God be inviting you to respond and express love in deeds rather than in words alone?

5.6.18 Resurrection Life

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Last night, we continued our journey through the season of Easter and the final movement of the Spiritual Exercises. We reflected on the life Jesus said he came to bring in John 10:10. This life in the kingdom of God is the life we long for in the deepest place of our souls. It is the life we were created to live. And the good news, the gospel, is that it is available to us now. Jesus came to bring abundant life, and this life begins today. That is good news isn’t it?

Jesus teaches us that eternal, abundant life is knowing God (John 17:3), bringing our whole selves into an interactive relationship with him. Last week, Jonathan reminded us we are more than our reason. We have bodies, but we are not just physical beings. We have hearts. But we are not just our emotions. We have heads.

We are whole beings, and in the Gospel accounts of the disciples meeting the resurrected Christ, we see Jesus caring for their heads as he opens the scriptures. He attends to their hearts as he engages their emotions, and he ministers to their bodies as he invites them to touch and see.

This led us into a practice of imaginative prayer where we joined the disciples on the road to Emmaus and opened our whole selves, heads, hearts, and bodies to the presence of Jesus.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s spend our time resting in the Gospel stories of the resurrected Christ. As we do so, let’s reflect on how God might be inviting us to open ourselves more fully to the loving presence of our Lord.