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Reflections

2.20.17 Loved to be a Blessing

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This year as we each do the work of crafting a personal rhythm of life, we will continue to explore our deepest desires in our relationship with God, self, others, and the world. Last night, Kellye Fabian brought us into the fourth relationship, our relationship with the world.

Kellye began with a powerful statement: “God’s response to the sinfulness and rebellion and brokenness of humanity was blessing.” The heart of the Gospel is that we have been loved so that we can be a blessing to the world. To be a blessing we must be willing to see, to speak well of, and to sacrifice in order to love our neighbor. Blessing is more than being nice. True blessing requires giving a part of ourselves for one another.

Kellye continued, “What we need most to carry out and participate in God’s mission is to be transformed. We need God’s eyes and God’s heart to be people out of whom the love of Christ flows naturally.” This happens when we actually practice loving and blessing, and when we practice disciplines that open our hearts and open our eyes. Kellye then led us in a practice of seeing and praying for the world in images.

This week, will you continue to practice this discipline? What images do you see on a regular basis, in the newspaper, on websites, or on Facebook? Will you make time to pray using the images you see? Will you also choose to be intentional about blessing someone? How will you see, speak well of, and sacrifice to love someone this week?

Let’s also continue to craft a description of the life we long for in our relationships with God, self, others, and the world. This handout will help you write a description of the life you desire. You can also find additional information on this journey including some examples of descriptions from the Practice Team here.

Our descriptions will be important this coming weekend as we launch Practice Tables. We will not be gathering in the chapel but will be meeting in homes throughout the area to share a meal and our personal descriptions of the lives we desire. If you are planning to gather some people together for a table, please let me know. I would love to support you in any way I can and learn from your experience. Also let me know if you would like some help getting connected to a table. We don’t want anyone to be left out, so we would love to help you get connected. If you are hosting or want help getting connected, please send me an email.

Have a blessed week!

Additional Resources:
Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser is a spiritual formation book that includes a chapter on blessing (seeing, speaking well of, and sacrificing).
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.

2.12.17 Designed to Reflect God’s Love

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This year as we each do the work of crafting a personal rhythm of life, we will continue to explore our deepest desires in our relationship with God, self, others, and the world. Last night, Curtis Miller helped us dive into our relationship with others. He masterfully guided us through our creation in the image of a loving, triune God and helped us understand that we were created to reflect God’s character to the world in loving community.

Our practice for the evening was a Visio Divina with Andrei Rublev’s icon, The Trinity. We asked God to show us what steps we can take to move into deeper, more loving community. We shared our reflections with one another, and then we spoke about Practice Tables.

There are four weeks scheduled between now and June when we will not gather in the chapel, but we will meet in homes to share a meal and our process building a rhythm of life. The first table is February 26th, and we will be sharing the description of the life we long for with one another. Here is a copy of a handout you can use to craft your description, and we will begin sharing some examples of descriptions at practicetribe.com/rhythmoflife.

If you are willing to gather some people together and host a table, please let me know. I would love to support you in any way I can, and I’d like to learn from your experience. You can also let me know if you would like some help getting connected to a table. We don’t want anyone to be left out, so we would love to help you get connected. (You can email me at jfeffer@willowcreek.org)

We have two Kingdom Practices this week. First, let’s continue refining the description of the life we long for in preparation for the first Practice Table on February 26th. As you listened to Curtis, what was stirring in you? Where did you sense the Holy Spirit whispering? How do you desire to reflect God’s loving image in your relationships with others? Our second practice is to take the next steps we identified in the practice time.

Additional Resources:
Spiritual Friendships by Mindy Caliguire is one of the best books you could read about spiritual friendships.
Sacred Companions by David Benner is a comprehensive look at the role spiritual friendships and spiritual directors play in our lives.
Behold the Beauty of the Lord by Henri Nouwen is the book Curtis referenced.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.

1.29.17 Nurtured and Nourished by God

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This year at The Practice, we are each doing the work of crafting a personal rhythm of life. A rhythm will begin with a description of the life you desire at the deepest level, the life you long for in your relationship with God, your relationship with self, your relationship with others, and your relationship with the world.

Last night Shauna led us deep into our relationship with self and our belovedness. She started with a statement, “The love of God is the purest nourishment, the precise thing our souls and minds and bodies need in order to do the good work to which we’ve been called” and continued to unpack this statement using the Biblical metaphor of God as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15, 66:13, and Hosea 11:3-4). Like a mother, God is powerful, capable, trustworthy, sacrificial, and able to not only nourish but to heal if we allow ourselves “to be nurtured and nourished by a life-changing, soul-altering love.”

Our practice last night was the ancient discipline of breath prayer. I loved hearing how meaningful this practice has been for so many in our community last night. The specific breath prayer we prayed brought the last two weeks together, “God of Love, I belong to you.”

This week, will you join me in committing to two kingdom practices? First, please continue to reflect on the life you desire to live in your relationship with God, self, others, and the world. Specifically, how do you long for the reality of your belovedness to play out in your life? How do you want to be nurtured and nourished by God? Second, will you commit to praying our breath prayer each day this week? Set aside five to ten minutes to repeat the prayer reflectively and continue to pray it throughout the day. (You can find more information on the discipline of breath prayer here.)

We have been speaking a great deal about the first half of a rhythm of life, a description of the life we desire. The second half of our rhythm is the disciplines we will practice; the disciplines that open us to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit so that we can become the kind of people who can live the lives we long for. As you engage these disciplines, pay attention to which ones connect with you and your desires. These are the disciplines we will be looking to include in our rhythms of life.

Additional Resources:
Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen is both a simple and profound exploration of our belovedness
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.

A Priestly and Prophetic Prayer for President Trump

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Hi friends. These are pretty extraordinary times, and regardless of where you fall on the political continuum, we can all lament the division, fear, volatility, and mistrust.

Last Sunday, as we prepared to gather two days after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, we decided to offer three prayers for our new president: (1) A priestly prayer, (2) A prophetic prayer, and (3) the Lord’s Prayer. It was a tender, uncomfortable, and beautifully holy moment. Many thanks to Fr Michael Sparough, SJ and Claudia Heinrich for leading us.

Listen to the prayers from Sunday night…

 

Download the written text….
A Priestly and Prophetic Prayer for President Trump

 

May we become instruments of God’s peace and justice.  We have a priestly role to play (praying and working for the blessing and flourishing of our leaders and world), and we have a prophetic role to play (speaking and embodying truth to power). It has to be both, not either. May we kneel and march. Submit and protest. Believe the best and courageously confront reality.

May we be priests and prophets in the Way of Jesus, for the sake of the world.

Blessings,
Aaron and The Practice Team

1.22.17 God is not loving; God is love.

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This year as we each do the work of crafting a personal rhythm of life, we will continue to explore our deepest desires in our relationship with God, our relationship with self, our relationship with others, and our relationship with the world. Last night Jonathan Martin helped us dive into love at the center of God’s character. I can’t stop thinking about his statement, “God is not loving; God is love.”

As you listened to Jonathan, what was stirring in you? Where did you sense the Holy Spirit whispering? How do you long for this to be made real in your life? As you reflect on the life you long for in your relationship with God, how do you long for God’s love to become a practical reality?

Our practice for the evening was a form of mediation. Jonathan led us to focus on our image of God in our holy creator’s presence, and he guided us into Matthew 14:27 as Jesus says to the apostles, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” Our kingdom practice for the week is to continue this practice of meditation either on our image of God or on Matthew 14:27. Let’s sit with it this week. Let’s mull it over and ponder it in the presence of God.

Remember that a rhythm of life is both a description of the life we long to live and the way we will live it; specifically, what disciplines will we practice to open us to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit to help us become the people we were created to be and live the lives we long for at the deepest level. We will continue to learn and practice new disciplines this year. As we do, let’s spend time in each of them looking for the disciplines the Spirit may be inviting us into this season.

Additional Resources:
Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith is a wonderful resource for exploring who God’s character
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
Crafting a Rule of LifeSpiritual Disciplines Handbook by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.

1.15.17 Rhythm of Life

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Last night, we kicked off the next step in our journey at The Practice. So many of us have felt the ache for a deeper or more meaningful life. There is a gap between the life we long for and the life we are living. When we explore this ache with God, we find our most fundamental longing is for the life we were created to live, a life of wholeness and integrity, a life where everything is as it was created to be, a life of Shalom. This is the life we find when we make our home in God (John 15:1-8).

This year at The Practice we are going to do the work of making our home in God. We will be learning how to intentionally arrange our lives to keep company with Jesus and become the kind of people who can live a life of Shalom. We will do this together by crafting personal rhythms of life.

A rhythm of life is a description of the life we long for and the disciplines we will practice to open ourselves to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to close the gap between the life we long for and the life we are living. We are going to base our descriptions of the life we desire on four relationships. What do we long for in our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with others, and our relationship with the world?

Have a listen to last night’s podcast here.

Our practice for the evening was to start our exploration of our desires in these four relationships. (You can see the questions we used at the bottom of the page.) Our kingdom practice this week is to soak in these desires. Continue to explore them with God. How can you intentionally arrange your week to reflect on these desires with God? Let’s begin our work this year with a compelling vision for the life our deepest desires point us toward.

 

Additional Resources:
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
Crafting a Rule of LifeSpiritual Disciplines Handbook by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.

 

Describe the relationship you desire to have with God.
What does it look like in times of pain and struggle?
What does it look like in times of joy and celebration?
What do you want from God? What do you need from God?

Describe the relationship you desire to have with yourself.
How do you want to speak to yourself?
How do you want to respond to guilt, shame, and sin in your life?
What does this look like when you feel the pull to act like someone you are not?
How do you want to see and care for your body?
How do you want to use the resources you have been given?

Describe the relationship you desire to have with others.
What kind of person you want to be toward the people in your life and what you want from them?
How do you want to represent the love and grace of God to others? How do you want to receive the love and grace of God from others?
What does this look like in your family?
What does this look like with your friends?

Describe the relationship you desire to have with the world.
How you would like strangers you interact with throughout the day to experience your presence?
What do you long to be true about the way you live in your current job?
Describe how you want your gifts and passions to lead you to partner with God in his kingdom work intentionally?

12.11.16 Advent: Hope for new beginnings

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curtisLast night our gathering was once again blanketed in both snow and the presence of God. We opened with an antiphonal reading of the Magnificat, and continued to sing and reflect upon the glorious revelation of God with us.

Curtis followed Jerusalem’s invitation to identify with the longing of Advent with a call to hope. Every one of us has an innate longing for new beginnings, but so often they seem out of reach. Advent is a season in which we come face to face with the reality that our hope is fulfilled in God’s presence. We remember “our Holy God is intimately acquainted with our sinful, broken pieces.”

mary-comforts-eveOur practice for the evening was a visio divina on this painting. We soaked in the image and put ourselves in Eve’s place asking what new beginning we long for this Advent. Then, we turned to the Christ candle and brought our hope to God, who is closer than the air we breathe.

If you were unable to make it last night I hope you will find time to listen to the podcast and Curtis’s beautiful invitation to bring our hope for new beginnings to Emmanuel, God with us.

Our first Kingdom Practices is to continue the prayer we began last night. Let’s keep bringing our hope for new beginnings to Jesus this Christmas season. You may even light a candle, turn down the lights, and rest in God’s holy presence. Our second practice is to continue with the Advent garland Jerusalem brought us last week. If you did not get a kit, you can download a copy of the instructions here.

Two final notes as we close out 2016 with The Practice.

Last night the second ever Practice Survey was emailed. We would love it if you would take 15 minutes to complete the survey here. Your responses will help us better understand who we are as a community, how we fit in the larger Willow discipleship ministry, and how we as The Practice Team can better serve you. I promise we will personally read every single response.

Finally, I am really excited about our plans for 2017. We are going to begin the year exploring and developing a personal rhythm of life, a way of arranging our lives to walk and work with Jesus and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I can’t wait to join you in that journey with you.

2017_practicepostcardv2

Grace and peace,
Jason and The Practice Team

12.4.16 Advent: We begin in the dark

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imageAs the first snow fell outside, we gathered last night in the warmth of the chapel to began our Advent journey. Our first reading interposed the hope of “O Come Emmanuel” and the fear of Mary and Joseph as they heard from the angel.

After our new friend, Jacques Bornman, led us in a reflection on Micah 5, we lifted up those who groan in anticipation of Jesus’ return. We confessed our part in the brokenness of our world and received the prophetic assurance from Isaiah 9.

Jerusalem Greer then helped us identify with the longing of Advent. The first day of the church calendar does not begin with Jesus’ birth. Advent begins with nothing, with fear, and with pain. “We start,” Jerusalem said, “in the dark.” It is the tenderness of this ache that leaves us exposed, and this position of openness is an utterly appropriate place for us to begin the year.

The point of Advent is to get in touch with our desperation, sadness, and heartbreak. It is a time to realize we need Christ and each other. After all, “What good is Christmas,” Jerusalem said, “if we don’t need it?” The invitation of Advent is to open our hearts to the whispered promise of hope.

We engaged our ache and need for one another last night as we literally crossed the room to share with someone why Christmas will be hard this year. This led us to the kingdom practices for this week and the next three weeks. Jerusalem brought us kits to create an Advent garland. The kits include a tag with an activity for each day this month. They include things like:

• Spend some time wrapping gifts and say a prayer for each person you are gifting as your wrap.
• Read Luke 1:26-28, 31 and reflect on when you have known God was with you.
• Give away good parking spots, stand in the longest lines, let others go first at every turn.

Each day we can pull one tag from the garland and do that practice as a way of living in both the longing and the hope of Advent. You can download a copy of the activities and directions for creating your own Advent garland here.

Let’s commit to living in the ache and hope this Advent as we celebrate Emmanuel.

Grace and peace,
Jason and The Practice Team

10.16.16 Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

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I left last night so grateful to be a part of a community that doesn’t just learn about the teaching of Jesus but longs to put his words into practice. After offering our whole selves to God in song and reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6, Gail and Bill led in a time of praying for our broken world. I found this time of prayer a beautiful lead-in to the time of teaching from Meredith and Curtis.

Meredith helped us identify the places we long for healing in our world. Placing our hands on our stomachs each of us said, “I am hungry and thirsty for a world where…” and we held this space of hunger before God. Meredith explained that righteousness is not a characteristic of salvation or the freedom from guilt; righteousness is a relational word. It speaks of relationships that that function as God created them to function.

Broken relationships are all around us, but we struggle to do anything. We believe the lie that we cannot make a difference, or as Meredith explained, we think, “I can’t do anything. I am just…” But God is moving. He is working to mend what is broken in our world. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” God’s redemptive work in the world is making things right, and his invitation to each of us is to join in his work.

Curtis then led us through our practice for the evening. We held one space of injustice, one place we hunger for righteousness, before God and we explored the broken relationships that led to the injustice. After identifying relationships, we looked at how these relationships break down in our own lives. Finally, we asked God to show us tangible ways we can join him in bringing righteousness to those close-to-home relationships this week.

This reflection on justice then led us to the table. If the arc of the universe truly bends toward justice, then the table and the sacrificial love it represents is the arc’s center point. Joining Jesus at the table, we now join him in his redemptive work in our four kingdom practices.

Kingdom Practices

  1. Holding injustice before God Every day this week, will you join us in holding injustice before God? You may choose to hold the specific injustice you identified before God each day, or perhaps as you see injustice around you, you will hold it before God as you move about your day. Pray for justice, and listen to God. Is he inviting you to join him in any way?
  2. I am hungry for a world… so I will… How can we join God in bringing righteousness to the relationships around us in tangible ways this week? This is doing the activities Curtis led us to identify last night.
  3. Connect with an organization committed to bringing justice. There are organizations all over Chicagoland making a difference in the areas of our hunger and thirst for righteousness. Spend some time researching these organizations and find a way to join them this week.
  4. Join us at 5:15 in B100. We will continue to meet in groups next week to share our experiences with the practices. These groups are a great way to process what God has been doing in you during the week, encourage others, and be supported as we journey together. We would love to have you join us.

Blessings!
Jason

 

 

09.25.16 Blessed are Those Who Mourn…

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Last night was a truly human and holy experience of worship, lament, and opening ourselves up to the real presence of Christ.

Most Sundays, our liturgy is based on four readings from the Revised Common Lectionary— the shared ordering of scripture texts based on the church calendar. In this way, we align our journey with the wider, global church. But this fall, as we learn to practice the Beatitudes, we’re taking a break from the lectionary to fully immerse ourselves in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Last night, we moved to Matthew 6 and focused on the abundance of God. After Tony lead us in “Please Speak” and “Glory to God Forever”–and Erin guided us through the Nine Beats again–we read most of Matthew 6 together and paused to let God speak. May these challenging and comforting words of Christ form our hearts and minds.

After the opening liturgy, Jason Feffer invited us to cannonball into the deep end of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.  Rather than pushing us from behind, Jason courageously jumped first and shared his personal story of brokenness…masterful running from the pain…finally learning to weep…and beginning to experience the comfort that Christ offers. Friends, please don’t miss this one….

Last night offered a clear (and powerful) example of the Nine Beats framework that Mark Scandrette taught us. With each Beatitude, we humbly ask four questions…

(1) What is the deep ache that this Beatitude addresses?
(2) What is the illusion we chase to meet the ache without God?
(3) What is the Kingdom vision that Jesus offers instead?
(4) What practices help us bring our ache into Jesus’ Kingdom vision?

Jason bravely shared his journey through these four questions. What about you?  (1) In what ways has life broken your heart? (family hurt, an injustice in the world, betrayal, sickness, etc)  (2) How do you actively avoid feeling the depth of this pain? (busyness, addictions, distraction, etc)  (3) What does it mean, in your actual life, that the Spirit of Christ is fully with you in the place of your deepest pain?  (4) What is one concrete way to invite God to sit with you in the messy reality of your lament?

Here are three tangible practices…

one.Fast from distractions and lean into Jesus: Abstain from activities you use to distract yourself from pain and sadness and fill that space by leaning into Jesus. You may practice a prayer of imagination, journaling, silence, or anything else that helps you feel the emotions associated to your pain and share them with God.

two.Write a lament: Make some time in the next two weeks to write a personal prayer of lament and share it with a trusted friend. If it is helpful, use this pattern Jenna shared with us in February.

  • Cry out to God (your address to God);
  • Complaint (your anger, pain, heartache, or sadness);
  • Affirmation of Trust (your remembrance of God’s presence in your past);
  • Petition/Request (your deepest desire);
  • Additional Argument (anything more, why God should intervene);
  • Rage against Your Enemies (bringing your enemies before God);
  • Assurance of Being Heard (what you need to feel heard);
  • Promise to Offer Praise to God (the promise you can offer to God); and
  • Assurance (the attribute of God you are thankful for in the moment).

three.Join a communal lament: Because we know pain is not only personal but extends into the world, find an opportunity to join in a communal lament. We are exploring an opportunity to attend a gathering together Columbus Day weekend. Stay tuned for more details.

 

Grace and peace, friends.
Aaron and The Practice Team