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Reflections

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.

4.30.17 Listening on the Emmaus Road

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As always, it was a joy to gather in the chapel with our community last night. Our opening liturgy led us through the lectionary to another imaginative reading of the Gospel text, Luke 24:13-35. Lori guided us as we put ourselves in the story of the disciples walking the road to Emmaus with Jesus.

Then we welcomed the brilliant David Fitch to unpack the Gospel reading. How does the invitation of Jesus and a posture of thanksgiving lead to reconciliation and participation in the presence of God’s kingdom in our everyday lives? When we gather at the table, David taught, space is opened, Jesus is present, and the kingdom happens. Have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our first kingdom practice for the week is to continue tending to God’s presence in the people around us. How can we be present with the people we interact with this week? How can we be present to them and to the presence of Christ in them?

The second kingdom practice brings the last two weeks together. Next week, we will be gathering around tables to share a small part of our stories. We will take five minutes to share one experience or relationship that has impacted our growth as a Christ follower. As we listen, we will tend to the presence of Christ in one another, and the kingdom of God will be present.

Additional Resources:
Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission by David Fitch is a deeper look at what we learned this week and so much more.

4.23.17 Listening to our Stories

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It is always a blessing to have Sibyl Towner at The Practice, and last night was no exception. We opened with a beautiful liturgy celebrating the risen Christ and entering into the story of Thomas (John 20:19-29) with the Ignatian practice of imaginative prayer.

Then, Sibyl led us into an examination of our stories. “Telling our stories is to the spirit,” Sibyl said, “what the flow of blood is to your body.” We long to live in our stories aware of God’s presence. Sibyl modeled and led us in a practice exploring some of the most influential experiences in our lives.

 

Because it is impossible to summarize Sibyl, have a listen to the podcast.

Kingdom Practices
Our kingdom practice for the week is to continue listening to your story. Make some time to sit with the final question, “What could have helped you grow even more?” Continue to listen for the presence of God in these moments.

If you would like to go deeper listening for the presence of God in your story, Sibyl has some incredible resources at www.onelifemaps.com.

There is also a four-week class called Learning to Steward Your Story beginning this Wednesday night. It will be led by two members of our community (Joan Kelley and Sharon Swing). In this class with your story in mind, you will learn fresh insights, questions, and direction about how to live a life that is a more full expression of who God created you to be.
You can register for the class at https://portal.willowcreek.org/page/439?EventOccurrenceId=858.

Finally, last night was the start of a three-week build to our next Practice Table. Sibyl helped us learn to listen to our own stories. Next week, David Fitch will teach us how participation in the Eucharist helps us listen well to others, and we will put it all together on May 7th as we share a part of our story around tables and listen well to one another. I hope you’ll join us on the journey.

4.9.17 Palms and Promises

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What a beautiful and glorious night! We began in the chapel with our family liturgy. What a gift it was it to worship with two-year-olds, 70-year-olds, and everyone in between. Then Meredith led us into the story of Palm Sunday with palms, parades, and the promise of redemption.

We came to the communion table and then gathered around tables downstairs for our third annual Palm Sunday Potluck of Glory. If I only had eight words to describe it, I would have to choose “Aaron unconscious under piles of green bean casserole.” I love when we gather as a whole community to enjoy fellowship! In the last three years I have come to love this community so deeply. Thank you all for your beautiful presence.

As we begin holy week, can we all agree to lean into the story? Let’s not push too quickly to the cross and empty tomb, but let’s sit in the events of this week. What does God have for you in these days? How can you walk with Jesus in the events of this week?

Lori did some phenomenal work gathering a list of Holy Week services throughout the area. You can also read some beautiful wonderful poems for Holy Week from Malcolm Guite. May your Holy Week be rich with the presence of Christ.

4.2.17 Turning from Fear to Sacrificial Love

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It was wonderful to come back together in the chapel after a week of gathering in community around one another’s tables. Our opening liturgy brought us through Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones and the raising of Lazarus. We sang “Take us, shape us, break us, may your kingdom come in us and through us.” We shared the peace of Christ with one another and heard a story of meaningful connections at last week’s Practice Tables from Erin Lonard.

Then Curtis helped us explore how we can turn away from fear as a motivation for engaging the world and embrace our calling to move into the world with sacrificial love. As Curtis highlighted, fear is natural. Let’s not feel shame over our fear, but let’s also not stay there. We have a supernatural calling to engage the world, like Jesus, with sacrificial love. Of course, replacing fear with love is a journey of opening ourselves to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. We practiced this last night when Erin Feffer led us in the discipline of Lectio Divina and we came in the communion table.

Please take a moment to listen to the podcast if you missed last night.

Kingdom Practices
We have two kingdom practices this week. The first is to begin examining our fear. When are we tempted to act from a motivation of fear? Where has fear taken root in such a way that it drives our decisions, our beliefs, and how we see others? You may consider journaling about it. You may think about it throughout the day and notice when you feel fearful, or you could use a daily Examen to consider when you acted from a place of fear and when you acted from a place of love in the presence of God.

Our second kingdom practice is to continue engaging Lectio Divina. (The movements of Lectio are outlined below.) You may continue to practice this divine reading with 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 (the passage from last night) or you could also practice it with one of the following: Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calming the storm) or 1 John 4:7-21 (perfect love casts out fear).

Four movements of Lectio Divina:

Read the passage gently and slowly several times. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to you.

Reflect on the text and think about how it applies to your own life. This is considered to be a very personal reading of the Scripture and a personal application.

Respond to the passage by opening your heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but it is the beginning of a conversation with God.

Listen to God. Let go of your own thoughts—both mundane and holy—and let God speak to you. Humbly open your mind, heart, and soul to the influence of God.

Finally, next week is genuinely one of my favorite gatherings of the year, our Palm Sunday Service and Potluck of Glory™. All ages are welcome! If you have never experienced a Practice Palm Sunday service, you are in for a treat. Meredith Miller will bring a message that will involve the kids. After sharing in the Eucharist, we will head downstairs for our potluck feast. Please email Curtis with what you plan to bring. I’ve got $100 that says Aaron can’t eat the weight of his sons in green bean casserole. Hope to see you there!

3.19.17 Knowing our True Selves

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Sunday night was a wonderful gift in the middle of our Lenten journey. We started the evening weaving “Take us, Lord” throughout our opening liturgy. I have been sitting with and praying the lyrics this morning asking God to take us, shape us, send us, and use us.

Then, what a joy it was to have Ashlee Eiland with us! Ashlee helped us reframe a core question in our lives. What if we stopped focusing on how we are doing and instead explored our proximity to God in relationship? Ashlee taught us that our false selves focus on what we do, the ways we attempt to earn or prove the love of God in our lives, but our true selves rest in loving relationship with our creator.

Ashlee then shared a helpful framework for dying to the false self in order to truly live. We start with knowing. How can we live in close proximity to our creator so that we can continually know who we have been created to be? Then we inspect. We ask if our lives are arranged in a way that God can truly form us. Finally, we submit to our loving creator for pruning. Pruning is not punishment, it is a clearing out of the false in order to allow the fullness of our true selves to bloom and produce kingdom fruit.

Aaron then led us in a beautifully pastoral practice of the Examen. The Examen is a deeply formational discipline that helps us know and live in proximity to God. It helps us inspect how God is working in our lives and surrender to his pruning. Our practice led us to God’s presence in the holy sacrament of communion.

If you missed this week, please make some space to listen. You won’t regret it.

Because Sunday is not the main event, we have two Kingdom Practices this week. The first is to continue crafting, living, and refining the simple rhythm of life we each created two weeks ago. (If you haven’t crafted a simple rhythm yet, you can use this handout.) How might the description of your rhythm be refined by this week’s practice? As you practice the spiritual disciplines you identified for your rhythm, is there anything you sense God leading you to adjust or refine? Our second kingdom practice is to make time for the practice of the Examen. Will you commit with me to practicing the Examen daily this week?

Finally, The Practice is meeting next week, but we will not be in the chapel. We will be meeting in homes throughout the area to build community and share this journey together at our second ever Practice Table. If you would like help finding a table to attend, please let me know (jfeffer@willowcreek.org). We would love to help get you connected.

Additional Resources:
Coming Home to Your True Self by Father Albert Haase is a simple exploration of our true self using the story of the prodigal son.
The Gift of Being Yourselfby David Benner is another helpful book that explores Christian identity and the concepts of true self and false self.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is the best and most comprehensive resource for individual disciplines around.
Being Disciples is a short read (and FREE!) about the role of the spiritual disciplines on this journey.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Barton casts a beautiful vision for a rhythm of life.
God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu is another wonderful book about rhythms of life.
Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia is a practical resource for building a rhythm of life.