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2.11.18 Journey to the Cross

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Last night was such a deep and wonderful service. Dr. Warren Anderson and the Judson University Choir led us in our opening liturgy. What a gift it is to be so beautifully led by a full choir!

Then Father Michael led us into the third movement of the Spiritual Exercises. “It is one thing to be with Jesus in his glory,” he said, “it’s another thing when Jesus invites us to be with him in his hour of agony.” Father Michael called this third movement, a time leading us into the season of Lent, a “purification of love.”

We enter this season of preparation for Easter with three traditional practices, prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Last night, we began to consider how God might be inviting us to deepen our experience of prayer, to let go of something we that keeps us from surrendering to God, and express solidarity with the poor and suffering face of Christ in the world.

Father Michael led us in a profound practice of imaginative prayer to begin asking Christ how we might enter the season of Lent with these three practices. If you were not able to be with us last night, please listen to the full teaching and practice.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue to ask these three questions in preparation for Lent.

How is God inviting you to deepen your practice of prayer during Lent?
What might God be inviting you to fast from to experience greater freedom in Christ?
How is God inviting you to express solidarity with the poor and suffering face of Christ in the world?

1.28.18 The Rite of Forgiveness

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Friends, I am so grateful for our community. I am grateful to be a part of a community that is willing to learn from and engage practices from deep streams of the Christian tradition that are different than ours. Last night we welcomed Eastern Orthodox teacher and author Frederica Mathewes-Green back to The Practice. Following our opening liturgy, Frederica introduced us to the Rite of Forgiveness.

She pointed out that the most persistent formation we receive in how to see our life and identity comes from advertising. We are told that we are the center of the world, that we are superior, and we should enjoy ourselves at all costs. But this formation stands opposed to the humility of Christ, who emptied Himself in order to become one of us and redeem His creation.

The Rite of Forgiveness stands as a counter-formational practice. It reminds us that our sin is more than a collection of things we have done or not done, it is a condition like air pollution that we all contribute to and suffer from. As we stand across from one another and ask forgiveness for the way our sin pollutes the world in which we all live, we are formed into the kind of people who can own our brokenness and live in humility and love.

It was a beautiful practice. I was deeply moved as I confessed to our community and friends to my mother-in-law and to Erin. Thank you for engaging this uncomfortable and holy practice.

Have a listen to the full teaching and practice.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s continue the practice of forgiveness. Is there anyone God might be inviting you to humble yourself toward and ask for forgiveness? We will also continue our practice of imaginative prayer. This week’s original contemplation was written by Joan Kelley, and it places us in the boat with the apostles as Jesus calms the storm.

1.21.18 The Public Life of Christ

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Last night, we continued our contemplation of the life and ministry of Christ. Gail Donahue led us through a meaningful exploration of hospitality. Hospitality is more than table settings, well cooked meals, and welcoming people into our homes. We can extend hospitality to everyone we interact with on a daily basis.

We see in the way Jesus was with people that extending hospitality is not simply nice to do. It is something we must do. The life of Jesus demonstrates that God’s heart is overflowing with hospitality. Gail shared the key elements of bringing hospitality into our everyday lives, and guided us in a practice that helped us experience the hospitality of Jesus and extend that hospitality back to God and to those in our lives.

Have a listen to the full teaching and practice.

Kingdom Practices
This week, let’s rest in the hospitality of Christ, and extend God’s loving hospitality to those in our lives. We are also continuing our practice of imaginative prayer. Our latest original contemplation was written by Gail, and it places us in a parable that demonstrates God’s extraordinary hospitality, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

1.7.18 Discovering the Will of God

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It was so great to be back together with everyone last night and continue our journey through the second movement of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Our opening liturgy led us through a reflection on the baptism of Christ. We rested in the personal love of God, and soaked in the words of the Lord, “You are my child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

Then Ashlee helped us move away from experiencing God’s will as a formula to solve and build a foundation of connectivity, gratitude and retreat. In Jesus, we see that every part of discovering God’s will happens in the presence of the Lord. I continue to sit with something Ashlee said as we transitioned into the practice. Do I want God’s loving presence more than I want an answer to a question?

Ashlee then guided us through a practice of recognizing where we are in proximity to God, releasing our anxieties and fears in order to receive God’s thoughts, and resting in the God’s loving presence.

Have a listen to the full teaching and practice.

If you would like to continue exploring the will of God, we would recommend Surrender to Love, The Gift of Being Yourself, and Desiring God’s Will by David Benner.

Kingdom Practices
This week, will you join me and continue to engage the practice Ashlee taught? Will you recognize, release, and rest in God’s presence this week?

We are also continuing our practice of imaginative prayer. This week’s original contemplation was written by Lori Shoults, and it will lead us deeply into the first miracle Jesus performs in the Gospels.

12.3.17 The Call of the King

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The second movement of the Spiritual Exercises is a reflection on the life and ministry of Jesus, and we began our reflection on the life of Christ last night by celebrating the first Sunday of Advent. The opening liturgy drew out the longing within each of us for the coming of Christ.

Then Father Michael wove the themes of Advent into the second movement of the Exercises. The journey of Advent, Father Michael said, is one of “coming to a fuller awareness of Christ breaking into the world, breaking into our lives.” He shared five ways we can prepare to receive the presence of Jesus before leading us in an Ignatian contemplation from the second movement of the Exercises, The Call of Christ the King.

Have a listen to the full teaching and practice.

Kingdom Practices
For the duration of our time in the second movement we want to practice the spiritual discipline of imaginative prayer. In order to help our community engage this practice, we have written and recorded ten original contemplations. Each one was written by a member of our community, and these contemplations will help us enter a Gospel story and meet personally with Jesus.

Every Monday our email will include a link to a new prayer. This week, we begin with an original contemplation written by Father Michael. This contemplation centers on the Annunciation, Mary’s beautiful response to God’s invitation. Please make some time this week to engage our practice.

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.

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?