An older woman who lived in a neighborhood with increasing crime was walking from her blue Chevy with her arms loaded with recent purchases, to the upstairs apartment where she lived alone. It was dusk. As she made her way quickly toward her home, two young men stepped out from behind some cedar bushes and walked toward her…
The spiritual journey in Christ is all about learning how to navigate the reality that life is constant change. And—if you’re a person who resists change when it is painful, join the human race! This is a major reason why religions were born—to create salvation (wholeness) for ourselves and the world by learning how to live well in the face of constant change.
And this is why it is so helpful to have a faith community with which to learn and share and have help in navigating the challenges in the “letting go of what was”… so that we can actually experience God’s transformative change (resurrection) as the goodness which is indeed more than the sum of its parts. A new way, something larger than the sum of its parts, is created when we step into the Flow of the Holy Spirit or Transforming Power, which we often call God or God’s Will.
In our 4th week of Parables All Abilities Inclusion Worship, we are taking a look at this 4th aspect of our Christian community: transformative power or Holy Spirit Action. We’ve talked already about the significance of diversity, vulnerability, inclusivity, and being willing to swim in a different direction than the mainstream. This Sunday we’re going to reflect on how we experience transformation in our lives by being attentive to the Christ-ness embedded in the world and in each of us.
As the men walked toward her with heavy, purposeful steps, eyeing her laden arms, the woman exploded with relief: “Oh! How good to see you here! I was just wondering how I was ever going to make it all the way to my door with all this, and suddenly God provided angels to help me! Our neighborhood needs more good young men like you looking out for ladies like me…”
The first thing we need to remember about stepping into the Flow of Spirit or Transforming Power, is to connect to the Christ-ness Within, or our Core Self. It’s super hard to change the patterns of violence around us without the spiritual practice of living from our deepest, truest self. There’s lots of ways to do this, and the Church has given us lots of models we can practice and learn from. One of the easiest to practice every day, throughout the day, is to simply recall a time that you felt deeply alive. I learned this recently from a 10-day training I completed through the Quaker Friends Peace Teams where we learned practices essential for creating cultures of peace.
Close your eyes and remember a moment of feeling incredibly joyful, engaged, at peace, and connected to life. This is the experience of God within you. This is who you are at your core as an expression of God in the world today.
Now try to remember what it felt like in your body. Draw the feeling of it—try using your non-dominant hand with as many colors as you can find in your crayon box. Add three words of your choice to the picture. Post this feeling-picture portrait of yourself up on your refrigerator or folded up for easy access in your backpack, and practice stopping throughout each day to be mindful of who you really ARE. (Remember that bit in Genesis about being made in the image and likeness of God? Yeah, that’s actually true.)
Periodically throughout the day, breathe deeply, release any distressing emotions, and hang the stresses of life onto your strong skeleton as you stop and place your awareness lightly and often into the felt-body memory of who you are at your core as a child of God.
The two young men heard the relieved words of the older woman with the heavy bags from the supermarket, and without even looking at each other they simultaneously stepped forward to offer to help her carry them to her apartment door. She chatted with them as they walked, and she shared with them what it felt like to feel so vulnerable as an older person. The young men didn’t respond, but simply said thank you when they set down the last bag inside her door and walked off.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, s/he is a new creature; the old things have passed away: behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
We have a tendency to forget that when we decide to make it our practice to wake up over and over each day to the beautiful Christ-ness embedded in us and in the world, that we no longer need to practice violence in the world. But it’s something that we do each and every time we find ourselves unable to see what is right and good in every person.
We practice violence whenever we don’t stop and recognize the judgment that naturally arises in us whenever we see something or someone we think is different, bad, inferior, or threatening to our status quo—-i.e. something or someone which may require us to change our perceptions of the world.
This is violent behavior because when we judge without stopping to recognize and question it, we cut ourselves off from that person or thing. We make them an “other,” and they fall out of our hearts. And perhaps you’ve noticed how painful this is in your heart, even if it’s satisfying to your ego and your sense of being right or better than.
Here’s a little list of guides to help us use God’s Holy Spirit/Transforming Power in ourselves and in the world. This is helpful stuff as we find ways to practice our Oneness in Christ together:
- Seek to resolve conflicts by reaching for common ground.
- Reach for that something good in others.
- Listen with your whole self, not just your judgment, which has a tendency to either put people down or put people up on pedestals. Put-ups are as dangerous as put- downs because you are judging yourself as inferior and incapable of accessing God’s same Transforming Power in your own life.
- Base your position on truth.
- Be ready to revise your position, if it is wrong.
- Expect to experience great inward power to act.
- Risk being creative rather than violent.
- Use surprise and humor.
- Learn to trust your inner sense of when to act.
- Be willing to suffer for what is true.
- Be patient and persistent.
- Build community based on honesty, respect, and caring.
(from Peace and Conscience Studio Training, Ann Arbor, MI 2017)
Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And the psalmist calls out for help from the divine in facing change when she says:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
May it be so for all of our communities, whether they seem friendly or dangerous to our judging minds.