Christ Brings Peace

by David R. Brock

A sister in Christ came to my office last week . . . longing for peace. Her mate of many years died a year ago. By the first anniversary of his death she anticipated some healing, a returning flicker of hope. But she felt empty. The only interruption in a long silence was an unbidden whisper of her own unanswered questions: “Why, God? What meaning or purpose now? Can I trust you? Are you there, God?”

Yesterday I was reading psalms of praise and found myself asking similar questions. I couldn’t help it: “Do you really make justice and praise spring up before all the nations, God? Are you really the One who keeps faith forever? Justice for the oppressed? Food for the hungry? The captives set free? Sight for the blind? Protection for strangers, fatherless, and widows? Thwarting the wicked and establishing peace? Really?”

“Look at your creation! Talons and piercing claw, fang and crushing jaw; life robbed by stealth on silent wings; deceiving beauty that lures to the snare; agonizing death rattle of the innocent slain . . . And we haven’t yet arrived at the ‘little lower than the angels’ creature called human! Such capacity for peacemaking and creativity; such a legacy of violence and destruction, your humans, Creator, among whom ‘hate is strong and mocks the song / of peace on earth . . . .’”

I drank coffee and read the psalter in the pre-dawn darkness yesterday. Then, with a fresh cup to warm my hands and throat, sat lakeside to watch first light paint a turquoise sky and tinge gray mist to crimson as it lifted from the water. An unplanned prayer of praise, “Wow!” escaped into the morning. I couldn’t help it!

“This morning I have had the God-experience for which I have yearned so long,” says W. Paul Jones in A Table in the Desert. “I know what it means to name the Name . . . . Is God present? Everywhere, enormous in breadth, expansive in depth, and beyond us all in imagination and memory. God is the emerging consciousness which darts in and out, through and for, behind and in front, to be encountered . . . . [251-252]

In the afternoon I watched Monarchs fluttering by under that same cloudless sky. Migrating, it seemed, on a fall-of-the-year pilgrimage toward home. I felt like I was home. I couldn’t help it! And I remembered the home about which G. K. Chesterton writes in “The House of Christmas”:

To an open house in the evening
Home shall [people] come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all [people] are at home.

Jones says that a common heresy among Christians is to think of Christmas as a once-and-for-all event. We try to limit God to entering human history for thirty-three years then returning to the realm “above.” We then struggle with how a miracle that happened two thousand years ago can transform our lives and world now. Christmas is not primarily about a remembrance of things past. We are not condemned to look backward, trying to give new life or add frills to an old story. The Christian God is the One who was and is and promises forever and always to be Emmanuel, God with us. The incarnation is what God does throughout time and space—in all dimensions of the cosmos and all moments of history. [Facets of Faith, pp. 26-27]

Today, carrying all my unanswered questions, along with those of a sister who cannot feel or hope in her season of grief, I stop at 1:00 p.m. to pray the prayer of peace with Community of Christ around the world. “Christ, bring peace,” I plead.

And today, at the prayer for peace, the Daystar shines into my darkness. I look up, see, know, and know I do not know. “Christ brings peace,” I proclaim:

It is you, Jesus, born of Mary, who grants us
to say “forgive me, please,” to our families.
You teach us to pronounce “healing”
in hospital rooms, to plead “reconcile”
in our places of work, to proclaim “justice”
when we call on government representatives.
And you, Christ, in the dark of our own
weary nights, whisper in us, “Shalom.”

God, Eternal Word made flesh,
speak the language of peace
stanza by stanza into all your creation
this Christmas, and always, we pray,
in Jesus’ name.

Spiritual Practice: Pause today to pray for peace as we anticipate the One who is already here and always coming.

Community of Christ Daily Prayer for Peace: http://www.cofchrist.org/daily-prayer-for-peace

The Journey Called Trust

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“Give yourself, then, to this divine and infinite life, this mysterious cosmic activity in which you are immersed, of which you are born. Trust it. Let it surge in on you.”
Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism

The gift of disruption,
This angel visitation,
Will not be complete
In the same moment
It arrives.

Now we enter the longer part
Of the journey called
Trust
When everything has gone back to normal
But nothing has.
And we carry within us
Something we can’t yet name.

I search for an answer
Looking for the single key
To unlock the door to the future.
It will not come.

I’m as guilty as anyone,
Wanting to see where we are going,
Wanting the outcome to be some version
Of what I think I want it to be.

What is it exactly that I hope for?
What is the deepest, truest thing
That needs to continue or emerge?
How many forms might it take and
What forms might it already be taking?
Will I be present enough to see?

Can I trust the mystery of incarnation enough
To believe that the Holy is always
Coming into life in some new way?

On this long journey,
There is no bypassing
The necessary work
Of tending our inward spaces.
As long as we stay on the surface,
Surface will be all we see.
The invitation is to go deep
Into the dark unknown-
The cave, the womb, the starry night.

Temptations abound of
Avoidance and neglect,
Understandable because
Once you enter,
Nothing stays the same.

Halfway is no way.
Once trust is required
We either journey forward
Or we don’t.
Apathy and cynicism will try to get their way.
Don’t let them.
Healing is engagement.
Incarnation is embodiment.
We give ourselves over to our deep hope
And we are changed.

This fleeting visitation has meant something real
And it is coming to life in you.
Let it grow.
Trust what it will be
Even though you can’t yet see
Or maybe even imagine.
Give your whole self
To the trembling, awe-filled
YES that your heart
Has been yearning
To say.

Now we enter the longer part
Of the journey called
Trust.

Spiritual Practice: How are you invited to stay with the call of God in your life even when you can’t see where it will lead? Pray for steadiness of heart, deep trust, when uncertainty tempts you to abandon the journey.

The “Real” World

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The summer is winding down. The mosquito bites on my ankles have waned in their itching intensity. As family camps and youth camps have begun drawing toward closure, we are left with our reflections on this peculiar communal practice of going into the wilderness together to draw closer to our God and remember our belonging to one another.

It is not unusual to feel a strange dissonance in these early stages of entering back into normal daily rhythms. It may still be beyond articulation, but what one senses in the soul is a restlessness with the way things are compared to the glimpse of the way things were in a more relationally, spiritually grounded way of being. Many will have just experienced the holy relief of pure acceptance for the first time. The desire to hold on to those moments of God-presence and radical inclusion is surely an understandable feeling.

Every year, I notice something interesting as we dialogue with each other about the initial strangeness of re-entry. It has to do with what is really real. Comments will range from, “time to go back to the real world” to “camp is the real world and everything else is fake.” I find myself increasingly troubled by both ends of the “real world” spectrum and how we attempt to make meaning of these transformational moments in our lives. Isn’t all of it real?

Without integration, the experiences we’ve had lose their transformational potential in our lives and the world. The mystics throughout the centuries demonstrate that genuine spiritual experience is not meant to occur in isolation but always has real-life implications. To so quickly label one experience real and the other somehow less real is to diminish the potential for both experiences to impact each other. If this is all God’s world and God’s Spirit is incarnate everywhere within it, then all that is required of us is our attention in whatever place we are in to discover it!

Perhaps in places like youth camp and SPEC and Reunion (family camp), we find ourselves more diligently practicing attention to God’s Spirit through regular personal and communal spiritual practices like worship and prayer and shared meals and time for holy conversations. The time, which seems to be so scarce in other moments of our lives, is suddenly set-aside in abundance for this exact purpose. Does this make the other times any less real? No! Every moment, every minute is an invitation to dwell deeply in the reality of God no matter where we are or what is on our daily agenda.

In Heart of Flesh, Joan Chittister challenges us to see more clearly the link between our spirituality and the culture surrounding us. “The spiritual life, because it must be lived in the present to be real, is anything but esoteric and abstract. Culture and spirituality, in fact, are of a piece. Culture creates the framework within which the spiritual life comes to be and grow. Some people, of course, look to spirituality for refuge from the real world… But a life that takes us out of life is no life at all.”

An authentic spiritual life allows the deep roots of experiences like camp to shape the way we see the whole real world around us on a daily basis. We are not called to reject this world as some half-truth giving it our half-heartedness while counting down the days until we can escape again. We are called to draw from the reservoir within us of stargazing around the campfire and prayers for healing and inspiring messages of justice and the dream of being one in Christ to influence every detail of our daily actions. We are called now to embrace everything and everyone as real and as revelation of God’s real presence… even what we don’t want to see or accept.

The dream of shalom that has grown as a foundation in the soul does not remove us from the real but prompts us toward deeper engagement as we encounter injustice and separation of many kinds and feel that dissonant nudge reminding us of another way that can be real if we have courage enough to live its truth. We can’t forget that hungry children are also real and so are warzones and long lines on city streets waiting for the homeless shelter to open. If our spirituality is not also for these real spaces and only takes place occasionally in seclusion, we may need to ask some hard questions of ourselves.

Yet, what is also real is the power of invitation to a common table, a holy conversation, to the church which can become that place in our lives that mends the wear and tear in our shalom dream from its weeklong living. What remains real is the radical acceptance you found (even when you feel rejected) and the belonging you felt (even when you feel alone) and the relationship with the Holy that came to you with an embrace you craved (even when it’s hard to feel at times). You can trust in the realness of these things too. You can live their realness everyday and strive to make them real also for those who have never sat around a campfire singing “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.”

I would like to suggest that this year we embrace all of it as real, all of it as space for holy encounter! The fact that these incredible experiences we’ve had are real means that they can happen and become real again anywhere and anytime we open our hearts to the reality of God’s presence wherever we are!