Freed to Say Yes

by Dustin Davis, Spiritual Formation Team

When it comes to church life, I have a hard time saying no. If someone is needed to teach a class, cook for the congregation, or fill an open preaching slot, I can usually be counted on to step up to the plate. When it comes to the spiritual life, I have a hard time saying yes. If God is urging me to take the next step on my journey, detach from my ego to honestly but lovingly look at my motivations and judgements, or simply notice God’s presence all around, I will usually sweep it under the rug. (Why doesn’t God just ask me to plan worship instead?) This is why I find Mary so inspiring.

In the birth narrative in Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be the Son of God. (Talk about disruptive!) How, Mary wonders, can this be? The angel assures her, “Do not be afraid… for nothing will be impossible with God,” By the end of their encounter Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:26-38). Can you imagine not only saying yes to such a request, but saying it so freely and completely? I can only guess that Mary was responding from the deep well within that springs forth as a result of a rich and connected spiritual life.

St. Francis of Assisi once wrote in Letter to All the Faithful, “We are mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ when we carry him in our hearts and in our bodies, lovingly, and with a pure and sincere conscience, and give birth to him through the working of his grace in us which should shine forth as an example to others.” Certainly Mary’s yes, carrying Jesus, and then giving birth to him shines as an example for us today of what total freedom and commitment in and to God looks like, but can I really do the same?

St. Francis would say yes. In fact, he is saying that all are called to the sacred and profound task of bearing and birthing Jesus into this world and by so doing declaring the advent, or coming, of the Kingdom of God in our own time and place. Joan Chittister is surely saying the same when she writes in The Liturgical Year, “It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us.” You see, we are not just waiting for baby Jesus to show up. It is through our actions during our waiting, our saying yes, that Jesus comes again and again into this world!

As we begin this advent journey, there is one thing I think important to note. When Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she surely did not know the particulars of the journey that lie ahead, let alone its scope or impact. (She might have said no if she did!) The same is true for us. To say yes to God means letting go of our preplanned destinations and well-mapped routes to get there. Through intimate relationship with God – the work of the spiritual life – we come to a liberating trust that God sees the “bigger picture” that we cannot. Although perhaps scary at first, if we can learn to travel in trust like Mary, we can also travel assured like Mary that nothing is impossible with God. We are freed to say yes in response to the one who first says yes to us!

Spiritual Practice: What is currently restricting your free yes in response to God’s deep invitation in your life? Pray for the ability to freely offer your yes to God.

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What We Crave

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

(Reflections from Barberton Community of Christ’s 5th Wednesday Swiss Steak Community Dinner)

Last night I went to church and engaged the tasks of meal making and hospitality preparing with a group of disciples who welcomed me as family though some I had never met.

As we waited for the community to arrive, we traded stories while mashing potatoes and cutting pies.

I talked poetry and theology in the dinner line, watching neighbors take heaping helpings of a home cooked meal-

Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Swiss steak
Salad
Coleslaw (you will want to ask Kay for the recipe)

Pies and brownies around the corner

Bread and butter on the tables

We were sent home with a potato masher, 3 containers of leftovers, and half a strawberry rhubarb pie…

And embraces so tender and genuine that I left the building with a teary warmth I’ve yearned for, the kind of whole-hearted community nurturing my heart seeks.

I can see the comfort this type of gathering brings, why the poor and the elderly show up to be tended in body and spirit.

Something here is the church as it’s meant to be- a grace offering with no agenda, love unrestricted.

And still, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of grief for these trying-to-be-faithful people as they struggle against the same trends of decline that have been afflicting and reforming the church all over. 25 members strong on a Sunday morning, they wonder what God wants to make of them, wonder why more young families don’t want to come. On a critical day, I could offer a whole list of reasons.

But as I bask in the lingering glow of being truly loved by the body of Christ, however small, a different thought emerges…

Perhaps quieter than all the other voices aimed at “fixing” the church.

It says things like:
These are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased
and
The kingdom has come near
and even this:
The salvation of the world is in loving community such as this.

For a moment, I hold in my heart’s gaze all the world’s suffering, including those responsible for inflicting it, and I imagine all of us in the dinner line together…

Ruthellen’s tender embrace welcoming each one, assuring us,

“there is plenty, take what you need.”

We sit at the table and stories are shared and souls are mended and the whole earth begins to heal.

This is what love can do. This is the secret treasure we hold that the world craves. This is what I long for deep in my bones. This is the hunger that keeps drawing us together.

This is how the living Christ shows up and breathes upon us-
Peace.