Widening Space with Others

Widening Space with Others
by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries

I believe that Spirit is seeking incarnation in every person I encounter. No one is outside the scope of God’s unfathomably wide love and grace. This Advent season, we open our hearts, preparing to receive Christ in and through one another.

LISTEN DEEPLY. 

“We can change the world if we just start listening to one another again.”
–Margaret Wheatley, Turning to One Another

There is nothing like the full presence of another person, undistracted and completely available. I am always grateful when I encounter those people who can make me feel as though they have nothing more important to do than listen thoroughly to what I most need to say. Imagine if we could hold this quality of space for one another more often. Imagine if, even in our disagreements, we could pause the rise of opinions and rebuttals to listen instead with curiosity, compassion, and availability. What if we truly desired to hear one another’s stories, to understand one another’s life experiences, to listen with courage into each other’s fears until they dissolve into love?

Of course, there are complexities. Some level of mutuality is required for conversation to move into these depths. And yet, I believe it is worth the risk. The hunger for human connection is as strong as it has ever been. I still believe that taking the time to honor (or restore) the worth of another by offering my full presence and attention can transform and heal. I even believe I can be transformed and healed if I can find the courage to reciprocate vulnerability when the space is opened to me.

REALLY SEE THE SACRED OTHER. 

“… encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get– in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing– which is where God’s beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.” –Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in The World

The need for a quick lunch prompted a stop at Taco Bell. My inner state was the opposite of receptive. I was anxious, hurried, frustrated, and impatient. It was the clank of a coin on the counter that interrupted my self-absorption and suddenly sharpened my attention to my surroundings. The cashier was opening a new roll of coins when they slipped from her hand and spilled out on the counter and the floor. I noticed the look of panic in her eyes as she rushed to pick them up while the line lengthened.

My heart burst open with compassion and I truly saw her for the first time even though she had taken my order just minutes before. This humanizing accident humbled me into curiosity. I wondered what her life was like and what was on her heart as she rushed to pick up the coins and resume the orders. As the minutes passed, time slowed down while my heart expanded. When my number was called, I caught her eye and said, thank you. I hope she felt that she was really seen.

I confess that I often move through the world in this hurried way and miss seeing the people right before me. I turn others into characters in my own life story or obstacles on my path. It is easier to live in frustration, fear, or misunderstanding when we don’t slow down enough to recognize our shared humanity. Our capacity for recognizing the divine life in another is directly related to our capacity for seeing that person as they really are. This is the sacred relational space in which Christ becomes incarnate.

STAY OPEN. 

“A deep place in the other reaches out toward a deep place in you, hoping for a connection. Their heart calls to yours, and when you’re at your listening best, you heart responds, ‘I am here.’ Listening with your heart invites you to stay open to another even if their feelings are much different from yours, even if the expression of those feelings is stronger than you expect. In doing so, you heart will lead you to encounters with your own wholeness too.” –James E. Miller, The Art of Listening in Healing Way

I am friends with a person on Facebook with whom I often disagree. Almost every post I see makes me cringe. I will confess to wrestling with the temptation to “unfollow” this person so that I don’t have to be confronted with what makes me uncomfortable. Instead, I remember when we had an opportunity to listen deeply to each other’s stories. My heart stays open with love for this person because we shared a profound and unexpected experience of sacred connection beneath our politics and opinions.

I believe words have power– that they can be devastating and degrading, costly and consequential. The same can be true of reducing people to words that only ever express a portion of who they are. (It is also important to acknowledge that there are truly toxic and destructive relationships that require hard choices about how to honor our own and other’s worth.) It takes great courage to stay open to one another. My hope is that others stay open to me too, trusting that there is always more to me than what they see on the surface. This Advent, I yearn to recover trust in the basic goodness of other people, the divine life present in each one, and the redemption that is still possible for us all. This is the essential starting place for the important conversations we need to have to make whole a broken world.

What does it look like to widen the space to receive the Sacred Other in your life? What might it feel like to be received into a space wide enough for you? Where are the deep places in others reaching out toward the deep places in you this Advent season? 

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

A Place of Confrontation

Lenten Practice: Silence
Daily Act: Turn off the radio, TV, phone, or computer, and simply work or rest in silence. As you hear the sounds of life around you, allow yourself to be filled with awe and gratitude at the presence of God’s Spirit in diverse ways.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“HOLY MYSTERY, I AM SPEECHLESS IN YOUR PRESENCE.”

Today’s post is a reflection on the practice of silence written by Dustin Davis, a member of the Community of Christ Spiritual Formation Team. May your Good Friday be holy confrontational and blessed!

A Place of Confrontation
by Dustin Davis

In my experience there are two levels of silence. The first level is a more superficial type of silence. It’s characterized by the relief that comes when a loud noise passes. Living in a city as big as Los Angeles I experience noise followed by this type of silence all the time when a circling helicopter finally flies into the distance, when screaming sirens continue down the street out of earshot or when a honking car alarm mercifully halts. Indeed, whenever I travel back to Missouri I’m struck by the silence, particularly at night. It’s restful, and it’s peaceful.

The other, and deeper, level of silence doesn’t happen spontaneously. In fact, I have to be rather intentional about it. I have to purposefully turn off the radio and tv, remove my cell phone to another room and attempt the often impossible task of quieting my own thoughts. I have to make space for this type of silence, and it’s in this place that I do my best to listen to the still small voice that is God. This kind of silence, although it may bring me peace, isn’t peaceful at all. It’s a place of confrontation.

During Lent this year I’ve been reading The Last Week by Marcus Borg. In it he examines each day, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, of Jesus’s life as narrated in the gospel of Mark. It’s been a fascinating journey, and one of the points that Borg makes abundantly clear is that the last week of Jesus’s life, what we experience this week as Holy Week, is a time of extreme confrontation with the unjust systems of the Roman empire and with those who collude and are complicit within those systems. Borg says, “As Mark tells the story, was Jesus guilty of nonviolent resistance to imperial Roman oppression and local Jewish collaboration? Oh, yes. Mark’s story of Jesus’s final week is a sequence of public demonstrations against and confrontations with the domination system. And, as all know, it killed him.”

Silence, real and deep silence, can be a scary thing. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so difficult to achieve. We wouldn’t have the countless options for distraction that we do today. It’s only in this place where we can sense God truly calling us that we are confronted with our own unjust actions and complicity in the status quo. When we put away the phones and the music and the other noise that fills our lives, our fears and insecurities and vulnerabilities raise to the top, and we hear God’s loving voice nudging us to reconciliation, to love deeper, risk greater, to seek the kingdom. This requires within us to change and to die, and we don’t often do so willingly. However, as Jesus shows us time and time again, this is the path of the disciple that we must all take.

So often we confuse the peace we seek with the simple absence of unwanted or loud noises. It’s giving up chocolate for Lent and making it to the end without cheating only to binge the next day. It feels good, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. But we have to stop fooling ourselves and recognize that there is so much more.

The good news is that we know death is not the end. Even as Jerusalem was a place of confrontation and death for Jesus, it was also a place of resurrection. We cling to the Easter promise of new life beyond our imaginings, which is good and hopeful, but it’s only once we die and live again that it stops being just a promise or a story. Our suffering is transformed into new life, into the reality we call God’s Kingdom. Only then can we call ourselves an Easter people and say we believe in the resurrection!