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? 

Lenten Formation

By Janné Grover, Disciple Formation Ministries

It’s easy to have a cynical attitude regarding the benefit of Lenten disciplines. Does giving up chocolate for 40 days (minus the Sunday oases) really lead a person deeper into their call and commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ? If giving something up, or adding something to, our daily living is good for Lent; shouldn’t we be doing it all the time? I have wrestled with these questions. I’ve had the cynical attitude; but I have discovered rich layers of meaning and formation through Lenten encounter. Each experience of Lent leads me more deeply into the next. It is not simply the “giving up” or “adding to” that makes Lent meaningful. In fact, we must be careful not to let fasting and almsgiving reflect self-righteousness or self-centered privilege. Allowing our Lenten journey to shape us as disciples opens us to more fully receive again the Easter gift. Our response to Christ-like ministry is shaped in new ways when we align our deepest longings with the stubborn hope that Christ makes real in the world.

Jesus invites us into this intentional rhythm of Spirit-led ministry, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Claimed by the Spirit’s presence in baptism (Luke 3:21–22), Jesus is led by the Spirit into his wilderness experience (Luke 4:1). Filled with the Spirit, he emerges from the wilderness encounter to proclaim his mission with, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). In his wilderness experience, Jesus was tempted by the powers of the world, to which he responded with his sacred “No.” His statement of mission honors the people and circumstances to which he offers his sacred “Yes!” Exploring the deep places of our soul is not an “ordinary time” practice. Wilderness explorations are extraordinary. They cause us to look authentically at our deepest soul places and our tendencies toward resistance. Practices of sacred restraint help us focus on what matters most; to what and whom we offer our sacred “no,” as well as our sacred and joyful “Yes!” Lenten disciplines reinforce our need for life-rhythms that reflect the joy, love, peace, sorrow, and stubborn hope embodied in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Author Ted A. Smith writes, “Lent is a kind of spring training for Ordinary Time.” In the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is when we focus on our call as disciples through Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Lent is a time for focused spiritual renewal and deepening commitment to what it means to follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. This time of renewal and deepened commitment shapes how we are able to magnify our calling to Christ-like ministry. Lenten practices help guide and shape our response to loosening the bonds of injustice, freeing the oppressed, caring for the homeless poor and hungry, and nurturing right relationships (adapted from Isaiah 58:6–7). This is at the heart of the call for all disciples—to accept Christ’s mission as our mission. The words have become so familiar to us it is easy to think we have been fully formed in our understanding. But “God has work for us to do” (“Till All the Jails Are Empty,” Community of Christ Sings 303). There is deep, soul-tending, disciple-forming work for each of us to do. This work is not so that individuals can bask in self-righteousness. The work of Lent guides us to more fully and authentically engage in the world-changing mission of embodied Easter hope.

MAKING SPACE FOR GOD

Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: Choose to eliminate one task from your schedule today. Spend that time intentionally dwelling in God’s presence, even if only for a moment!
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“OPEN ME TO RECEIVE MORE OF YOU.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Creating space can be hard. Our basic need to feel needed competes with the humble reminder that we are not in control.

This is what Lent has come to say to us. Yes, our responsibilities and commitments matter. We are connected to one another and our choices impact all the other lives in contact with our own. Yet, it is a wider perspective that Lent brings us. It is an invitation to see everything we did not make and cannot do, to cease the anxious pace of “not enough”, to discover renewal in humility.

It is the invitation to rest, for once, for a moment, maybe even for a while, in our belovedness as children of God- created, enough.

A couple weeks ago, some responsibilities were canceled due to frigid temperatures and harsh winter winds in Northeast Ohio. I allowed the winter storm to bring a Sabbath blessing. I stopped. I laid down everything expected of me. As I eased into the day, I felt my anxieties lessen. The world did not stop after all. What I had perceived as a thin thread holding everything together in my life began to feel more like a rope- reliable, strong to hold.

This isn’t just about feeling good individually. Sabbath has systemic impact. Just as we think everyone around us is impacted when we lay something down, everyone is impacted when we refuse to stop and breathe. Everyone includes the people closest to us, our communities, and the earth that is our home. Sabbath keeping is an act of justice, a radical counter-cultural way in a world that measures worth by accumulation of busyness and achievement.

Space making is peace making.
Sabbath is the threshold to shalom.

May you breathe deeper this day as you create space within for the God who says- you are enough.

The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.