“Christian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather, they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice [and Presence] of God.”
— Craig Dykstra, “Practicing Our Faith”
In recent weeks you may or may not have noticed that many people have participated in what has been called “Focus First” Groups throughout our church. Whether you have been here 70 years or just 7 days, your voice matters.
We are in a time of exploration of some crucial questions. FUMCFW is one of the most vital churches in the country that was uniquely placed years ago in what, now more than ever, is an energized and thriving downtown. To give us guidance, we are trying to discern as a whole church these three questions: “Who are we?”, “What are we called to do?”, and “Who is our neighbor?”
We want as many people as possible to participate (including you!). If you haven’t had a chance yet, please take 15 minutes to fill out the brief survey. And if possible, please participate in the “Focus First” Groups.
The information we gather is crucial in helping us discern as a church where to focus and what to do in years to come. So this will have influence on generations to come.
BUT equally important to the gathering of information and hearing of opinions, this is an opportunity to build a more gracious community that has the kind of compelling power to transform lives. In small groups, as we grow in our ability to listen deeply to others, we become more aware of what it means to be a “beloved community.”
And in our own awakening to God’s Real Presence, we become more present to the power of compassion that naturally seeks healing and wholeness wherever brokenness happens.
So if we play this golden opportunity right, I believe the process will not only help us gather data, but will actually sew the seeds for an awakening to the deep power of compassion.
At the heart of these one-on-one and small group encounters is something we’ve been calling “Appreciative Inquiry.” Susan Beaumont is our consultant who introduced this term and recommends this process. Because it is not the usual way of gathering information, it can feel a bit uncomfortable at first. But for most participants, once they settle into the intentional listening process, it becomes an opening for fun surprises and deeply meaningful conversation.
The norm in our culture tends to put and keep us on “the hamster wheel of the mind” (thanks to Dr. Tim Bruster who mentioned that in a recent sermon). We can get so focused on the many things we think we need to do, that we are numbed and blinded by the blur of our own busyness.
Instead, in this countercultural architecture of our time we call “Appreciative Inquiry,” we are participating in a “Spiritual Practice” of deep listening that opens us to a fresh sense of the Presence of God. And in that process and real Presence, we discover that we are not worn out, just doing our duty, but we are participating in something bigger than us that “makes everything new.” (Rev. 21:5)
Susan Beaumont and I both were greatly influenced by our participation in a Spiritual Guidance program at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Being intentional about building times for deep listening and “being present to God’s Presence” is not counter to that culture, but is the norm for spiritual discernment and experiencing God’s power of compassion.
I offer as part of a benediction a newsletter I received through email a few days ago from Shalem entitled “Compassion through Contemplation.”
Grace and peace in all your listening, learning, and loving,