Revisiting “Appreciative Inquiry” as a Powerful Spiritual Practice

“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”

 

I’ve always know that Spiritual Formation is what helps open our heart-awareness and enables us to live into that as a deepening reality.  This awareness describes pretty much why I feel so called and so committed to offer opportunities for contemplative practices.

As we find ourselves here together in a time of exploration of some crucial questions, FUMCFW remains one of the most vital churches in the country, uniquely placed years ago in an energized and thriving downtown.

As always, even in the midst of crisis we are trying to discern as a whole church the same three questions that guided our 2017 Focus First strategic planning process that has now led us to a new place of awareness and vision:

“Who are we?”

“What are we called to do?”

“Who is our neighbor?”

And, equally important to gathering answers and opinions about these questions we find within them — and in  the uncertainties of this time —  a new opportunity to build a more gracious community with compelling power to Love God. Serve People. And Transform Lives — and now in new ways! As we grow in this new ability to listen deeply to others (from a distance), we become more aware of what it means to be a “beloved community.”

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 and however brokenness happens.

So if we play this golden opportunity right, I believe the process will actually sow the seeds for an awakening to the deep power of compassion.

During our Focus First planning process, our consultant Susan Beaumont introduced us to something we’ve been calling “Appreciative Inquiry.” 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 for that imagery). 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)

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 a few years ago from Shalem that seems esprcially relevant today entitled “Compassion through Contemplation.”

Grace and peace in all your listening, learning, and loving,

Dr. Len Delony

Director of Spiritual Formation

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