by Pratt Davis
Here it is a year from when I wrote an article for the church newsletter to report on my attendance at Annual Conference. This past week I was back for another year's Conference at Lake Junaluska. It was a different conference this year because 2015 is a voting year to elect delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2016. That means much time was spent in voting. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful container of worship experiences running throughout the conference. Two of the most touching services for me are the Commissioning Service and the Service of Ordination of Deacons and Elders. As I thought about what to report back to you from the conference, it was the sermon given at the Commissioning Service by Rev. Dr. Kim Cape that most set me thinking.
Dr. Cape directed her remarks, titled What Would Wesley Do? to the men and women being commissioned to ministerial service. She chose this title because John Wesley gave very specific instructions to those beginning service as ministers. The instructions describe five practices that Wesley exhorted ministers to follow. As Dr. Cape explained the five practices for ministers, I realized they are the practices for any of us who want to live an authentic meaningful life. And as I considered them, I thought about how we need to engage in these practices from a deeper perspective than the one we ordinarily use. The ministers were instructed to:
We need to pray. I have spent all my life in the pew, but I have only heard prayers of thanksgiving, intercessory prayer and prayers of petition in the church. These are wonderful prayer practices, but they come from the perspective of the human personality. Whatever our prayer practice, we can experience a transformative power of prayer when we include a practice of contemplative or Centering Prayer, a practice of sitting in silence. By stopping the words and just sitting in the presence of God, the centering principle of my life shifts from my personality to my soul essence. My attitude is no longer at the mercy of life events, I operate from a place of deeper wisdom.
We need to study. I believe we need to study about the world and we need to study spiritual practices. Dr. Cape told the ministers to select a topic and read a book a month on that topic for a year. I would say if you can't read that much, read an article or report. If you don't enjoy reading, find a good source for audio/visual or audio books, articles, or news reports and listen. Start with something you are interested in. We in the pews have not been exposed to learning about spiritual practices unless we belong to a large, usually metropolitan, church; and even those have limited offerings. Books and articles, both printed and electronic, abound on topics including the Enneagram, the Labyrinth, Celtic Christianity, and Dream Work to name a few. We do need a source to ensure we find reliable authors and presenters. The Internet has some wonderful sites to expand our understanding and offer experiences. Check out Spirituality and Practice at spiritualityandpractice.com
, Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation at https//cac.org/
, and Father Thomas Keating's site at contemplativeoutreach.org. We are designed to be life-long learners.
Be a Great Preacher
We need to be Great Preachers. Dr. Cape stressed the need for ministers to be Great, Great, Great preachers. What about those of us who will never set a foot in the pulpit? It may sound trite, but I believe we lay people preach a sermon every time we interact with other people. Someone once asked Mother Theresa what they could do to help improve awful conditions in the world. Mother Theresa replied, "You can smile more." Recently, when clerks have asked me, "How are you," I reply, "I'm well and I hope you are." Two people in one week thanked me for asking. If we are anxious or impatient in line we can practice a breath prayer, or focus on our breath. Impatience and rudeness will melt away. We can't think about breathing and be mad at the same time. When we live out of an attitude of joy and peace, we are preaching great sermons.
We need to Stay Connected. I think we need two kinds of groups we are connected to. The first is the family and community we live in. These social groups that eat together, share service projects, support each other in time of trouble and celebrate with each other in time of joy are vital. That is staying connected on the surface of life. In the second half of life we also need a group of soul friends with whom we can share our deepest longings, our questions and our soul stirrings. This group of companions on our spiritual journey is essential as our focus of living changes from making our way in the world to being in relation to the Soul. That is staying connected at the depths of life.
We need to Grow Up. Most of us think we pretty well have this practice done okay by the time we start our own families, don't we? We are pretty good people, aren't we? I mean, we don't kill anyone and we only take a little from others and snapping at my spouse isn't serious. So what if I am moody or depressed sometimes, isn't everybody? It isn't so bad that that fellow sitting down the pew from me is someone I can't stand, I speak to him during the Peace, don't I? And I may get angry at the government, but hey if they would fix things I would be happy. I know I cut that guy off in traffic, but aren't I entitled to get ahead of anybody driving that slow? The new preacher is a woman - I really don't want a woman preacher. Who does he think he is, breaking line in front of me? Instead of trying to follow a set of rules about how to act grown up, pushing down our emotions, and trying to make ourselves be Nice, we need to start the Growing Up process from the inside of ourselves. When I understand why I react to certain things, what makes me dislike another person, and what gets into me when I lose my temper, then I can move forward on the path of Growing Up into the whole person that God created me to be.
Pray, Study, Be a Great Preacher, Stay Connected, and Grow Up are important practices for our lives. You may say, "I can't do all that," or "it sounds boring to me." Start with the Centering Prayer piece. It does take some time, but life just goes smoother when I keep myself lined up with the Divine Wisdom that flows through all of life. Practice for just ten minutes a day for a while, then check in with how you are doing. Pick one of the other practices and begin working with it. You will find these practices falling into place as you put your attention on them. Over time we will discover that we are in the process of becoming the whole persons God created us to be.
Pratt Davis is a member of Sparta UMC and an avid UM Woman. Pratt practices Insight Meditation, is a student of night-time dreams, and writes articles for her church’s monthly newsletter.