Wonder at the More that Is Unfolding

by Denise Hill

I always find myself returning every so often to a commencement address Alice Walker gave in 2002. It’s entitled “All Praises to the Pause; the Universal Moment of Reflection.” In it she describes the fullness and the gift of taking a moment after something major has completed; or as life shifts from stage to stage; or as we sense the unique shiftings and subtle transformations in our lives — of taking a moment to pause and reflect before launching with all haste into the flux that is constant movement without a moment to take in and notice one’s breath… one’s being. She writes:

“…’the pause’. The moment when something major is accomplished [or completed, or sensed as shifting into something different] and we are so relieved to finally be done with it that we are already rushing, at least mentally, into The Future. Wisdom, however, requests a pause…the universal place of stopping. The universal moment of reflection.”

The sacred pause, in capitalistic society that pushes hustle & grind culture; productivity over play, and work over reflection, is indeed sacred…set apart…holy…a chosen thing…intentional…other. And yet, the sacred pause is just as Kin-dom as the mustard seed plant; or a field someone sold all to have because they had the imagination to see it; or children and their energy & ways of being & knowing. It is in the sacred pause: the pause of play; the pause of looking to & being intentional about our sabbath; and the pause of sacred, reflective gazing where we can encounter God……

In the gospels before the Spirit came; before Jesus ascended; before the disciples went out into all the world; before the letters had been written; before the acts had been performed, there was, in a room, somewhere set apart from the temple, a sacred pause…a moment set aside for sacred, reflective gazing. Something happened. Something happened that turned the world of Jesus’ followers upside down & inside out. And here they were left with this moment. Left with this trauma. Left with joys, some of them. Left with fear & anxiety, others of them. All of them in this moment together. Jesus appears. And Jesus invites Thomas to look at his wounds…to look at what happened to him…to confront how the-something that happened in the world had impacted him — intimately…viscerally; and to encounter how that-happening had now transformed him — somehow the same, and somehow not; somehow still Jesus, and somehow the Risen Christ.

I am reminded by this scene, that Love invites us to look. Love invites us to reflect & ponder.Love invites us into intentional imaginative wonder & awe. Love invites us to encounter a transformed/revealed God, so that we ourselves might be transformed — might be revealed.

Beloveds, something happened in the world. We find ourselves in the room of this pandemic-moment together. Each of us with a different point of entry. All of us, with a story of our worlds shifted. Some of us carry joy. Some of us carry trauma & anxiety. Some of us have grown. Some of us find ourselves picking up & putting back together shattered pieces. All of us have been changed. And here is God, in the midst of our moment, inviting us to look — to lay wide our hands, to run our fingers along the contours of the lines of our palms — to encounter, to touch, to see what it is that has happened to us, and how we have been transformed. How the God in us, has been revealed, anew.

This summer, we prepare our hearts & minds, not to go back — there is no going back to before the pandemic — but to move forward into what God has imagined this moment to be for us, individually and collectively. We ask ourselves: who am I, after a year plus of encountering God wherever I am — who have I become when the sacred place has been the place all around me? Who and how shall we be when we come together to collectively express, share, and encounter the divine we each bring, together?

This summer, may we continue to pause long enough to make room for play, fun, and delighting in those things that bring us joy! This summer, may we continue to pause long enough to establish & sit in our sabbath. And this summer, may we pause long enough for sacred gazing & reflection as we continue to gather for virtual worship — here…there…in our rooms set apart with Jesus, preparing our hearts & minds for when we gather in-person.

“It is the pause that gives us this clarity, this certainty. It is our time of gathering the vision together…”
(Alice Walker)

Amen. Ashe.

Tools

Tools

Some time ago my uncle had a house in Gary, Indiana that needed major rehabbing. Though he tapped me — a lazy teenager — to help with these renovations, I still believe my uncle is a decent man. There is nothing on Earth lazier than I was at 13 years old: if it didn’t happen in a classroom or on the baseball field, for my taste it was totally superfluous (read: Why God are  you making me scrape tile from this floor?). In a million lifetimes I will never forget yelling at that forsaken device mislabeled a “tile scraper,” cursing its maker for being so inept.

The day I built enough courage to quit I went to my uncle in tears, hands outstretched towards him to return his infernal scraper. “This thing is no good,” I had calmed myself enough to say, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” My uncle got up from whatever important thing he was doing, walked to the bathroom, placed the scraper on the floor, and swiftly removed the remaining shards of tile. Seriously. He then turned to me, handed over the scraper and said, “There’s nothing wrong with this tool. Just have to use it the right way.”

That statement, my friends, is what you call a “homerun” (in case you were wondering). My uncle was spot-on:  there was nothing wrong with the tool but I was using it wrong. Results come when we use tools in the right way. The tool itself possesses no inherent goodness (or malevolence). It is like a gun that can start a race…or start a war.

One tool in particular has, since its inception, sparked more moral debate than perhaps any other invention in human history: THE INTERNET. One day I was arguing with a friend about whether The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was an actual album or a compilation of b-sides: the internet settled this life-changing debate for us. I can rate doctors and hotels, and find cheap airline tickets: awesome and awesome. But to highlight the ambiguity: I can participate in the denigration of women by watching hours of pornography, and I can copy-and-paste an entire paper for class. Studies have shown that intellectual plagiarism is at an all-time high, while the private life — once held sacred and inalienable — has all but disappeared. The Internet didn’t do a thing: WE DID THIS.

The Internet has never been a stronger or more reliable tool than perhaps over the past couple of weeks, when it was the center of a revolution story in Egypt. The people, tired of their leader, had written revolution songs and made appeals via…the Internet. The movement became so strong that the government SHUT DOWN the Internet, but the people got it back. Then they documented their mostly-passive protest via…the Internet. Most of us were kept current of Egypt’s happenings via…the Internet. Through the web Egyptians were able to create a network of supporters so strong that, seriously everyone knew that Mubarak was going to resign. The struggle of a city on the other side of the world became a local reality, and morphed into an international philosophical debate on democracy…through the Internet. The Internet was how we were able to keep in contact with members of University Church who are living in Egypt RIGHT NOW!

I am impressed but more importantly convinced that every tool has the potential to become a gift. This is why I look at humanity and cannot dare to judge a single life. Indeed, it is why we ought to take a serious look at developing our gifts. For our knowledge and experience is a tool…what if each of us used our tools to their fullest capacity?

Part of my work as a pastor is to help our community be attuned to our spiritual gifts and how we can make better use of them. For throughout history God has taken “tools” thought of for one purpose, then endowed them with the Holy Spirit to do totally new works through them! Take David the shepherd or Jesus the carpenter for instance:  I bet David was a pretty good shepherd, but he had more to offer. The farmer cultivates crops while they are yet underground in a belief that the seed has more to offer. In the same way I believe each of us has more to offer, and I’m hoping we will take the time to cultivate dreams and gifts for the life of our community. Now is the time to prepare (that is what we’ll be doing at the church-wide retreat, March 18-20), and while it is still cold we can ask:  “What more can I be used for?”  “How have I been misused over the years?”

There are some rusty tools that need re-sharpening, and some new tools we haven’t discovered yet! Exciting times we live in!

Your “tool” (in the good way),
 Pastor Julian

Writing Spiritual Autobiographies

Writing Spiritual Autobiographies

—by Julian DeShazier

After talking about the power of stories, it is time to craft our own “spiritual autobiographies” – stories of the development of our faith. While we are doing this as a congregation during our 9am Bible Study time, you can follow this page for weekly updates and to do your own creating from afar!

January 12 session notes

-Note the difference between a “case” (something that happened) and a “story” (the wisdom that emerges from that happening). We are not writing a series of cases/trying to craft a complete history, but will articulate the major beliefs that we have/once had and mine our experiences to tell the “story” of how we got to that place.

-Howard Thurman notes the “time, effort, and imagination” required to arrive at a place of understanding. This work we are doing together will require all 3, and we are particularly interested in imagination – playing around with ideas swirling inside of us – without judgment or a need to “do” anything just yet. This means that you will perhaps feel uncomfortable spending time with an old understanding/belief that you now reject, but it is important to take ownership of what we once believed or still believe.

-Reading the two creation stories in Genesis, we discover that:

1. there are many sources that come together to write Genesis (J,E,D,P) and that we also have many “sources” inside of us to tap into in writing this. I think of my identity as a son (that’s one source), or a college student (another), or a pastor (yet another), and how each of those have shaped my faith in explicit ways. Feel free to call upon your many selves/sources in crafting your spiritual autobiography.

2. those sources may at times seem conflicting: let them. Don’t worry about making it all fit together nicely

ASSIGNMENT 1:

-Make a list of the many sources/identities you will call upon to tell your faith story. A list for now is fine, but if you want to write more, do it!

ASSIGNMENT 2:

-Answer these 3 questions:

  1. What beliefs/understandings do you have that you have had for most of your life?
  2. What beliefs do you have that are more recent/not a part of your tradition of origin?
  3. What beliefs did you once have but don’t have anymore?

January 19 session notes

-We talked about trips we’ve been on that have been important for our development.
-Reading Genesis 12:1-9, we discussed Abram’s journey from Haran to Canaan, places that shaped Abraham, with important contributions from Allen Reynolds, who recently returned from the Holy Land.

-Question: What places and people have shaped your spiritual journey?

ASSIGNMENT:

-Go think about the beliefs and values you have now that are tied to particular places and people. Record these for next week’s session, where we will begin WRITING our spiritual autobiographies.

January 26 session notes

-We read Daniel 6 – one of the most famous stories in the Bible – and made two observations:

1. When remembering this story on your own, before reading, notice how parts are smushed together, and some things are left out entirely. This will happen in recording your faith story as well. Try as much as possible to spend time in the details, and where gaps are present in your memory, try to ask others that were part of the story. The frailty of memory is such that our brains often try to fill in missing data on its own/at your request. If your story has a gap, let it remain there. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.”

2. Notice the emotions contained within the story (found in the main characters) and the emotions we bring to the story when reading it. We find ourselves saying, “I wasn’t worried because I knew God would save Daniel,” and we tend to do that in our own stories: now that we are wiser/stronger, we project that strength onto a past version of ourselves. Allow yourself to tell the story of how you felt back then, without covering up emotions or reactions that you may now be ashamed of. If you were scared/angry/happy, use those emotions when telling the story and not your current state.

-To a list that already had (from last week!) “people” and “places” that have shaped our spiritual journey, we are now adding “emotions”, “texts” (can include works of art), and “moments” (significant turning points/events/eras) that have come to shape your spiritual journey.

ASSIGNMENT:

It is now time to consider one aspect of your faith journey and tell us a story about it. We aren’t writing the full spiritual autobiography yet, but taking one belief/person/event/place/text/emotion – one of these or any combination of them – and write a one (1) page story. These may be some helpful prompts:

-what happened?
-who was involved?
-what did you do or say?
-what emotions did you experience (from yourself and others)?
-how did this impact my faith?
-what am I doing with this now?
-is there an image in the story that is at the core for you?/What image does this remind you of?
-share a memory or story in your life that is similar to this one.

Again, keep this focused on your faith journey. So it may be an event that happened outside of church, but always be asking “How did/does this impact my faith?”

Beginning next week, we will invite-but-not-demand folks to share these one page stories as we are developing our fuller spiritual autobiographies. Whether you decide to share or not, prepare this short story as if someone else will read it.