Spirituality: Formation & Practice

This Mark asks whether I recognize and draw from the working of God’s Holy Spirit in my life. I understand it to mean that as an ordained minister, connecting with the Spirit through spiritual practice is essential to being Christ’s representative in the world. I’ve been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life: Living Out Your Vocation, which is helping me think spiritually about ordination. She reminds me what the presence of God feels like—that there is no instance of the imagination,  no place, no time that God is not. Little altars are everywhere, if only I look for them. Sacraments abound in daily life, if only I recognize them as such. Ministers do more than see them; we connect others to them.

I see myself in this Mark in my deep faith that God is ever with me—and has been throughout my life. Writing to the Marks has given me the gift of examining my life from the perspective that nothing could ever have separated me from God’s love. I am committed to spiritual practices of mindfulness and consciousness of the Spirit; I encounter the Spirit through not only my own spirit but also through my senses. God is in my old dog’s hazy and loving eyes, and God is in my mama’s caramel cake. A theme that runs throughout my narrative is feeling the Holy Spirit in music. I  understand that spiritual practice is an action—it must be done. God is with me even without my asking or acknowledgement, but God desires that I commune with God. As a Christian, I experience the heart, character, and passion of God through the revelation of Jesus the Christ. These signs of grace are free to all,  and as a minister, through the sharing of sacraments, proclaiming the Good News, and pastorally caring for others, I invite others into Holy spaces. Ordination is a vast, often terrifying responsibility, one in which I volunteer to let my flaws and struggles to be in right relationship with God be public. I am marked as God’s person in and for the world to a life of discipleship.

I have selected the following artifacts to demonstrate my engagement with this Mark:

  1. Spiritual Formation Rule of Life assignment
  2. Mental Health First Aid Certificate

Autobiographical Moment:

I grew up going to church “every time the doors opened,” that is, Sunday School and Worship Service, Sunday evening, Wednesday Bible study and singing night, Vacation Bible School, week-long Gospel Meetings that kicked off with “dinner on the grounds” and a “singing,” where all the local Church of Christ song leaders came as our guests. Considering all that, I think of myself having a strong spiritual foundation. I know my Bible as well as most folks. So when one of my friends from high school asked me a couple of years ago whether I believed in God, and how did I know God existed, it threw me. I was a new seminarian and an MiD, but I stumbled through an answer that wasn’t satisfying to either of us. My goal since then is to have responses to questions like that—honest questions from seekers who are needing to connect with what Borg calls that “More” in the universe.

 I believe as an ordained minister I have a responsibility to be able to respond to core theological questions—if not with answers, then with more questions! Because people ask them. As one artifact for this Mark, I have included a course assignment that addresses seven core questions leaders have a responsibility to think theologically about. My responses are completely incomplete and contingent and have an air of the Great Mystery, but I am ready now to call my friend back and finish our conversation.

When I think about my early formation—consistent times throughout my life when I have felt connected with the Divine—I think about music. I grew up on old hymns with strong harmonies. Nothing fills me or brings me greater joy than ringing out alto to a foot-stomping song out of the acapella Church of Christ hymnal. Nothing gets my heart racing like “Power in the Blood”! Music is central to how I experience the spiritual, and I feel it with my whole self. And, so, if you want to have an idea of who I am, who God is to me, and what ordination means to me, you must understand my relationship to church music. When I sing and listen to music—now and as a little girl singing alto at Littleville Church—I am filled with God’s spirit, and God shows me a glimpse of pure love and joy. The low points of desolation and loneliness in my life have been when I had lost the music.  Intentionally making space for music is a spiritual practice for me.

I read somewhere that the old medieval female religious had ecstatic experiences in their encounters with the Divine. When I sing, I feel what I understand as the Spirit’s presence. My mind and body respond. My breath quickens, and sometimes my throat gets choked and tears well up. Sometimes, I feel a warmth as I breathe in deeply. I let my body sing through the note. It is, I can only describe it, ecstasy. And it is the gift I most gladly and sublimely offer God. Twenty years ago, a colleague and I took a group of our school students on an educational tour of Europe. One of our stops was Pisa, to visit the famous Leaning Tower. It was nice; it leaned. But what I remember most is the visit to the small chapel building next to the tower. The Baptistry of St. John looks like any other small religious building. It is overshadowed by its crooked cousin. Nothing is unique about its fixtures or adornments. Despite its non-spectacular appearance, it has an extraordinary feature. When we were all inside and lined up around the walls, our tour guide began singing. As his one voice began reverberating in the room, it created an audio illusion, for it sounded as though three harmonious voices were singing. It sounded like a performance of the Three Tenors. I will never forget the sublimeness of that sound. I stood there and wept as his lovely voice rose to the heavens and lifted me with it. It is the same feeling I had a few days later as I stood before Michangelo’s Pieta. Enraptured.

UCC and Church of Christ hymnals are different. Even the ones that have familiar names and melodies have lyrics that are not familiar to me. I recognize a different theology in them too, from what I grew up with. The language is gender neutral, so some old favorites, like “I Walk With the King,” are absent—and I can really harmonize with that one! “Some day on yon shore, I’ll hear his voice say, “Come home you’re my child, tis evening past day…” That’s the part when my heart swells and I sing through tears. My calling, as I understand it, is to walk with others and offer them something that will help them maybe feel how I feel when I sing.

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