By Revs. Don Dewey and Susan Gonzales Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers
Don and I thank you for the privilege of Sabbatical time. This cycle, Don and I overlapped our time – I took the first two weeks away, then Don and I took four weeks together, and Don is still in Sabbatical as I write this Mile Marker. I will tell you, I miss my partner. It is hard to not talk about work AT ALL with the one person I usually get to process life with. But he will be back by the time you all read this, as he returns on October 1.
Don and I had the great privilege of traveling to Italy. We went to see the history of the early church and the art. I finally have an understanding of what “Post Modern” really means. We saw ruins and art from the first centuries, and churches still standing and art from the mid-centuries, and then the guides talked about art from the 1800’s as modern. Ancient, old and "Modern." So if the art of the 1800’s is Modern (and it was for them), then what we have seen from the 1900’s and 2000’s is Post-Modern.
We went to see every church that was open–not all 300 churches in Rome, but we did get to see the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice and St. Peter in Rome, and they are magnificent. They were built to let the architecture inspire the AWE of God in the worshiper, and it still does. But you need a ticket or a reservation to go in. Because while most of these churches still have worshiping communities, they are also museums. For the Art? For the Architecture? For a Culture? Probably all of the above.
I have been thinking for the past few weeks about how to make sense of so many ancient and old churches I visited and the church today. It is said we are living in a Post-Modern age, and that we are living in a Post-Christian age. So what does that term mean? It means we are living in a time when no one takes Christian life for granted, because there are more people not involved in Christian life than are involved in a Christian life of faith.
As I looked at the churches in Italy that were more museums than they were active hubs of ministry and Christian formation, I wondered about the Post-Christian churches in the U.S, as well as in the PSWR. I know we do not want to be museums of another age with a small worshiping community. So how can we step fully into being active hubs of healing and ministry and Christian formation? How can we live into justice activity, meeting the needs of the community, leading in racial justice, education, economic justice?
How can we grow into an active prayer life, taking Sabbath time seriously and surrounding the needs of our world and our people in prayer? Because these are the things that keep us from being museums of the faith.
In my first week of Sabbatical, I went to Ghost Ranch in Northern New Mexico for a week of “Spiritual Journey,” and the books I was to read in preparation focused on Sabbath and spiritual practice and prayer. As much as I loved Italy, this week at Ghost Ranch was the most significant part of my time away. Because while I lead retreats and workshops on prayer and spiritual practice, I have not given this much time to receive leading on Sabbath and spiritual practices. And this is the foundation, Sabbath, time with God listening and receiving from God is the foundation for prayer practices and where the energy is to be the Spiritual hospital and the Justice leaders.
What I learned for myself is I need to practice saying ‘No” to too much, so I can say yes to time with God. I have been known to say, "If I can say yes, I will say yes," but now I have a new spiritual practice, of saying “NO." Otherwise I fill my time and space with so much, when there is no time and space to listen to God.
In Walter Wink’s book "Engaging the Powers from 1992," he lifts up the Romans passage in Chapter 8 verses 26-27 from the Phillips translation:
The Spirit also helps in our present limitations. For example, we do not know how to pray worthily, but God’s spirit within us is actually praying for us in those agonizing longings (groans) which cannot find words. Those who know the heart’s secrets understand the spirits intention as they pray according to Gods will for those who love God.
Winks writes that we are all carrying the heavy burden of the world’s brokenness, whether we read the news, or FACEBOOK or not, because we are all connected. So the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how to pray, as we ought: this does not mean, as it is most often taken, that we lack the proper techniques. Our ignorance is not that we do not know the right methods, but precisely that we thing we know how to pray. We think it is something we do. It is not. How could it be, if “We do not even know how to pray, as we ought?" We learn to pray by stopping the attempt and simply listening to the prayer already being prayed in us by our God. Our task is to listen and simply bring the spirit’s utterances to language, to consciousness, to awareness.
So thank you again for the time to listen to God, and I invite you to the spiritual practice of Sabbath and listening to the prayers that God is already placing is each of us.
Together on the Journey,
Don and Susan
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