Entering the Story
I loved the introduction: “What is the story that shapes our life together – the good news that we have to show and tell? We live up to the story we live under. Jesus came telling stories to awaken our imagination for life in the kingdom of God. We dedicate this day to exploring how we enter the story of the kingdom through communal affirmations, scripture, conversation and by telling our own stories and sharing the fruits of our creativity and imagination.”
The day was divided into four parts, corresponding to the four elements of Mark 1:15: "The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” Each heading was followed by a list of 7-10 affirmations, i.e.
- “We believe God’s glory and presence are revealed in the created world.”
- “We believe the revolutionary force of the kingdom is now at work, wooing us towards health, wholeness, love and peace.”
- “We recognize that our actions and habits are often antagonistic toward the kingdom of God – and that the empty ways we have inherited and perpetuated must be dismantled and replaced by a new pattern of living.”
- “We choose to live in the generosity and abundance of God’s kingdom.”
In the first section, the theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “The time has come…” we embrace our lives and our times as a gift and sacred trust.” It was largely about how we are part of a good creation, full of God’s glory and presence and meaning and love. We stood outside in the small patch of green grass and brown fallen leaves in the garden, and, as it turned out, in a light rain. It was a good setting in which to also reflect on what we are grateful for in creation and to say out loud our complaints and questions for God.
In the second section, the theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand…” we orient our lives towards the restoration of all creation.” It was mostly about how God’s love and power are available here and now – transformation and healing are possible. We spoke out loud our prayers for the healing of creation and we vocalized our groaning as part of the struggle for this healing and growth of the kingdom. One of the bible passages mentioned the groans of childbirth (Romans 8:19-23) and that image resonated for me. Growth and rebirth are not always easy. When one is in labor, the sense of hope is tremendous but the pain is real and now. And frankly, birth is only one phase of the groaning. There’s still a lot of work and struggle and pain in parenting for the rest of one’s life.
In the third section, the theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “Repent…” we surrender our lives to imagine a new way of life.” We looked at giving up the empty ways that we have inherited and perpetuated. We asked God to examine us and to show us what we have to do. We claimed Jesus as a past example and a present teacher of how to live. We each drew a simple self-portrait of what it might look like to live in God’s kingdom, and then shared them in our small groups. I drew myself as just a circle, but surrounded by other circles, large and small. It represented my growing awareness of how isolated I feel in our new neighborhood, separated both from the heart of my meeting community and from the people who live around me. I don’t want to live as a separate nuclear family, I think that part of my sense of integrity is of having integrated relationships. I shared this with Chris afterwards and we are looking at new ways of connecting with our new neighbors. I am intrigued by the emerging church theories of being missional in our postmodern culture; being intentional about living a fuller, more sustainable life and sharing that, not strictly about Jesus.
The fourth section theme was, “Because Jesus spoke saying, “Believe the good news” we act with intention to pursue life under the rule and reign of God.” Pretty much it was about walking the walk – and faith that we can do it. We read the affirmations and bible excerpts out loud while walking around in one large circle, to invoke the physical and cyclical nature of our spiritual journeys. We were given time to respond to a set of queries in writing, individually, rather than small group discussion. These queries were very good. I may write more about my answers to some of them later.
The mixture of forms of expression was really good. Physical and verbal, drawing and walking. I liked the exercise of swallowing a mustard seed as a reminder of the potential for faith and power and God’s kingdom within us. The one piece of ritual that didn’t work for me was the informal eucharist before lunch. There was a glass of red wine and a loaf of walnut bread. Each person was to break off a piece of the bread, dip it into the wine and give it to another person, saying something like “the body and blood of Christ awaken the kingdom of God in you.” Apparently my spiritual scruple about drinking alcoholic beverages extends to communion wine. Who knew? On top of that, I felt a firm stop in my mind and my gut about partaking in the outward form of the sacrament. I wanted to participate in some way but I couldn’t figure out a way to say what was the problem(s) without making a big deal out of it. Which was unfortunate, because I’m sure the organizers would have been willing to make accommodations, if I could have given a coherent explanation. For example, one guy was allergic to walnuts and they just found him another cracker to use – no problem. But I was too discombobulated already to sort through my emotional reactions to get to rational articulations.
Also the ending didn’t work for me. I left feeling disconnected and alien. I’m not sure how much that is a reflection of my general state of being this month. I know I felt opened up and vulnerable and ready to make changes in my life. Instead, I went home and did laundry and ate too much for dinner. This is a reminder of what Deb Fisch was talking about when she said “watch what you fill up on.”
Long time readers of this blog may remember earlier steps in my process of becoming a christian. Here is one part of my emotional convincement. Here is part of my intellectual convincement. This workshop was another step towards really living the life, my conversion of manners, as Friends used to say.
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