Last week we started this mini- four-week series, called Your Faith Journey at Reservoir, which I’m really excited about! Because Pastor Steve and I get to offer some insights—some things about Reservoir—we cherish and think you might too! And whether you feel new, or stuck, disinterested, or like a wise old traveler along this faith journey, we think these thoughts will be helpful in the expanse in all of your life—far beyond even this community at Reservoir.
The hope is to highlight today how Reservoir can provide options for you to experience our good God that is at the center of all of our lives, and put on display a little bit how you are not only welcomed by Jesus, but actively invited again and again into a life that He hopes for you—a life that would feel abundant, flourishing and whole, and totally do-able.
[Community moment here]
Today we’ll talk a bit about what these good invitations from God look like, and how finding ways to intentionally practice opening these invitations—to experience, trust and know the love of God as an anchor deep within ourselves—can be very impactful. I’m going to talk about “spiritual practices”—these many, many personal pathways that I feel like God outlays for us in our lives—and how so many have been built in to the deep well of Christian traditions—the Bible, prayer, fasting—and also how so many of these practices can be found in the non-traditional pathways that are present in our lives at every turn—all of them holding the distinct promise that you will experience God’s love as you become more aware and bold to accept these invitations.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
God your mercies are new every morning”.
This phrase, this language of “spiritual practice” seemed to greet me long before I could utter my own language with much clarity.
And I realized this, as I’ve mentioned before, through a year-long transformational listening class that we did as a staff facilitated by a spiritual director. As part of that class every person was to form and share their spiritual autobiography.
This is a spiritual practice of looking at the story of God’s interaction in your life—It’s your own spiritual story line.
I succeeded at punting my time of sharing for the full 9 months of the class.
I like to use the excuse that I’m an “internal processor”, but 9 months is a bit of a stretch to say, “I’m still processing”, so the greater part honestly is sheer procrastination, which is also a really great skill of mine.
But each time that we would meet—listening to others share their own spiritual autobiographies—I realized HOW HARD it was to look back and delineate what in my life was a “spiritual moment/where God was interacting”, and which of them weren’t. SO MUCH as I look back over my life now feels like God was always interacting in some capacity.
So as a result, as I listened to people share, I would be simultaneously writing my own spiritual autobiography in my mind. And each time it was very different, because so many different memories would pop up, along my life spectrum, as being infused with God.
However, one memory that didn’t shift in each iteration of my spiritual story line was this memory, again, long before I had robust vocabulary, and certainly long before any spiritual language—and it was this memory of swinging on a swing in my front yard.
And it stands out as oddly not just a singular memory, but kind of the sense that this was a repeated moment in my childhood—that I did this a lot: a stockpile of similar memories, all in that one picture.
We were poor enough that I didn’t have a functioning swing set, but innovative enough that my grandfather had built this simple post-and-beam frame with a rope hanging down and a wooden seat with notches on the end. My memory is likely around 3-4 yrs of age—swinging freely and blissfully and alone on this swing—singing the refrain of a well known childhood, actually pretty church-y song: “Jesus loves me – this I know”.
And while there are more words to that song, I would only sing this refrain over and over again: ”Jesus loves me – this I know…” ”Jesus loves me – this I know…” ”Jesus loves me – this I know…”
As I look back over my life now, this could have been my first spiritual practice— swinging and singing. But I realized that it has become more than that—I realized that it is the unmovable anchor and root of any spiritual practice that I have engaged with over my whole life. That these pathways—these spiritual practices—however varied they might be for each of us, will lead us into this very same refrain: “Jesus loves me this I know”.
And this is the compelling act of a spiritual practice: To discover afresh again and again—as an anchor in our day—in our busy rhythms the piercing love of God for us – in the midst.
This taste of Jesus’ love for me is what has afforded me the most healthy spiritual growth in my life, and has allowed me to incorporate spiritual practices into my days—not as a duty or performance or striving for spiritual greatness, but as a deep soul elixir that softens my posture to one of more humility, perspective and grace.
And this is super helpful because my spiritual journey is a quest—a hard fought quest—where actually not all of it has felt like swinging blissfully on a swing. Because we all live here on earth, in this nation, in the midst of all the realities of life—the real tugs, the real people that hate, the real sicknesses that rob life, the real disappointments. We need practice! It absolutely takes practice to keep Jesus’ love in sight given our landscapes. And we need our great teacher, Jesus, to help us do this!
I read recently in a book by friends Ken Wilson & Emily Swann – “that all of us are theologians to the extent that we seek to be students of God”.
And so today I invite you all to practice being students of God—to consider yourselves both life-long learners (with humilty) in the great subject matter of “love”, “and grace” and “trust”, and also to consider yourselves great theologians—that through spiritual practices you will gain a knowing, a knowledge, that goes beyond understanding, that sets up deep in your soul—the greatest knowledge that there might be, that you are an expert in knowing that you are without fail deeply loved by God.
And may the spiritual practices that we explore today, that are innovative, alternative and also traditional, be ones that transform you and keep you close to this Jesus that you practice to know.
Our hearts, it seems, need the balm that spiritual practices can offer us—to soothe, to heal, to keep our hearts from shattering into a million pieces, and also to be able to function in the way our hearts were made to be—to pump empathy and compassion and gentleness into the spaces and people around us.
That’s a lot, by the way. Can a spiritual practices actually aid in all of that? It seems slightly overwhelming. And it makes me stiffen a little bit internally.
But spiritual practices in all their glory – actually do make way for God to do all those things! And this allows me to relax a little bit by bringing some perspective into my life that helps me see a broader scope of life against my very human tendency to narrow the scope of life when I’m fumbling and feeling overwhelmed.
I’ve seen this perspective-shift play out in my marriage. Scott and I have been married for 17 years, and our conflicts are often about the most narrow/tiny aspects of our lives. Where the landscape though feels ripe for perspective-losing. One long-standing conflict is around how we park our cars in the drive-way: We have small, narrow driveway. I park head-in first, and then Scott will park behind me because he leaves first in the morning. Often, often, often – I do not pull my car all the way into the driveway, which means he can’t pull in behind me (and in our town you can’t park your car on the street overnight).
And this whole scenario is entirely frustrating to Scott, mostly because he sees life as this great opportunity for all of us to make logical choices… and the logical option as he sees it – is that I would just pull my car all the way into the driveway every single time I come home.
For me, it’s an entirely logical and sensible and smart choice, and actually the only clear way-to-pull-my-car-into-the-driveway choice. Because I pull my car in so that my car door lines up perfectly with the tiny walkway that cuts across our lawn, which is the most efficient route to our front door. Which makes a ton of logical sense because I am often carrying a crap-ton of stuff: groceries, a work bag or two, a swim bag, a kids backpack. It used to be that I would be carrying a kid or two, a car seat. And so the quickest route to the door ensured that my body would endure the least amount of pain and load.
Over the years, you might be able to see how we’ve stayed in a fairly contentious – pattern around this!
And our different contexts and terms by which we define “logical” set us up for no common intersectionality and no ability to see or hear one another fully. This built-up/fraught energy is often the energy that Scott will walk into the house with on any given evening when I’ve chosen/forgotten to not move the car in. He’s immediately frustrated, feels forgotten, and that his values for logical-ness are overlooked.
The core of this on-going disagreement is, yes, not seeing eye to eye, yes, defining “logical” on very different terms, but also losing perspective/sight of each other’s hearts—that they were made and designed to pump with empathy, compassion and gentleness, which might be the impasse of every dispute that we witness across our familial and national lines.
Very quickly, when I’ve lost sight of Scott’s heart I can take his words like an arrow, and no longer are we talking about the driveway, but talking about my worth as a human being: I’m stupid, that the roles that I play and duties I do are of less value, that you don’t care about my aching body, that he doesn’t actually care about me and my heart.
And likewise, I can stand there and appear to be listening to his reasons for why this aggravates him, but be internally rolling my eyes, and very quickly in the midst of it detach from reality, lose perspective and see Scott as my rival and maybe to imagine him as a paper version of himself – that I get to take and crumple into a tiny ball and chuck across the room. For instance. How we live in our hearts is our real and deepest truth. Spiritual practices help us get to our hearts and to practice vulnerability and intimacy with Jesus, so that we can do and extend the same with others.
As so I began thinking—who have I encountered that can offer a different picture than this? Who maybe is calm and level-headed and in touch with reality? And I thought of someone who perhaps many of us have encountered, who shows us such a great picture of the impact of spiritual practice in their life.
So I’d love to show you a clip of “Fred Rogers Documentary”, who was indeed a priest of our times.
“Everything that Fred Rogers did was a prelude to – or an outcome of – spiritual practice”.
–The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth
Viewing Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was a spiritual practice in and of itself for so many. His consistent, kind presence, the neighborhood that he created, provided a safe familiarity where viewers could feel close to something good, and that that something good would always be there when they turned on their TV each day.
And all of this—his quirky, hypnotic, very slow speaking-cadence, the bare-bones production set, the inauspicious approach to child entertainment—was cultivated out of Fred Rogers’s own spiritual life .
SPIRITUAL PRACTICES HELP US HAVE PERSPECTIVE, HUMILITY and GRACE:
Excerpts below taken from, “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth
Fred Rogers’ real life included a sense of ceremony. His daily practices were deeply ingrained into his rhythm of life—he woke at 5am to slow down, take time and appreciate silence—to engage in prayer.
Each morning he prayed for his family, his friends by name, and to remember those that had passed on.
His prayers wouldn’t end there – but continued into his 7:30am daily swim, where before diving into the pool, he would sing out loud “Jubilate Deo” (you-bee-latte day-0) (a song Henri Nouwen had taught him from the Taize (TAY – ZAY) community in France. “Jubilate Deo, jubilate Deo, alleluia (“rejoice in the lord, rejoice in the lord – allelulia”).
As he walked into his workday he would pray, “Dear God, let some word that is heard today, be Yours”, and not just the spoken words that would be televised, but the numerous decisions that he had to make daily. This is his biggest concern, that someone would encounter God via his words. Perspective! All others concerns paled in comparison!
I watched countless footage of Mr. Rogers these past couple of days—I watched, I think every commencement speech he’s ever given and also his “Lifetime Emmy Award” speech, and in those videos he would invite entire graduating classes—like BU—and all of the celebrities at the Emmy’s to engage in a spiritual practice as well – he would pose a question, that got them thinking of their own life – the people in it – give them space and silence to reflect and give thanks – and just like that he gave people the gift of perspective—the gift to relax for a moment and feel a sense of connection beyond themselves—to feel and encounter the warmth of love as they knew it: The very heart of spiritual practice.
Indeed his life of spiritual practice seemed to cultivate a flow of love from his internal space to the external world and usher in the perspective that the “greatest thing you can do is to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving”. These habitual practices allowed him an internal anchoring in his days – that allowed him to essentially pour out and lay down his life for so many.
John, in his first epistle invites us all to consider this very same lifestyle – with his words (as on your program):
I John 3: 16 – 18 (NRSV) We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Lay down your life for another? What are the world’s goods? What’s truth versus word or speech?
There’s a lot in there!
Let me see if I can’t flush this out a bit as I follow up on the story of me and Scott and the parking situation.
A little while ago before I’d fall asleep at night, I started a spiritual practice—not just because of this parking stuff, but maybe an internal tenor of distance that I was realizing in my heart about our marriage. Each night I started putting my hand on Scott’s shoulder as he slept and saying a short prayer, “God thank you for this person, and thank you for my love for him and your love for him and the love that resides within him”.
It was a spiritual practice, because it was not the case that every night at the end of a long day I would bound to bed, overwhelmed with radiant, sparkly love for this guy – ehm – it was a spiritual practice because it didn’t always feel natural.
It wasn’t a practice generated by feelings—it was a practice of intention. I had to remind myself to do it as a habit, and it turns out that Scott was just the focal point of my practice but the practice was really essential for my soul. And how gracious I would find that Jesus is to give our souls just what we need. It proved to be a re-centering. A prayer that took me back to my own knowing of Jesus and me on the swing: “Jesus loves me this I know”. A practice that reminded me I didn’t need to defend or fight for or throw up barbs around my value or my uniqueness or more forgetfulness or my mistakes, that Jesus loved me and could be trusted right in the midst. And a practice that helped me not forget grace. Because without grace I would not experience any life-giving part of relationship in my marriage or elsewhere.
And this helped me live more out of a sense of life and freedom – rather than death. Out of this simple, spiritual practice we now talk across our household with this new language of what it looks like and feels like to be “FOR” each other: to remind each other again and again that we are on the same team.
This is a heroic heart change—and that is the power of a spiritual practice, that it can change and transform your heart at a cellular level. And if we are inclined to talk about spiritual growth – that’s where growth lies! Because the habit of going to God as your anchor each day re-centers you, draws you out of all the real tugs that can vie for your attention, and it ushers in a sensitivity, a generosity of heart that can’t be explained. It stretches and implores you to move with compassion and empathy – even in the midst of disagreements —to lead with love,
So much so that you would as John suggests, “lay down your life for each other”,
So much so, that you would sacrifice your own very “logical” explanation of parking in the driveway the way you do”,
So much so, that you would sacrifice “having to be right”,
So much so that you would sacrifice your ANGER and frustration,
…and lay it down for a moment to see that Jesus too sings with and loves the person on the other side of your dispute.
And this is the mystical work of Jesus who transforms a way of living out of death into living whole-heartedly with abundance and flourishing.
And this is deep balm to our souls.
The world’s goods—as John speaks of in the verses we just read—I believe are practical resources we have that we should share, like food, clothing, shelter- practical help like Claire mentioned last week – of seeing someone on the side of the road…… and I also believe they are the unseen goods – the Jesus’ goods that lay about in our world too… the compassion, the empathy, the softness , the love – that are the gems – the treasures – embedded in the fabric of our world – because they are IN US. THAT we are implored to share – to our brothers and sisters -as we unearth them through spiritual practices.
I absolutely ….still …only remember to pull into all of the driveway FULLY, about a ⅓ or so of the time…..
So perhaps spiritual practices aren’t necessarily designed to make sure we get more things right in life … or that our behavior would become perfection…
BUT Maybe spiritual practices allow us to stand in the midst of all that we get wrong in life – the ways that we hurt each other sometimes – and become as Fred Roger’s says, “the person that is so apparently in touch with truth, that you just want to continually be in their presence.”
I want to be this person.
and I want to be so in touch with truth… the truth of who I am – and the truth of God’s love – that it attracts people…..
I want Scott to WANT to be in my presence…
I want my kids to WANT to be in my presence…
I want my friends, and strangers and my enemies to WANT to be in my presence…. Because the presence of GOD is so apparent…..and so very, very good.
This truth that John advises us to love with – is worth a couple of seconds, I think… because the access to “Truth” is often framed in prescriptive ways – and can become de-personalized pretty quickly…
My childhood song, “Jesus loves me – this I know”—if I were to fill out the rest of that verse—prescribes a very distinct way to KNOW this love of Jesus, and that is through studying the Bible: “Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so”…
Now, let me also say this—absolutely this is correct. If you read the Bible you can read of the distinct love that God has for you without a doubt:
John 3:16 “For God so loved you – that He gave you His only son”…
John 13 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, “
Zephaniah “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love,”
1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
Song of Songs 2:4 “His banner over me is love.”
Psalm 119:64 The earth is filled with your love, O Lord…”
And my goodness, I have spent a great amount of time memorizing and studying and reading commentary of scripture as a spiritual practice, and it has been super meaningful and powerful and a way to encounter truth.
I spent 2 years praying the Psalms every morning—I’d pray through 5 at a time (it’s a great spiritual practice, give it a shot!) and it still even now gives me life.
And yet “Truth” can quickly become a way of saying “there’s really only one way to truth”. But if we, as my author friends Emily and Ken suggest, see truth as Jesus sees it—in personal terms, as a personal embodiment of Truth—truth is a “someone” rather than a “something”.
“And when we can see Truth as a someone – then the aim to encounter truth and the aim of all spiritual practices is involvement with a living, personal Jesus. Truth coming to us in the form of a person, requires all our personal capacities to embrace: our senses, minds, hearts and bodies. That means we can feel with Truth as much as we can think with Truth”. P. 74, Solus Jesus
And what a blessing it is to know that our spiritual practices can indeed lead to God in a multitude of ways, including Scripture.
This Fall I have taken on the spiritual practice of stopping and pulling over to capture in my heart the glory of God in these turning leaves. This is huge for me—because I might be the only person on earth that doesn’t like New England Fall. I feel like the beauty of the leaves is only death in disguise. And I don’t like fake representations, so Fall is often a struggle….
But this Fall I’ve stopped on commutes and adored and let the glow of these radiant colors reflect on my face. And often I feel just simply a sense of peace and awe, an internal anchoring: Perspective and hope for my day. And also sometimes Scripture will come to mind, as I’m intentionally making that space with GOD, and it will be so piercingly on point for what I encounter or am feeling that day.
And so I’m thankful for the ways that a personal Jesus and these personal spiritual practices allow us to have space to be who we are, to make space for what are schedules are, and space for where we are with Him on our faith journeys. That feels like the only way to get the nourishment/the right amount of balm for our souls.
God’s love is vast and deep and wide. His love stretches our hearts to this great capacity, and it compels us to try more ways and more spiritual practices that help us enter into all those dimensions of His love!
Following Jesus is our ongoing choice—to accept invitations, to consider that our lives take some practice and a lifestyle choice, to intentionally spend our time, money and energy toward these practices that will open your life to the abundance of goodness that God has for you”. But can I encourage you today to see that our spiritual practices are actually crucial and essential and always timely, that it is in some ways urgent for the heartbeat and health of our world that we practice sitting in love, being love and extending love.
Congressman, John Lewis asked a “what if” question as a tool for social alchemy: what if the beloved community were already a reality, the true reality, and we simply have to embody it until everyone else can see it?
What if we could lay down our lives for those near us – what if we could harness the love that is within us – and find that in the trees, in the touch , in the scripture and in the words of a friend or stranger – world around us?
What if spiritual practices set us up well to help the struggle of humankind?
John Lewis says – we need to do this – and it WILL Take practice – that it’s not something that is natural.. He said we have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence.
Because we are wired to give up on one another, says John Lewis.
So he says, in the spiritual sense, in the moral sense, we have to be able to practice saying “that in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. This is why we practice – to see and to say…. “Yes,, you too – are made of love”.
Chapter 4: 19
19 We love because he first loved us.
The simple statement that John makes at the end of the scripture on your program – is one that is not simple at all , because it is stocked high with intentionality, habit and practice – to trust that indeed he does love us… .
Mr. Rogers would say to his TV viewers over and over again – without fail, every episode – “you are special”, “I am so proud of you”, “I like you just the way you are…. It’s you, yourself, it’s you – I like.”
We gain in our practices of being with God…. a deep belief that “Jesus loves me – this I know…”, not only that he LOVES me, but that he “likes me, just the way I am”.. That he finds me special, that God is proud of me – and that I have value… These things I know – .. because I have experienced and practiced trusting the truth and the love of Jesus…
Here at Reservoir we hope to set the stage for you to take DELIGHT in the abundant life – that you craft with Jesus . We will give you some opportunities to TRY and engage with that – but most of all we hope to clear away any impediments to receiving, allowing, trusting and participating in that foundational love.
This week though take some time to reflect – to orient toward God. Start with:
Whole life reflection prompt:
Take time this week to reflect on the words, “grace”, “trust” and “love”. As you consider your relationship with Jesus, how do these words resonate? How have you experienced these words with Jesus? How have you not? When you engage with others, which of these words are easier for you to embody? As you try the below spiritual practice, try each of these words as you sit in the presence of God.
Light a candle to represent the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Sit in silence for a few minutes. As best you can, release any thoughts and distractions. Take several deep breaths in and out. Slowly breathe in, meditating on this belief from God to you, “I love you”. Slowly breathe out, meditating on the phrase “..and I love you”, as a belief from yourself to God – or yourself to others. Sit in silence for several minutes.
Try 2 minutes to start.
“Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all relationships – Consider yourself to be invited to be God’s favorite student and favorite expert as you discover that love together”.