THIS IS PART TWO. FOR PART ONE GO HERE.
"It seems that most new movements of the Spirit of God are resisted at first for fear of the unknown future God is creating before us and inviting us into. It’s the same fear that causes us to place God into a tightly knit theological tapestry which has a definite genesis and finale; or to use a cliche . . to put God in a box. A truer illustration of the Spirit’s work using this imagery would entail a never-ending tapestry varying greatly in colour and design and becoming more so as it unfolds. It’s because of the innate fear of the unknown imbedded deep within our nature that we need a more objective perspective on our living - one that will help us reflect on where God is showing up and what He might be saying to us.
In his book, ‘God of Surprises’, Jesuit priest Gerard W. Hughes writes that although so many Christians claim their utmost desire is for true intimacy with God, very few of us actually mean it. He likens the situation to an individual who is running toward the edge of a precipice and plans to launch out off the edge of known ‘terra firma’ in order to free-fall into God’s loving embrace and care. It’s as the individual approaches the precipice that fear begins to well up within as the realisation slowly emerges what truly giving up control will look like - free fall. So, Hughes makes the point that very few of us actually move forward with God in true intimacy when we’re presented with the opportunity. Despite all of our proclamations we turn from the edge of the unknown where true trust would replace measured security.
This is where an Anam Cara or Soul Friend is needed to help us release more and more of ourselves to God through intentional reflection on His nature and activity as shown in Scripture and our own experience. This is the vital role that the emerging church conversation could play with the wider Church . . an intentional discourse which leads to intensive reflection on where God’s showing up and what He’s doing in and through the Church around the world. Unfortunately, for most of us (Christians) the book has already been written on how God works and where He shows up - with no blank pages left for Him to rewrite the story Himself. It’s like a friend of mine, author Steve Stockman, once said, ‘We claim we know God’s wardrobe . . what He’ll be wearing Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.’ Could we ever fully grasp or wrap our souls around the limitless, inexhaustible nature of God this side of knowing? I doubt it. It’s a progressive revelation of Himself which He offers and it usually takes a friend to help us realise just how God is inviting us into deeper relationship. This is the invaluable role the emerging church could play in the life of the wider Church if only it would open itself up to the conversation of possibilities . . including the possibility of being changed.
It’s already been alluded to how useful reflective questioning can be in the life of an individual, especially as it relates in the relationship between the Anam Cara and the directee. It’s through thoughtful, clear questioning that God’s invitation to walk more closely with Himself can be ascertained as one sees how He’s already been active in ones’ life. The Anam Cara offers questions which allow the individual to come to conclusions on their own - without pressing any agenda - so that the directee gains confidence in learning to discern where God is and what He’s doing for themselves. After all, the most important end result is a greater level of intimacy and trust between the directee and God.
It’s toward this end that the Anam Cara works; inviting personal reflection which leads to deliberate action toward more freedom and greater trust of oneself to God. The same could be true for the somewhat tenuous relationship the emerging church conversation now holds with the wider Church. So much good could come out of such an opportunity for self-reflection and yet much of the current situation has degraded into suspicion and defensiveness. Two points must be made clear right now: (1) some elements of the wider Church has embraced the conversation waiting to see where it leads and (2) the emerging church is not a separate entity from the wider Church - it’s also a part of the Body. For purposes of illustration it has been useful to speak distinctively about these two sectors, albeit inaccurately. The emerging church is a reflective, discerning part of the wider Church that desires to become more than it currently is. It desires (by and large) that the Church become all God dreams it can be and it is inviting the rest of the Body to consider what that might be. In a sense, the role the ‘conversation’ is playing within the wider Church is that of a spiritual director to a directee. Will the Church be willing to enter into greater levels of soul-searching (which often leads to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance); trusting that God will lead to the desired future where it can realise its place in an ailing world as a redemptive force of change?
This is where we need God to speak into our lives, to literally inspire (God-breathed) us and speak those life-bestowing words which brought our world and universe into existence. We need to re-created. This transformation comes about through personal transparency before our God whom is Love. Therefore, how well we receive from Him the alterations to the interior of our being determines how potent our life is to those whom we rub shoulders with. God is at work within and without us. Where is He active? What is He doing? How is He inviting us to become involved with Him in His world? These questions are given thought as the Anam Cara encourages the directee to explore afresh the Scriptures inviting God to speak, and helps the directee to perceive the finger and footprints of God throughout everyday circumstances.
As the directee meditates and contemplates on the Scriptures bringing herself before God, what are those thoughts / themes that continue to arise within her? What issues, causes and needs in the world spark her imagination and ignite a fire within her? What gifts has God sown within the fabric of her soul that she can serve others with - gifts she enjoys using and others actually benefit from? Someone once said, ‘God’s call is where your passion, gifts and experience meet the world’s greatest needs.’ Could it be as simple and clear as that? In many ways the emerging church conversation is calling the wider Church back to that same simplicity of intent: a desire to know Jesus truly as our Friend (most churches already have a strong grasp of Him as Saviour) and to partner with Him in all of the endeavours in which He is already at work in the world. This work includes moving beyond and outside of Christian denominational borders, boundaries of other and no faiths and into those areas in which we would never envisage ourselves apart from Jesus’ leadership.
It is common practice for the Anam Cara to suggest portions of Scripture for reflection that may prove conducive to a deeper engagement between the directee and God. On occasion, other practices may be introduced as well in order to help the directee create space to more fruitfully connect with their Creator. These practices may be rooted in Christian tradition, such as silence, solitude (two foundational starting points) and fasting or they may be from common experience such as journaling, walks and the use of various creative ventures in the arts. These practices are not to replace the directees’ time reflecting and praying with the Scriptures, but to enhance it. In much the same way the emerging conversation may also introduce many Christians to the varied and rich experiences in which they may see God at work in the world (even those unexpected!) and offer new opportunities to deepen one’s relationship with Him through ancient and fresh disciplines.
One such book that has come out of the Emergent context is ‘The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life’ by Tony Jones. This is an excellent cursory look at many of the spiritual practices that are available within our own rich Christian heritage such as The Jesus Prayer, the Ignatian Examen, use of the labyrinth, pilgrimage and many others. Tony has done a great service to many within the Protestant tradition who would have otherwise been unaware of the wealth of wisdom within the Christian Church passed down through the ages. His book introduces (and in some cases reintroduce) many to practices which if engaged in deliberately, will yield dynamic space for God to act on the individual’s behalf. Additionally, there are many other practices which one might be encouraged to invite God into that are resurfacing - partly due to the challenge issued by the emerging church. So many who see themselves as a part of this conversation have found their hunger for God leading them deeper into the mines of Christian history and returning with pure gems to share generously. For this we should all be grateful.
One final service the Anam Cara renders to the directee is that of helping the directee to recognise inordinate, unhealthy attachments to things and personal resistances to God’s advances of love. This is a necessary aspect of the relationship because attachments and resistances can stymie an individual’s growth into the fullness of God or ‘Christ-likeness’, creating points of frustration and threatening the very identity the directee has of oneself. The manner in which one addresses these issues (as with all) is with gentle, deliberate and evocative questioning that is unthreatening. Through such a manner of working with adirectee, the Anam Cara can help create space for the directee to address issues that have otherwise gone unnoticed or been ignored due to fear associations, the perception of the enormity of the issue or an inability to know how to address it.
Similarly, the entire emerging church conversation - by virtue of it’s nature and timing - has been given a stage to serve the wider Church in doing just as the Anam Cara does with the directee in facilitating true freedom, health and ultimately God’s dream for ‘Christ’s Body’. This nascent conversation on the emerging church can help shed light on those inordinate, unhealthy attachments or resistances the Church has by generating self-reflection and action. Some such attachments might be infatuation with certain personalities (dynamism), an unhealthy attachment to methodology (programmes), a preoccupation with it’s own affairs when it comes to releasing resources (self-preservation), over-dependence on bureaucratic systems (business models) and a fixture on isolating, out-dated practices (traditionalism). In regards to the latter, I’m not saying that all those valued, time-tested hallmarks of Western Christianity must go, but a sincere audit should be carried out in each local Christian collective to determine which practices still hold meaning similar to the original intent when they were instituted. If they hold true then retain them, modify others and discard those that are a hindrance more than a help. All of our practices should stand up theologically and pragmatically in regards to the Church’s relationship with the wider community in which it exists since the Church exists for ‘others’ in the first place. I once read a quote from eminent Yale professor emeritus Jaroslav Pelikan that had much to say about this, “Traditions are the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
Conversely, many of the same attachments and resistances the wider Church has grown into, the emerging church conversation could also fall prey to if motives and actions go unchecked. What a shame it would be if the grand design of God for this conversation passed without incident rather than fulfilling the role of the Anam Cara it has been called to. In order that this may not happen, the conversation must protect itself from misled assumptions and inordinate attachments of its own that could threaten its very vocation in this hour when God seems to be transforming His Church at an accelerated pace. Such attachments could be to broad cultural sentiments, a superior notion of self by those promoting the conversation, or even the realisation of its ‘calling’ (leading to a posture of pride) in this hour of trans[re]formation. For God’s purposes to be realised, those involved in promoting the emerging conversation will need to protect their own hearts (Prov. 4:20-24, TM), be magnanimous in posture to the wider Church (Eph. 4:1-3, TM) and foster true humility (Rom. 12:2-3, TM). Only then will this ‘conversation’ be useful to God, to the Church-at-large and ultimately to God’s world."
. . . THAT CONCLUDES PART TWO (more to come)