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Posts by: Will Chester

Learning to Feel with God

May 01, 2018

Every year, Resurrection hosts a nine-month course called the Transformation Intensive which is based on the spiritual exercises of a 16th century saint, Ignatius of Loyola. The course engages participants in a rigorous practice of individual and corporate prayer designed to help them be transformed by Christ as they encounter him in the Gospel narratives.
Our Youth Pastor Will Chester took part in the 2015-2016 Transformation Intensive class and offers the following thoughts on how the course lived up to its name of being truly transformational.


I have feelings. Not a very profound statement, but it's been profound to me during my time in the Transformation Intensive. Let me explain.

My emotional life is even keel--infrequent highs, infrequent lows, steady. So it was with some trepidation that I learned that the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises upon which the Transformation Intensive (TI) is based rely heavily on the emotional life of the participant as a way of connecting to God. I'd considered my emotional stability to be a strength for many years. Certainly it had never gotten in my way while during page after page of historical-grammatical exegesis in seminary. But the Spiritual Exercises were asking me to be less of a scientist, more of an artist, when it came to reading God's Word. If my emotions were to be some of my primary tools, I was going to have to do some digging to see what I could find.

Early on, our TI materials instructed us to do something called "Immanuel Journaling" where we'd take a God's-eye-view of ourselves and write what He sees looking down at us. It was an uncomfortable practice at first--none of us want to put words in God's mouth--but we were assured that the point was simply to listen for what God might be saying over our situation. Thinking about my emotional world from the first-person perspective had resulted in quick dead-ends in the past. Taking a third-person perspective was a bit more removed, and because of that--especially for an emotional newbie like myself--more productive. Far from my fears that I would somehow put words in God's mouth, I found myself doing the very work of theology that I had been trained to do during seminary--thinking God's thoughts after him--only the subject was myself.

Slowly, through the weeks, I began to understand that my emotional steadiness was as much a wound as it was a strength. I'd been taught to mask my emotions in order to keep the peace. There's goodness in that, sometimes, but it stunted me. I could relate to the God of the Epistles; the God of the Psalms and Prophets was more perplexing. I'd never had the boldness to speak to him with the emotional range of the Psalmists, not because of my strong faith, but because of my fear that he might leave me if I did. I didn't know that about myself before TI. I do now.

Through this process, I felt myself becoming more... human. Instead of feeling like an even-keel emotional robot, I began noticing what was happening under the surface: anxiety... fear... loneliness... frustration. I found that as my emotional vulnerability became a path to intimacy with God, it also became one for my closest relationships.

The Gospels took on new light. For years I'd practiced a particular method of reading the bible, asking questions of language choice by the authors and rehearsing the historical setting in which the texts were set and later received. In TI we looked at the same texts differently. Our method was contemplative, placing ourselves in the story as a disciple, sick person, or onlooker. I didn't leave my theological training at the door--my understanding of what the biblical author intended served as imaginative guard rails--but instead of solely engaging my mind to look for the principle, theology, or narrative arc, I used my emotions to engage with the characters in the story. I imagined myself experiencing miraculous healings as if I were right there. I spent time with Mary on the sidewalk of my imagination where Gabriel first appeared to her and then later in the manger as she held Jesus for the first time. Mary became more than just an article of the creed--she became a person with her own fears, her own faith--and the more I understood her flesh and blood humanity by imagining her emotions, the more I understood Jesus' flesh and blood too, as one born of a woman--just like me. The more human Jesus became, the more moved I felt by his acts of mercy, the more I valued his friendship to me.

I've always believed that prayer and scripture reading are central to the Christian life and that they should be transformative exercises, not simply rote practices or mere intellectual endeavor. What TI showed me was that I had tools for these exercises that I wasn't engaging. Learning to feel--and to feel with God--has refreshed my life in new and wonderful ways.

Will Chester
Youth Pastor
will@churchrez.org

Thanksgiving and Kingdom-Bringing: Hosting the Chin Burmese Youth Conference

November 27, 2017

This past weekend, Resurrection had the opportunity to host a conference of Chin Burmese youth in our facility. The theme of their conference was "Your Kingdom Come", and it certainly felt like the Kingdom as the youth and Resurrection volunteers worshiped, prayed, danced, and sang together. Youth Pastor Will Chester reflects on the experience below:

Several weeks ago, Dan and I were approached by Mark Poulterer and Damon Schroeder about hosting this conference for two local Chin Burmese congregations. Mark and Damon's connection to the Chin community was through one of Mark's students at West Chicago, who also plays soccer with some of our RezYouth and has come to a few RezYouth events. In the past, they've used Glen Ellyn Bible's space, but they were hoping for possibly 300-400 attendees and needed something larger. 
Though the conference didn't achieve those numbers, they still had an amazing time of worship, prayer, and teaching from Thursday through Saturday night. Their speaker is well-known in their community and flew in from his home in Frankfurt, Germany! Several of our RezYouth joined on Friday evening and were struck by how they were able to connect with the Lord in song, even though the only words they could only pick up on a few words like Jesus and Hosanna
A contingency of being able to host the conference was that we needed staff or volunteers present the entire time—quite a feat on Thanksgiving weekend! But the Lord provided, and one volunteer said that this was just the kind of opportunity she was praying for since she was not with family over the holiday. 
When I spoke to Mark's student who had a leadership role in the event, he was deeply moved. He, and most of the other attendees, are only two or three years removed from their homes in Burma or Malaysia where they lived with temporary refugee status. "I just never imagined that we'd be able to host this event in such a big church that is as nice as this one. Thank you so much. Thank you." 
Dan and I wanted to share because this wonderful testimony of God's kindness in giving us this building and the opportunity to share that blessing with our brothers and sisters—especially those like the Chin Burmese who have suffered for the gospel. 

Burmese Youth Conference from Church of the Resurrection on Vimeo.