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Posts by: Matt Woodley

Lenten Devotional Week 2: Fruit in the Garden of Solitude

March 01, 2018

Modern Christians have found incredible spiritual benefit in expanding their partial fast beyond the physical appetite to abstaining from other trappings of modern life. Many of us have instant access to any kind of entertainment, information, or mental stimulation we desire, for little to no cost. When I read Jesus‘s words about “the cares of the world“ that choke out the word of God, I’m reminded of the glowing, chirping screen in my pocket… What ever might capture our imaginations and mental energy is fair game to give up for Lent: movies, TV, the news, social media, video games, sports, texting—you name it. Christ might ask us to lay one or more of these distractions aside for something better. (from The Good of Giving Up, by Fr. Aaron Damiani)

I can relate to this quote from Fr. Aaron, especially as I started this year’s Lenten journey. I felt a special nudge from the Lord to enter more deeply into a spiritual practice that I have been resisting for a long time—the discipline of silence. I’m not afraid to be alone. That’s simply the spiritual discipline of solitude. But I’ve been afraid of solitude combined with the spiritual discipline of silence. That combination scares me. So instead of entering into silence, I find noisy distractions, listening to podcasts, reading heated debates about political controversies, watching TV dramas.

But this Lent the Lord Jesus has been whispering, “Press into the silence. I have some gifts for you apart from the noise and busyness both around you and inside your head. Let me turn the desert of silence into a garden of solitude.

In the process of pressing into the spiritual discipline of silence, I’ve also been reading a book by the Catholic writer Robert Cardinal Sarah titled The Power of Silence. The subtitled especially grabbed my attention: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Imagine that—noise has become a cruel dictator. Listen to some of these wise and challenging words from Cardinal Sarah:

In modern society, silence has come into disrepute; this is the symptom of a serious, worrisome illness. The real questions of life are posed in silence… Noise gives a security, like a drug in which we have become dependent… But this noise is a dangerous, deceptive medicine… The dictatorship of the image, which plunges our attention into a perpetual whirlpool, detests silence… Modern civilization does not know how to be quiet… Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer… Contemplative silence is a fragile little flame in the middle of a raging ocean… We cannot hear the Word if we have not been previously transformed by God’s silence… Without silence, God disappears in the noise… Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost.

As I reread these quotes from Cardinal Sarah I’m afraid I must stop typing. I’ve already said enough. It’s time to break free from the dictatorship of noise and words. Lord, let’s enjoy some silence together. So, signing off for now…

Deacon Matt Woodley

Reflection Questions:

1. Pause and take a brief listening tour through your day. What are primary places and times in your where you have the opportunity for silence? Do you find yourself uncomfortable in these spaces?

2. Imagination can be a very powerful tool to be used by God, but can also be a great distraction keeping us from God. What would it look like for you to harness your imaginative energy towards God through what you listen to, or don't listen to?

3. Sometimes silence and solitude require us intentionally removing ourselves from the company others. What are times you can participate in this life-giving separation this Lent?


Read the first post in our devotional series here.

Find more practical guidance as you walk through Lent in The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent, a new book by Fr. Aaron Damiani, the rector of our church plant, Immanuel Anglican in Chicago.

Revival in Recife: Or My Best and Worst Mission Trip Ever

October 12, 2017

In some ways it was a colossal missions trip fail. I arrived in Recife, Brazil on Wednesday, October 4 to participate in Caminemos Juntos' annual conference - a gathering of Anglican leaders from 11 nations, including Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and the U.S. Then I promptly lost my luggage, which didn't show up for over 48 hours. A few days later, I fell off a ledge and severely sprained my knee. I was hot, sweaty, unfashionable with my one set of clothing, and tired as I limped around with my swollen leg. I just wanted to come home! 

But then something happened. I'm pretty sure I had stepped into a full-blown revival. The Anglican church in Recife has seen and is still seeing scores of people come to know Jesus for the first time. They have an exuberant freshness to their faith. I preached at the 10 a.m. service and then attended the 5 p.m. service, and both services were packed with eager new or renewed Christians throwing themselves into worship. 
I visited House of Hope, a daycare center in the heart of a large favela (slum) in Recife. The daycare center, run by the Diocese of Recife, serves as a refuge for children and mothers, most of whom are single and desperately need to work in order to survive. 

Photo: House of Hope

The Christians in Recife also eagerly expect miracles from God. For instance, a group of praying women at the church prayed for my knee. I expected very little (typical post-Enlightenment Westerner that I am), but even to this day I have felt no pain in my beachball-sized left knee. Unfortunately, I just asked them to pray for the pain, not the swelling. 
Of course Recife, Brazil isn't heaven. They know about God's glory, but they also know much about suffering. Five years ago, Bishop Miguel Ochoa, the spiritual father of this diocese, was diagnosed with incurable cancer. He was given three months to live. He's fully alive and healthy, but his wife has been hospitalized for nearly eight months. Even as I write this blog post, her life hangs in the balance. The economy and government in Brazil are crumbling. Poverty, drugs, corruption, gangs, crime - they're all rampant throughout the country. Some of the more established and powerful churches, often funded by denominations in the US, have been spreading a false gospel that has left people spiritually bankrupt.

Photo: Bp. Miguel Ochoa

But in the midst of these problems, the Holy Spirit is at work in such a powerful and beautiful way. As I boarded the plane to come back to O'hare, my eyes kept filling with tears - tears of joy for seeing God at work, tears of affection and appreciation for the people I met, and tears of sorrow for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Recife. 
This is why we have global partners. This is why we worship together, eat together, laugh together, and cry together. And we learn from each other because we desperately need each other. We need to learn from the Church in the Diocese of Recife, but I don't think it's arrogant to say that they need to learn from us as well. We belong to one Body, the Body of Christ.