June 06, 2016
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.
August 25, 2014
As Church of the Resurrection seeks to live out the REACH mission of bringing the Lord to the “Lost and the Least,” we have gotten to know a lot of new people, many of whom started out as complete strangers. This can be an intimidating task, since strangers are often equated with danger, but the Scriptures explicitly and repeatedly command us to welcome the stranger, with the suggestion that, by doing so, we too might be welcoming angels without realizing it. While living at the Parkside apartments in Glen Ellyn, we have sought to build relationships with our neighbors, to welcome our primarily immigrant neighbors, and in doing so, we have been richly blessed by the “angels” we have gotten to know time and again.
A few years ago, a woman named Marie arrived at Parkside from East Africa with three children and a fourth just a few months from being born. We met this new family—Marie spoke very little English, though her kids could communicate with us better—and we did our best to be their friends. We found that they had arrived on tourist visas, but actually were escaping from threats against them in their country; they hoped to apply for asylum and start a new life in the United States. For the time being, though, they had very little resources, and no work authorization. We tried to do what we hope someone would do for us if the tables were turned: we helped find some furniture from folks at Church of the Resurrection. We helped the kids adjust to school. They joined Rez, and when two of the kids decided to be baptized, we were standing right beside them, overjoyed by their commitment to following Christ. My wife was there at the hospital when the new baby was born. When—after all sorts of prayer and fasting, because the process is complex and risky—they were granted asylum, we helped them get driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. And, in the process, they became very dear friends. They weren’t strangers any more. After more than two years, Marie’s husband was able to come to the U.S. as well; we wept at O’Hare Airport as we watched their family reunite, and as Janvier met his youngest daughter for the first time.
A short time later, while at Marie and Janvier’s for one of many delectable meals, the topic of children came up. They asked when we planned to have kids, and we shared, somewhat reluctantly, that we had actually been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, and it just wasn’t happening. We were discouraged and unsure if we would be able to have biological children, though we were also very open to the idea of adoption. They wanted to pray for us—they do this a lot, more than we do, frankly—and afterward, Janvier told us that, while he affirmed the beauty of adoption, he also felt that the Lord was telling him that he would provide us a biological child within a year. We didn’t know quite what to do with that. We were a bit skeptical of this sort of thing, and we were tired of being disappointed, but we thanked them for their prayers.
A few months later—once more at Janvier and Marie Josee’s for dinner—we had the privilege of sharing with them that Diana was pregnant! I’ll never forget that moment. They started shouting with their hands in the air as they fell to their knees, thanking God for answering their prayers. They went on to tell us that, for months, they had been rising early every Thursday to pray and fast for us to have a child, demonstrating a level of fervency in prayer for us far beyond our own commitment to prayer for ourselves. And God had heard their prayer.
On June 19th, Diana gave birth to our little girl, Zipporah Emmanuelle. We’re excited for her to grow in her relationship with Marie and Janvier and their family, people who arrived in our country as strangers but became our neighbors, who have become dear friends and spiritual family to us, and whose fervent prayers may have brought our precious little girl into existence.
Our prayer for Church of the Resurrection, as the REACH campaign culminates, is that as we seek to bring the Lord to the lost and the least, we would also see the amazing opportunity this type of outreach brings – a chance to be abundantly blessed by the vibrant faith that many in our community already possess. I hope the next time you are intimidated by a stranger, you’ll think not of a threat, but of someone who might just be a divine blessing.