Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A New Community

The experience of tectonic movement in my life and spirit is becoming more common. For many months now, I’ve been sharing my journey and the deep interior work of the Holy Spirit in my life. As I conceived of this work, celebrated it and gave thanks for it I unconsciously thought of this work as a largely singular practice. My experiences of the Triune God have become so deeply personal; there was an element to it that seemed to be just me and God. Even though the Academy for Spiritual Formation experience has been anything but a singular experience, the place and power of that covenantal community experience hadn’t filtered down through the layers of my life to nurture the depth of my faith.

I’ve come to learn that involvement in an intentional covenantal community is vital to spiritual formation. There is no such thing as the solitary spiritual life. I’ve also learned that even in the desert hermitages of the early aesthetic movement there was an intentional, supportive and spiritual community. The extraordinary experiences of healing, grace and transformation that I’ve had would have had no meaning without the movements of prayer, conversation, worship, accountability, table fellowship, joy, laughter and tears that mark the life of the Academy Community that has been drawn together by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brought each of us to the Academy experience. We all came with different expectations, different experiences, different hurts, different biases and different desires and yet this grand group of diversity has become a means of God’s unique grace for each one of us. We have become a covenant community.

This is having a truly amazing impact on my conception of the church as a Community of Faith. I’m moving beyond a 30 year old paradigm of the church as simply a functional and organic reality. For most of my life I’ve known the power of the community of faith as a force for ministry and God’s reign of love and mercy. Through ministry teams, service projects and hands on community outreach I’ve seen lives changed in some powerful ways. By the great, powerful and reconciling work of the Holy Spirit, the church is drawn together not as an institutional reality but as a living, breathing body of believers. The Body of Christ is called to a work of transformation and yet, this transformation work must be rooted first in the Body’s experience of the transforming work of grace in its life and the life of its members.

Through an intentional and covenantal commitment to prayer, accountability to God and one another, worship, study and growth we become spiritually formed. This work is not solitary it is necessarily the work of the community. The work of intentional covenant community doesn’t supplant the work of mission and evangelism; Matthew 25 and 28 are still quite specific on that matter. The life of being spiritually formed is what gives breath to our outreach. It is what gives us strength when the obstacles get us down. It is what gives us a vivid picture, not only in knowledge but also in experience, of God’s preferred future and the patience to work with God and walk with God instead of thinking that we do it all on our own.

Strength in numbers is not simply a formula for mission. It is the life blood of a covenant community intent on being spiritually formed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Master Artist

A clear picture…a beautiful picture…painted on my heart with colors so vibrant that it could only have been a masterpiece brushed by the Master Artist. A sweeping image of the power of promise, possibility and redemption that shine light across and into the darkest corners, this image rendered on flesh and bone, substance and spirit has taken a lifetime to fashion…my lifetime. The Artist has painstakingly crafted this masterwork to make known to all who would gaze upon it the overwhelming power of light to reshape and redefine the world, one life at a time.

This painting is not a museum piece. It was not created to hang on a wall with perfect light in a climate controlled environment. This piece is on perpetual tour. It is to be out in the world, walking the sidewalks and roadways to take its message of hope wherever the path leads. Out in the world the painting becomes vulnerable. This masterwork is always at risk. The hazards of the road can damage and deform the work. The debris that floats on the wind can damage the paint surface and canvas. Salty tears can erode the vibrant colors. Gentle rain and howling storms dilute the clarity and run the picture together. Light begins to fade from the image, darkness and shadows gather. Before too long the image becomes unrecognizable. It becomes a caricature of its former self…damaged, twisted, torn and diluted. It becomes a mockery of the vision that fashioned it.

Too long on the road and the masterwork would simply break apart.

Thankfully the Artist is not merely a gifted Creator. The Artist is also a Master Re-Creator. No matter the path, the Artist’s Studio is never far away. In the safety and security of the Studio the Artist goes to work to restore the original vision and the original hope. The canvas and frame are repaired and strengthened. The sharpness of focus is deftly restored. The vibrant colors are renewed and once again the light shines across and into the dark spaces. The power of promise, possibility and redemption once more shine through. The beauty and luster are restored.

While the artist may have a fleeting thought of hanging the restored masterwork on the wall to protect it from the harsh reality of the world, it is only a fleeting thought. The Artist gives the painting the once over and then sends it back out into the world to share its message of hope. After all, that is what this work was created for…that is where it belongs.