Community

I wrote this article for The Upper Room’s “From the Center” newsletter. Sign up for this monthly resource of soul care for spiritual leaders.

I have the honor to serve as worship leader for our Upper Room Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation retreat in Alabama. I plan and lead the 14 services we hold during our weeks together (a week each quarter).

We are people from all over the U.S. — different ages, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, races, and backgrounds. We are knit together as a community over this time of retreat. Our format in community is a monastic (Benedictine) pattern of prayer that brings us together three times a day for morning prayer, afternoon Eucharist, and night prayer. At the end of night prayer, we go into the great silence, which is broken at the start of morning prayer the next morning. This shared participation in a common rhythm creates deep connections between us. It is the “container” that holds our community together as we hunger, learn, and struggle with what it means to be followers of Christ in this broken world.

At our last gathering, we rented a 60-passenger bus and went on a civil rights pilgrimage into downtown Birmingham, Alabama. We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We walked together through the displays that told the stories of those brave saints and martyrs who marched for civil rights in the decades of the 1950s and 60s. We walked across the street and stood in the Kelly Ingram Park, where, in the first week of May 1963, children and high school students were met by police dogs, fire hoses, and arrest.

We met, finally, in the sanctuary of 16th Street Baptist Church to hold our service of Eucharist. This is the church where, on Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded under the steps of the church, killing four girls and injuring 22. During our service in the sanctuary of that holy place, we sang together and heard the scriptures read and the Word proclaimed. We broke the bread and poured the cup. We remembered the brokenness of Christ, the brokenness of our history, the brokenness of these days. And we affirmed the hope that we carry as followers of the One who came to bring peace, to scatter love, to bind up wounds and whisper comfort.

At the end of that long day, we arrived back at the retreat center tired, full, teary, grateful, and troubled. We met for night prayer and prayed the familiar words:

“We have wounded your love.
O God, heal us.
We stumble in the darkness.
Light of the world, transfigure us.
We forget that we are your home.
Spirit of God, dwell in us.”

-From “Prayer of Confession” (Night Prayer), A New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (New Zealand: William Collins Publishers Ltd., 1989), 168.

The liturgy, the community of love and trust and struggle that we experience together … all these things have become the “container” that allows us to journey together into uncomfortable places and inconvenient truths.

Back here at home in between our sessions, I miss these people, my siblings in Christ. I miss the shared commitment to daily prayer and worship. I hunger for the authentic relationships that develop in this special community. I yearn to find a community like the Academy in this place where I live the rest of the year.

I hope and pray for this: In the fractured, contentious, hateful times of this day, may we find communities of love, trust, and liturgy where we can be nurtured, sustained, challenged, and loved.

This article was reblogged from The Upper Room.

Prayer for the Pilgrims

I leave today for a retreat in Alabama, the first of eight weeks over the next two years. (This is the first session of a 2-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, a program of The Upper Room.)

I will be leading daily prayer, one of my favorite things. Prayers upon waking and before sleeping. And a service of Eucharist before dinner.

We will be on this journey of faith, of hope, of drinking deeply of the gifts of the spirit, of the gifts of community, prayer, learning, and liturgy.

For all of us who travel, for those who labor to care for us on retreat, for all who tend the tasks at home so that we can be away. For all who long for retreat but do not have the resources to set apart time in their lives for such a journey. Bless all who are setting out on journeys of any kind throughout the world. Travel with each one. Amen.

Are You Thirsty? Come to the Water

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
-Psalm 42:1-2, NRSV

You Are Invited: Join Me in The Academy for Spiritual Formation

I will be serving as worship leader for the upcoming Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama. Our first session is August, 2018. In a Two-Year Academy, the community comes together for a week each quarter for study, prayer, worship, silence, laughter … all drinking from the flowing streams of God’s love and grace.

I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join with me on this journey. We have the most amazing leadership team: Pat Luna, Blake Kendrick, Don Saliers, Kathy Norberg, and me. We are very excited about the faculty we have recruited. They include Roberta Bondi, Loyd Allen, Roger Owens, Amy Oden, Grace Imathiu, Barbara Brown Taylor, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Luther Smith. (See the entire list of faculty.)

If you would like to have a conversation with me as a part of your discernment, please reach out to me. I’d love to visit with you about The Academy. Contact me.

My Academy Story

I had worked at The Upper Room for fifteen years before I attended The Academy for Spiritual Formation. I “knew” about The Academy because I worked at The Upper Room. I watched my colleagues, one by one, attend the Two-Year Academy at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama.

When I saw The Academy brochure, it didn’t speak to me. Reading the prospectus just brought back memories of Divinity school: Trying to stay awake as I trudged through text books. The pressure of reading and exams and sitting through lectures.

It was my friend, Jerry Haas, who finally lured me into The Academy for Spiritual Formation. He invited me to attend the Five-Day Academy in Arizona. It was at Picture Rocks Retreat Center — I had never been to Arizona, so the location hooked me. (There will be a Five-Day Academy at this location in 2019.) Additionally, I was excited to meet Flora Slosson Wuellner, one of the faculty presenters. And my friend and colleague, Elise Eslinger, was to be the worship leader.

I attended that five-day experience and fell in love with The Academy for Spiritual Formation. It was nothing like Divinity school. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. A few months later, I joined the Two-Year Academy in California in its second week. And the experience nurtured, shaped, and changed me. (Note that there is a Two-Year Academy in California beginning in July, in case Alabama is too far away.)

I discovered a thirst I didn’t even know I had — a thirst for community, for silence, for a daily rhythm of prayer. I discovered a thirst for the Holy One. I count myself fortunate that I was enticed into The Academy experience.

I hope you will listen to the longings of your spirit, your thirsts, your hungers. I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join me on this journey. (Learn more.) Contact me if you’d like to visit about this opportunity.

Glencolumbkille to Dublin

Today we travel back across Ireland from County Donegal to Dublin. On the way, we will stop at the Knowth passage tomb in the Boyne Valley.

We so grateful for the beauty and openness and hospitality of Donegal. We have two more nights before we start the journey home.