This month I’ll be posting parts of a Lutheran Via de Cristo talk I gave about Environments. This is the first installment.
It’s has been said, and rightly so, that the Christian life is not a destination, but a journey. You might choose to think of it as a train trip. Our first talk spoke about the importance of having an ideal. It’s just crucial–think about it–you might be at the train station, but you can’t get on the right train if you don’t know where you’re headed. As Christians, we want to head toward the life of grace, a conscious and growing life in Christ. This means a lifelong process of reforming and transforming our lives as our will is conformed to His. Talks about piety, study and action gave us some idea of how to do this through personal spiritual discipline. Our last talk ,Leaders, presented a picture of the truly dynamic Christian as a leader. This talk goes a step further because Jesus called us to follow Him, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of the world. This is the true mission of the church. It’s not enough to get on the right train and sit quietly reading our Bible until the journey ends. It’s not enough to interact in a friendly and helpful manner with our fellow passengers. We must get off at every stop and invite others to come along with us.
There’s a very good book you might want to read sometime, called “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer says that Christianity means community and the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, pure grace. Then he goes on to tell us that the Christian’s calling is not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the midst of the world, even among enemies! In the book of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples, saying:
“….you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house ….Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
We can’t stay isolated in our churches and in groups of fellow Christians. We must go out — to our families, our workplaces, our communities –and radiate God’s love into our personal environments.
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
We lay people need to pray for our Pastor and for each other. I have found, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that in praying for someone my feelings about them transform. Often God reveals something that shows me I have been misjudging or misunderstanding them. Prayer is an important ministry of the laity; we are never too old, too young, too ill, or too ignorant to pray. It is such a simple gift we can give others, and one we often neglect.
I first heard the term “spiritual direction” when I attended a Via de Cristo retreat weekend in 1990. Spiritual direction was mentioned in a list of disciplines that could be helpful in increasing piety, but we received little information to explain what this discipline entailed, or how to go about doing it. Being the curious person I am, I went back to my home congregation and asked my Pastor, “what is spiritual direction and are you my spiritual director?” Turns out he didn’t really know either. That started me on a journey that led to lots of reading and research, 5+ years of being a spiritual directee, and finally a two year program through Oasis Ministries called, “Spiritual Direction for Spiritual Guides” during which I had several directees of my own. After all of this, I still found myself asking, “Exactly what is this thing called spiritual direction?”
Most Lutherans, like me, are unfamiliar with the idea of spiritual direction. The closest concept in our tradition is probably “seelsorge,” or care of souls, which is regarded as part of the pastoral office.
Like other Christians, however, we Lutherans do want to explore and deepen our faith lives and we know that certain relationships with others help us do that. Even those who have not heard of “spiritual direction” are comfortable with the idea of having a spiritual friend or mentor. Luther himself spoke of “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, says:
“God has willed that we should seek and find His living word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself …”
Simply put, spiritual direction is pointing another person toward God. I believe the ability to do this is a charism, or spiritual gift and it often occurs naturally in the Christian community, sometimes without the individuals involved being fully aware of it.
Stay tuned for my next post about my own experiences in spiritual direction …..
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them. —Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I originally planned to simply post this quote, but I found it so challenging personally that I decided to blog about it. I have to admit that Christmas is often a time when I want to impress others, at least a little. There are those family members and friends I don’t see or hear from too often during the year so ….when we get together I’d like them to see me at my best. I take care with how I look and what I wear, and even what I tell them about how my life is going.
Then there are the gifts …I prefer to be the giver, rather than humbly receiving. I enjoy giving gifts and feeling generous. Isn’t there some pride in this? I don’t like others to see that I need them or what they have to offer.
What about food? Instead of a simple meal together, Christmas has to be a feast … in fact, a series of feasts and parties and excess. Through it all, I’m hoping that my culinary contributions will measure up and be appreciated as “the best.”
I can give myself a pass on decorating, probably because I simply don’t have that talent or inclination. However, for many of us, it’s worthwhile to consider: am I decorating to welcome the King? Or to impress my visitors with ‘house beautiful’?
Jesus came on Christmas as a helpless infant. He was born in a dirty stable to poor parents. He left honor and glory behind to become one of us, one of the least of us… and why? Simply out of love. The least we can do is love others and receive His sacrifice in humility and grateful worship. I see clearly how things should be, but understanding it is much easier than living it. Authors and readers have you found ways to celebrate Christmas correctly? I’d like to hear some suggestions.
This quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Book, “God Is In the Manger.” I’m planning to request it from our local library, so you may see a review later this month!
“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”