The Christian with depth is the person who has failed and who has learned to live with it. Brennan Manning

As we pivot in our sermon series from the faith-filled legacy story of Ruth, to the life of David in 1 Samuel, surely Manning's words could describe this man of God who stumbled his way into faithful living. David faced critical choices all across his life, building his character as he rose and fell with his many decisions. David learned to live with the complexity of his life with God, the highlights (and the lowlights).

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Bread of Life

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. —Matthew 14.19-20

Alone and struggling, I came to hear him. I stood in front and took it in. I heard a word of grace. I gave him my heart as he spoke.
I saw him break some bread, bless it and give it in baskets to his helpers. They gave me some. It tasted like freedom.

And then a hush fell, the others silent. I didn't see why, couldn't imagine why: I wanted to sing and shout, to praise loudly, to tell my story: there in the bread, my whole life poured into the bread, my whole life rose before me, like bread rising, full and very special, touched by God. Why not sing a song?

Only when I turned around did I see why the spreading hush, the awed silence, as the gift was passed from hand to hand: his helpers kept going among the people, bearing baskets of bread, giving it away. The bread did not end. He did not just feed me. He fed everybody. All of them. Here was a miracle: not me, but 5000. I was not alone. We were as one. A community, drawn together as if we were one body, one loaf of bread. The miracle was not the bread but the sharing, not that he made bread, but that he made a community, not that he gave me a gift, but that he gave the same gift to others, that he drew my “I” into a “we. I was saved, not by being made special, but by being included.
I imagine the miracle happens again and again, not by making bread appear, but by making it disappear, into the hands of the hungry.

I wonder what it was like to be one of those people helping him, following him, carrying those baskets out into the crowd, seeing the miracle in the unending bread, among the people. I think I could spend my life doing that.

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

On the side of the vulnerable

I’ve been reflecting on Matt Robbins’ sermon last Sunday, based on Ruth 2 where God’s righteousness to the “quartet of the vulnerable” (poor, foreigners, widows and orphans) is enacted by Boaz to Ruth, who is allowed and assisted to generously glean in his fields. If you play word association with the average secular person and say "righteousness," most people are going to think "buzzkill." The word seems irrelevant to them, tied to religiosity long left behind or scorned.

But do you know who longs for righteousness? The vulnerable and weak, because sins are committed against them. The woman who is being verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically abused by her spouse longs for righteousness. She longs to not be treated that way. The guy at work who is used and misused and cast out when he’s not needed longs for righteousness and justice on earth. Victims of discrimination, made hopeless by systemic injustice that seems to them undeviating and perpetual, long for righteousness.

These people need to hear and see that old wounds can be healed, that the world can become more just. What seems impossible to change IS being changed in the faithful people of God. The world that seems to coldly reject them is giving way to a new world in which the last shall be first. God’s righteousness WILL be fully realized in His Kingdom. May we be abounding in love and kindness, always looking for opportunities to bring good tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, and pronounce liberty to the captives.

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Listening

When I was young, I never understood when someone would tell me that I had to listen to God. No matter how hard I tried I could not hear any voice. Why did the characters in the Bible hear God’s voice but I couldn’t? As I grew into a more mature spiritual life I discovered that God’s voice manifests in so many ways: in Scripture, in other people, in my experiences, in my feelings, and in my gifts and talents.

In 1 Samuel 3 we read the story of Samuel who hears a voice call out to him in the night. He mistakes it for Eli’s call and goes to Eli saying, “Here I am.” This happens two more times and eventually Eli realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel. The scripture says that Samuel was not familiar with the Lord. He had not prayed before and he did not know anything about how God communicates. Eli tells Samuel that the next time he hears God call him he should respond, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel’s first experience of prayer is listening.

For most of us, our first experience of prayer is speaking words. Growing up we are told to say our prayers. We learn specific prayers like the Lord’s Prayer or we are encouraged to ask God for this or that. Seldom are children encouraged to listen. Though Samuel was a child, he was encouraged to listen to God. It took a long time for me to learn how to listen to God, but I wonder if it would have come earlier had I been taught how to listen in prayer as a child.
Prayerful listening occurs in the everyday, too. Keep a lookout for God through your day. Ask yourself questions like these: Where did God appear this week? What have I learned about myself and God through this experience? What set my heart on fire? What are the deep desires within me? What am I longing for? How does God feel when God looks upon me? What does God desire for me?

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Follow Me

"Follow me" is deeply personal. It means fundamentally taking on someone else’s character. That’s what we’re shooting for as we gently pay attention to where we are in relationship to God. Our goal is something like this: We’re coming, best we can, to a single-minded and joyous devotion to God and what he wants for us, and to service to him and to others through him and because of him.

We seek this formation in Christ through the process of a constant immersing ourselves, whatever it would take, in the will, the power and the presence of God. We are moving ourselves and being moved by him from self-worship to Christ-centered self-denial. Slowly, through the grace and power of God, this becomes our character.

Little by little, the spiritual disciplines help unbend our heart. They help untwist our motivations. They reorganize our loves. They fundamentally begin to reconstruct our desires. Spiritual disciplines are doing the little things day by day, moment by moment, that help us live into followership of Jesus Christ. We don’t do this because we’re earning anything from God, because we’re trying to get God to like us, or for any other religious reasons.

No, we’re doing it for practical reasons. That is, we came to Christ with habits of the heart. The truth of it is, some of those habits of the heart we had at 19 are still with us. Our only hope for being decent friends, parents, spouses, and leaders is to engage in the spiritual disciplines that help us live into followership of Christ. This is not rhetoric for us. This is the foundation of our lives.
Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Anita Sorenson
Praying with Surrender

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.
But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.
It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.
— Pedro Arrupe, SJ

In considering all of the prayer requests this week and praying through them at staff meeting, I was struck by the multiple difficult, even desperate, places many of our community find themselves in. They are totally in God’s hands.

For many, it wasn't their choice to surrender this. For the last couple of days I've been thinking about this prayer above by Pedro Arrupe, SJ, written after his stroke in 1981, and these additional words: "I give it all back to you, I surrender it wholly to be governed by Your will." There is a difference between choosing to give up a little luxury, and having something so essential stripped from you that you are completely at the mercy and faithfulness of God. It pushes you into the depths, forces you to look at what it means to commend yourself entirely into God's hands. We have many in our church who are in this place of acute dependence and need.

This is what we profess to desire, to want God like air. Theory is one thing, the practice, it turns out, is something else again. Let us all pray for one another to have faith to surrender ourselves to the hands of our faithful God.

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Anita Sorenson
The Welcoming Prayer

A contemplative friend shared this prayer recently as an example of how to practice ‘holy indifference’, to not be invested in each day of life having to have a particular outcome, but rather being accepting and open to whatever God chooses to bring each day. It speaks to a posture of radical openness, readiness to set ego aside and any conflicting motivations that might interfere with the Spirit’s movement.
It’s a powerful prayer of surrender and trust.

The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating)

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it's for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God's action within.
Amen.

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Anita Sorenson
Particularly Grateful

Several years ago, at the invitation of a friend, I joined her in an unusual texting correspondence: every day, we would exchange short lists of particular things in our lives for which we were grateful. “Particular” was mandatory; no vague generalizations were allowed. They might be small, but they had to be specific (the first David Austin rose bud of spring, unexpected spring rainfall after a delicious lunch, a cancellation that freed up an hour of spaciousness in the day). We learned fairly quickly that gratitude can be a challenging discipline, with far-reaching implications for the way we see the world.

We interpret reality. We make choices all the time about what our eyes perceive, what we focus on, and we can learn to see in new ways. By the same token, we can learn to see grace in all things, changing our perspective, bringing us not just a more positive outlook on life but also drawing us into worship, our ‘sacrifice’ of thanks and praise to God (Hebrews 13:15). Appreciation of the gift of any good thing can lead us to love of the Giver. And as we realize that there is nothing outside the realm of God’s mercy, that everything is grace, that “there is faithfulness at the heart of things” (Benedictine monk and writer David Steindl-Rast), we can also practice seeing that God also gives meaning and hope even in the darkest and most difficult times. “Counting our blessings”, the simple accounting of the mercies in our lives, has changed our hearts, our attitudes, our perceptions.

The sheer gratuitousness of God is transformative!

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Anita Sorenson
Caring for Your Soul

How do you care for your soul? In a conversation with someone last week, we talked about first steps in a more intentional life with God. What kind of practice might be helpful for her to offer herself more regularly to God, for intimacy and transformation by the Spirit? What about remembering God? Bringing him to mind, acknowledging and attending to the God who is here? Noticing when she is not aware of or mindful of the reality of God and his love? All of these are good opportunities to become more attentive to our faithful and available God. 

The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds... This is the fundamental secret of caring for our souls. Our part in this practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him. In the early time of our 'practicing' we may well be challenged by our burdensome habits of dwelling on things less than God. But these are habits—not the law of gravity—and can be broken. A new, grace-filled habit will replace the former ones as we take intentional steps toward keeping God before us. Soon our minds will return to God as the needle of a compass constantly returns to the north. If God is the great longing of our souls, He will become the pole star of our inward beings.

—Dallas Willard 


 Grace and peace,


Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Anita Sorenson
Waiting

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents
 
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith 

To wait is a hard, sweet paradox in the Christian life.  It is hard not yet having what we know will be coming.  But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of the footprints we have seen: He has been here among us.  

Like the labor of childbirth, we groan knowing what it will take to get there, and we are full to brimming already.
The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function.  Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for.  
We persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping; we are a community groaning together in sweet expectation of the morning.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.               Romans 8:24-25

 Grace and peace,


Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Anita Sorenson