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Way of the Spirit: Fuel for Faith in Action

By Christine Hall, Director of Way of the Spirit

Feet on RockSpiritual retreats are powerful opportunities to cultivate our best intentions for a life of faith, and help to grow the kind of courage needed to act as led by the Spirit.

Strengthen our best intentions
Retreats are all about intention—where you are aiming, or your sense of purpose. To be clear, intentions are not the same as New Years resolutions. Most of those well-meant goals fade after six weeks or so of challenges and weakening willpower. Intentions do something different inside us. They orient us through trial and error, both success and failure. They help convert an inner sense of Divine guidance into determined action.

So, when’s the last time you went on spiritual retreat? I mean time set apart, outside normal routines, removed from the fray of everyday life. A day, a weekend, or a week away. On retreat, we return to the core of our life with God. In our tumultuous culture, retreats may seem to some to be indulgent, irrelevant, or, perhaps meant for someone else, someone more “holy.”

Consider your central spiritual intentions and how you devote time and resources to them. Do you value regular prayer and weekly worship? Scripture reading? Service to people less fortunate or doing something meaningful to protect the imperiled earth? My intentions help position my desires with and for God. Retreats allow us to be attentive to the “still, small voice” of the Spirit within.

Can you hear the hidden “tension” in intention? Intentions stretch us between what we are and what we could be. We reach toward God, and The Holy always meets us there. Intentions are a kind of inner action, like extending invisible muscles. I stretch toward inner listening because I wish to grow in my capacity to hear and respond to Divine guidance in everyday life. When we are guided by the Spirit, our hearts catch fire; we discover gifts and energy for tasks that make Goodness visible in the world. We become coworkers in the Reign of God.

Prepares us to live in turbulent times
Six years ago, I was privileged to help birth a retreat-centered program called Way of the Spirit—a curriculum of retreats and learning for compassionate action which rises from the wisdom of the Christian-Quaker tradition. Quakers have a unique way of exploring the experiential reality of God in ordinary life. They’ve been called “everyday mystics,” since they recognize that an active, faithful life, and contemplative quiet are inextricably woven. They honor a sense of the immediate Guidance of Christ as their Inward Teacher, present and active within.

The world needs people of faith to step up and into challenging situations. But how do we know what is ours to do? How do we run without faltering, without burning out or losing hope? Our heritage teaches that Jesus was extremely active in teaching, healing, and walking beside the hurting and oppressed. Where did the fuel for all that compassion come from? We can imagine he didn’t just “go through the motions” of ministry. He didn’t act out of guilt or obligation, but a powerful experience of a loving God.

Since Jesus often said, “follow me,” it helps to notice how frequently he stepped away from activism into times of prayer and reflection. Look at the spaces between all that ministry. Pay attention to how many times he went off to the hills (Luke 6:12), woke early (Mark 1:35), or got out on the lake to pray (Mathew 14:13). He honored hours and days of solitude away from the pressing crowd to commune in quiet intimacy with his Abba. Even the hurried social activist gospel of Mark mentions at least nine examples of what we might call “retreat.” Jesus specifically calls his disciples away from things to rest (Mark 6:31-32). As “friends of Jesus” (see John 15:14-15), we can follow Jesus away on retreat too.

It might have seemed easier for us to get away on retreat in less turbulent times. Calls to action and service are multiplying in 2017. But retreats are more urgent than ever now. We need retreats like Jesus did, to do the hard stuff that needs doing: to speak the Truth with love in desperate places; to act with confidence when the world shouts cynicism and hopelessness. We need courage to be truly Spirit-led in our times of violence, environmental crisis, and political and social divisions.

Stretches our spiritual muscles
How does your faith grow courage? Not courage as the opposite of fear, but courage as the ability to stand, remain trusting in God, and to act despite fear. The world needs people of courageous trust. So, beyond merely “stretching” those inner spiritual muscles, more may be required of us. Think of exercise. Our culture recognizes the need to exercise physical muscles. We can’t run or walk a 10K race without some serious conditioning. Could we bring the same intentionality to our inner lives of faith? Do you imagine faith as a stroll in the park or an ultra marathon? Maybe it’s both. Our times seem to ask us to be ready for anything!

Remember that Jesus didn’t say the commonwealth of God would come when the Romans fell, or if a particular party held the White House. Jesus said the reign of God is now, is within (Luke 17:21). It takes courage to go within, to open all I am to the Divine Lover of Souls. That’s what retreats are for. In Way of the Spirit, our intention is to open our lives to God and be guided and en-couraged. Hear the ancient call to intention and courage in a contemporary interpretation of Psalm 40 by Nan Merrill (Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, 1997):

I waited patiently for the Beloved,
who heard my cry and came to me.
Love raised me from the pit of despair,
out of confusion and fear,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
There is a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to the Beloved.

Way of the Spirit might be a path for you.
In Way of the Spirit, we focus our intentions over two years and six substantial retreats. We have presentations, readings, small group sharing, reflections, prayer practices, online community, group calls, and supportive spiritual accompaniment. The program seeks to fill an aching need for something between a single adult ed. class, or weekend retreat, and a full seminary education. We recognize that all are called uniquely, not only into pastoring or preaching. The program explores less visible ministries: gifts that flow in service, coming alongside the suffering, or organizing soup kitchens.

Way of the Spirit welcomes participants from the western U.S. and Canada, and beyond. We offer a gently guided approach that is uniquely attentive to the movements of the Holy within each individual. Program content is grounded in Quaker spirituality, even as Quaker participants are enriched by ecumenical perspectives. Program modules stimulate learning on topics like these: the inner journey—recognizing the presence and action of God within; prayer and spiritual practice—holistic and creative ways to relate to the Divine; spiritual discernment; God between us—a relational spirituality; forgiveness; spiritual accompaniment or companioning; and living out “leadings” of the Spirit into action for peace, justice, compassionate care, or even becoming an everyday prophet. All our efforts are about growing in trust of God.

Details, photos, alumni comments, and online application are posted on the Good News Associates* website here: https://goodnewsassoc.org/spirit/. If you feel drawn to Way of the Spirit, we welcome your application as soon as possible for the 2018 retreat cycle beginning February 8–11th.

*Brought to You by Good News Associates:
Good News Associates (GNA) provides the non-profit home, discernment support, and board oversight for Way of the Spirit, alongside other GNA ministries that extend beyond church walls. Way of the Spirit is funded by participant fees and tax-deductible donations through GNA.

Dreams and the Prophetic Life

Jacob Wrestling with an AngelDreams have often been important to my spiritual life, giving me strong images that allow me to speak of the work of God in my life. I was glad to learn that there are many reports of dreams or visions in the journals of Friends who traveled in the ministry. Such prominent friends as Mary Penington and John Woolman reported on dreams/visions in their memoirs, rarely distinguishing between the two and not always commenting on the meanings they see. In the earliest years, visions and dreams were seen as prophetic, carrying weight similar to the biblical prophets. That understanding faded as the century progressed, but was never totally lost at least into the 19th century. Continue reading

Rhythms of Silence in Group Discernment

One of the gifts of Quakers to the wider Christian community is the understanding that God is present and active in the midst of human affairs. In simple terms God, who loves us, delights to partner with each of us in all facets of our lives.

This is not a static relationship with God being in control and our job being to find the right path so everything works out all right. Rather it is an amazing dynamic relationship with God who journeys with us while honoring our free will and unique individuality. This is God who is fully aware of our glory and our brokenness; who is not flummoxed when we blow it; who is honored by our courageous trust to be fully human. Continue reading

Musing on Music

Hymn BooksWhen I lived near Media, Pennsylvania, I joined a Gospel choir. We practiced for several weeks, did a concert in a local church, and then dissolved until the next year. It was joyful and packed full of praise. Gospel is a distinctive genre of music — sung unaccompanied, with a call and response style, and hand clapping the rhythm.

I was energized by the experience of getting to know people from other faith communities, and by learning a new way to make music. But I was also stressed. I had to unlearn so much that my body knew: a different rhythm and downbeat, and different harmonies. Continue reading

Knowing Our Own Demons

by Marge Abbott

Dark side of the moon“Friends, whatever you are addicted to, the Tempter will come in that thing. When he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then you are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after you see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After you see your thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit. Then the Power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there does strength immediately come. Stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone. Then contentment comes. When temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed and will fly away. Your strength is to stand still, after you see yourselves. Continue reading

To Travel in Ministry

Our First Experience in Traveling in Ministry

Al and Sheri Hendrix

Some time ago my wife and I were led to begin traveling among other congregations (Quakers use the term Meeting rather than congregation) within our denomination. This is certainly not a new idea among Quakers. Visiting ministers with a variety of messages have been traveling from Meeting to Meeting since the very beginning, delivering their intended messages, sharing news, doing church business, hosting training opportunities, and in general carrying on the business necessary to grow and maintain the health and connections that sustain the various parts of our faith.

Continue reading

Overcome Evil Jesus’ Way

by Jan Wood

God loves–and yearns for restoration–for our broken world.  But God is a realist.  God is not caught by surprise when people, relationships, cultures and nations turn their backs on their Divine Purpose and become misshapen.  They become a sad shadow of what they could be.  At best this estrangement from one’s purpose is a painful loss; at worst it becomes diabolically destructive.

Many of us are finding ourselves bewildered and disoriented in these present times. Things are becoming grotesquely misarranged.  Basic building blocks of commonality are being destroyed with intentionality.  Logic and facts are no longer the common currency of our working together.  Compassion and goodness are considered weak and unnecessary.  Truth is totally irrelevant.  Might makes right.  Creating fear is both a method and a joy.  Wealth is the new form of godliness. Continue reading

Thoughts on Humility from Africa

by Marge Abbott 

As I’ve been working on my latest book which considers the ways in which Friends experience and talk about prophetic ministry today, numerous Friends have shared their perspectives. Esther Mombo of Kenya and the late Moses Bigirimana of Burundi both attended the 2012 World Conference of Friends in Kenya where I had the opportunity to speak at length about the nature of prophetic ministry. Moses, unfortunately, died in a motorcycle crash a few months later. What follows is a taste of these two extended conversations.

To Be Humble Enough to Step Down

Esther Mombo, of Highlands Yearly Meeting, has spoken often with a strong clear prophetic voice and was the main plenary speaker at the World Conference representing African Friends. When asked about the nature of prophetic ministry, she emphasized the importance of being willing to test a call to ministry or leadership on an ongoing basis. We each must be aware of when it is appropriate say, “no, it is not from God for me to do this.” She went on to expand on this: Continue reading

Assertive and Visible Goodness–in Rural Haiti

by Lon Fendall

The first time I heard this phrase was in a Good News Associates meeting recently.  The GNA director, Jan Wood, used the phrase in response to my report about being involved with some projects in rural Haiti.  Jan said something to the effect of, “Whatever you help with in Haiti, make sure it results in “assertive and visible goodness.”  I said I agreed with that goal, but then later wondered if I even understood what the phrase meant in that context.

The next day while the GNA Associates were talking about something entirely different, Jan said we needed to be sure we as followers of Christ set our eyes on assertive and visible goodness.  Again, that seemed like a good outcome, but I still wondered what Jan might have meant by it.  So I asked her later if she had gotten the phrase from someone else or if she coined it herself.  It was the latter, she said.  She is a person who prays a lot and in the process hears a lot back from God, so I set about to think about the phrase as an important outcome of a proposed project in Southern Haiti. Continue reading

Sharing Friends’ Faith & Practice

ashley-preaching2 A few weeks ago, my seminary classmate Kenya asked if I would lead a workshop on prayer practices for the Episcopal Road Fellows, a group of young adults working for social justice in Atlanta.  Kenya and I are excited about the workshop, which will involve prayers using the body and creativity, such as doodle prayer, coloring mandalas, walking a labyrinth, and a breathing prayer.  I will also introduce the Quaker practice of holding people in the Light.  My hope is that they will try out new practices they can incorporate into their daily life. Continue reading