by Christine Hall
M aybe you’ve seen those mechanical toys that change shape from robots to planes or cars with the shifting of a few pieces? What I’ve seen in participants in the Way of the Spirit program is transformation that’s deep and lasting, no plastic hinges required. What is it like to be transformed in faith? I offer a few reflections and the words of a Way of the Spirit program alumnus to answer that big question.
As founder and director of Way of the Spirit, I’ve celebrated many participant transformations. I’ve learned anew that God’s kind of transformation is not a once-for-all-time thing. It may begin with a bang of commitment or build slowly from within. But it’s never done. In Way of the Spirit, we are privileged to walk together in faith over two years, through six retreats, private online sharing, and monthly group calls. Our transformations are hopeful and life-giving. We gain freedom, trust, and responsiveness to the Spirit. For sturdy transformation through big transitions and challenges, we all benefit from the support of a praying support circle like Way of the Spirit.
I’ve asked 2013 Way of the Spirit class graduate, Tommee Carlisle of Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland, Oregon, to describe changes in her relationship with God, with her faith community, and in her service or ministry to others through Way of the Spirit. These three facets of a transformed life are the fruits of our study of wisdom from the Quaker Christian heritage, of committed spiritual practice, and of humble engagement with others. Might you feel an inner invitation to holy transformation too?
A Transformed Relationship with God
Everyone’s relationship with the Holy One benefits from prayer and reflection. Our circle of sincere, committed God-people includes diverse experiences and ways of talking about God, Christ, Jesus, the Bible and regular devotional practice. We begin with respect for our differences and grow in wonder at how variously we experience God’s open invitation into relationship. Tommee says it this way:
To begin, even saying the name “God” was foreign. Even more, [God was] an entity rejected since childhood. [It’s a] a transforming change to say as part of my contemplation prayer practice, “I love God with all my heart, and all my soul and all my mind and all my strength” and to weep at the truth and power of those words. …to wake each morning and have my first thoughts be gratitude to God, to feel safe in God’s love, completely, come what may.
Tommee now attends Bible study and even owns up to a joyful relationship with Jesus. During her final Way of the Spirit retreat, she shared a simple drawing. Jesus dances a jig as they walk forward hand in hand. No one could have predicted this! Other program participants stretch and grow beyond traditional names— beyond Father, Savior and Spirit—into newer images and ways of relating to the Lover of Souls. It’s a heart-growing adventure.
A Transformed Relationship with Faith Community
Many Way of the Spirit participants already serve their churches or meetings with joy as clerks, pastors, educators, hospitality coordinators and more. They seek to grow in faithful responsiveness to the Spirit’s guidance. Others are new to blessed community, carrying wounds needing forgiveness to free them to fully give of themselves to others. Some become members of their churches or meetings, others grow in confidence of their spiritual gifts and ability offer them to others for the building up of the Body. Tommee’s story grew from deep hurt and suspicion, into membership with Multnommah Friends Meeting, Portland, OR. She now serves on the Ministry and Care committee and makes herself available with “spiritual ears” to her “beloved community.” Her words:
…each of God’s calls to me have listening at their core. My “yes” to God, and my beloved community, reflects faithfulness to that leading. There was the homeless family we accompanied as they found home and stability, the intentional relational conversations that arose from Organizing for the Biocommons. And now, there is Friends for Racial Justice: a study and action group to which I’m deeply connected. Each way forward, each “yes” brings me into stronger connection within my beloved community.
Transformed Spirit-Led Service
The theme of the third Way of the Spirit module challenges us to engage our faith like Jesus did. We learn from models of Spirit-led service in scripture and in centuries of Christian and Quaker history. Participants grow in confidence in recognizing and responding to inner Guidance, despite the many competing influences around us. Our sense of “ministry” expands. The artificial polarity of sacred and secular dissolves. Program alumni have taken amazing next steps—to serve their faith communities, work with the homeless, write books, practice spiritual accompaniment, invite others to experience the Spirit in nature, teach children and adults, and much more.
I asked Tommee: How has your sense of your service or ministry to others changed because of Way of the Spirit?
Believing I should or could do ministry was the big transformation, that God would call me and I would say yes and go forth. [My sense of ministry now] is sure and deeply held. I have no doubts. I have a life-long calling to do racial justice, and for some years, I took a rest, because I could. Because I’m white, but black folks cannot rest. They are always in danger, or someone they love is in danger. They must be vigilant, always. Now, my calling to walk in the prophetic stream of racial justice is spirit-led and true. Right now, it takes the form of seeking and inviting myself and fellow Quakers, to challenge ourselves to see our own unconscious, white supremacist views. Soon, we will have the installation “99 Questions for White People” (AFSC) at Multnomah Friends Meeting with an attending program the Friends of Racial Justice have developed from the heart of love. I will not rest until all can rest.
During August’s reunion retreat, people from three different Way of the Spirit class groups did some “story mining.” After sharing the highlights and fruits of our spiritual journeys since Way of the Spirit, we named threads, patterns or themes. Many of them expressed coming alive, being changed by God—death and rebirth, opening up, following the nudges, holy obedience, and greater freedom.
The list of words and phrases was so powerful I typed them up and created the word cloud image here. The biggest words are the core themes participants chose for reflection over the weekend. But all the words speak volumes of how God changes people. The Divine Transformer is alive and well among us!
The image is like an icon. I hope you will stare at it awhile in prayer (click to see enlargement). These words, and the rich stories they come from, fill me with gratitude and awe.
If you wish to deepen your faithfulness and explore leadings in life-changing community, join the 2016 class of Way of the Spirit. Applications close December 31st for the first retreat on Spiritual Discernment, February 12-15, 2016. Are you up for God’s kind of transformation?
Details and application online: https://goodnewsassoc.org/spirit/