Letter from Amy: July 6, 2022
"If you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time." Galatians 6:8-9
In my sermon Sunday, I said that one way of "sowing to the Spirit" was to practice the spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines help us participate in the new creation, bringing our habits and bodies into alignment with God's work of renewing all things. They loosen our grip on certain things (control, security, acclaim, etc) in order to open our hands to receive our life and goodness from God. Below is the list of disciplines that was on the screen at church:
Disciplines of Saying No (Disciplines of Self-Denial)
Secrecy (about one's prayer/service)
Disciplines of Saying Yes (Disciplines of Engagement)
I have found deeper freedom and joy in my relationship with God through practicing spiritual disciplines. If you have questions or would like to explore together, I would love to talk to you! I've also listed a few resources below that I've found helpful; this isn't an exhaustive list, simply a few personal favorites. If you have other suggested resources, feel free to add them to the comments on this post.
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If you only read one book on spiritual disciplines, I recommend this one. A simple, clear, gentle, and gracious invitation to the disciplines.
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. I just read this book last week (sermon prep!) and found it rich and helpful; it puts a bit more theological meat on the bones of Foster's book.
The Way of the Heart: Spirituality of the Desert Mothers and Fathers by Henri Nouwen. I've lost track of the number of times I've read this book over the past 20 years; it's deep and insightful yet accessible (and quite short!). It focuses on the disciplines of silence, solitude, and prayer.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. Everything Barton writes is wonderful, and this book on the disciplines is no exception. (Fun fact: her brother is Bill Haley, fellow Anglican priest and director of Coracle)
Podcasts, Sermons, etc
I love the Renovaré podcast for conversations on spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. Each episode feels like a tiny, refreshing retreat.
Incarnation preached a short sermon series on spiritual disciplines during Lent 2019. The series covered the disciplines of Submission, Worship, Service, Giving, Prayer, and Fasting and included some excellent sermons from members of the congregation!
Coracle is a local organization that facilitates conversations (many conveniently held on Zoom during lunch), events, and personal retreats that engage the spiritual disciplines.
We still pray midday prayer on Zoom every Tuesday and Thursday at 12pm. This is such a simple but formative discipline, and all are welcome. Links to join on the Virtual Worship page.
Stories from Bavaria Pilgrims
Another spiritual discipline is that of pilgrimage: walking ancient holy sites, often quite naturally practicing the disciplines of prayer, fellowship, solitude, silence, and sacrifice along the way. A team of Incarnation pilgrims led by Jenni McSwain recently visited Bavaria to view the Oberammergau Passion Play (performed once a decade since the Middle Ages) and hike the Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail, part of larger pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. This team also included several beloved outreach partners as part of our outreach focus on "refreshing the workers."
I've asked the team to share their reflections from the pilgrimage below. Read, enjoy, ask them questions — and begin to think/pray about whether you'd be interested in making a similar pilgrimage in 2023 or beyond. Europe is full of historic pilgrimage trail systems, and Liz (our former rector) hopes to continue to be engaged as our "Pastor of Pilgrimages" from the other side of the pond!
Beth: I clocked us at around 45 miles of walking over the course of four days, and the only thing to do was admire the scenery and talk about life! There’s something about moving forward through flatland, steep hills, and some seasonal raininess with a handful of people that lends itself to a deeper knowledge and respect of those folks. I’m so thankful that our friendships had this growth opportunity, not to mention the great conversations got my mind off the pain of so much walking on my joints!
Jenni: I think what came together well in Bavaria was the pacing of the week. It was nice to be introduced to the story of Oberammergau and the region, but most importantly the Passion Play at the beginning of the week. This set the tone for the rest of the week with our focus on walking the region and keeping our thoughts on Jesus. On another note, you can't go wrong with schnitzel and beer for dinner! Overall, this was a wonderful trip with a fantastic group of people!
Liz: The pilgrimage hike was beautiful, with many tiny and huge chapels and an Abbey and a palace. Stylistically so different to my normal preferences for churches, but I am so grateful for the ways God welcomes all our worship. The team was delightful; each person brought their fullest selves to the week, and that was glorious. Jenni led us morning and evening in such insightful listening to scripture and prayer.
Grant: 1) It was wonderful to be able to spend leisurely time with the others in the group - on hikes through beautiful landscapes, over meals, while playing games at the table in the evening. Being able to slip away from our busy and distracted lives and talk, walk, laugh and be in fellowship — community — together.
2) I was impressed that after 390 years of this Passion play, the message remains true to the essential and original mission: to give glory to Jesus. Also, that this play was clearly a joint effort of the local Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, as evidenced by a jointly sponsored evangelistic display in the town square that very tastefully asked questions like: "How do I live accountably? How do I conquer fear? How do I live in trust?"
Nancy: I had low expectations for the Passion Play...5 hours in German…but it was so well done and truly riveting (especially once we got our hands on the translated script in the second act!). While following the key stories from the gospels, the play expanded certain aspects in a way that added tremendous insight.
A few that struck me were:
The extended dialog between the powerful people — Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod — as they considered how they would deal with Jesus by blame-shifting in the context of increasingly polarized public opinion. Such a deep study of how the impulse to preserve power leads to spiritual blindness.
The illustrations of the unintended consequences of sinful decisions. The High Priest wanted the Romans to dispense with Jesus, but certainly didn’t want him to be called ‘The King of the Jews’. But once he had relinquished responsibility, he relinquished control over how things would spin, and his plan backfired. The play also explored Judas and his possible regrets — that he wanted to identify Jesus to the authorities to raise his profile, but (in the play) certainly didn’t want him tortured and killed. But again, things spun out of his control. [Amy notes: this strikes me as a perfect illustration of sowing and reaping the flesh! (Galatians 6:7)]
The availability of grace: In the scriptures we aren’t given insight into Judas’ intent, but we do see his remorse in Matt. 27:4. The play illustrated powerfully Judas’ inability to envision the possibility of forgiveness; being reconciled and restored by Jesus. A similar dynamic played out with Peter’s despair after his denials, with the important difference that his despair didn’t prevent him from receiving mercy.
Another VERY powerful scene put Luke 22:31-32 into the context of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” In the play, Jesus AGONIZES here, envisioning Peter suffering through his denial and the ensuing despair.
It made me consider whether we love each other in this way — to see how painful it is for each other to experience moral failure, and to pray against the very real possibility that our faith will fail at those times. In the play, Jesus seemed broken by the prospect of Peter suffering in this way. It felt like he was looking into an abyss; pouring his heart into praying that Peter’s faith would not fail.
The rest of the trip: I enjoyed unhurried conversation along the hiking paths, deepening friendships while enjoying vistas and taking thousands of steps. There were wildflowers all along our path; clear mountain streams, the gentle sound of cowbells — and the landscape was dotted with churches and crosses on the tops of hills, like an invitation from the people of the region to look to Jesus. At the end of each day there was a beautiful kind of exhaustion. For me there were also a few moments where I felt like a foreigner, in need of patience and mercy, which reminded me of the thousands of immigrants in Arlington who would be refreshed by a gentle word and helping hand. It makes such a difference to be received with kindness.
I love the variety of these reflections, the way they reflect the unique and personal ways God interacts with each one of us when we give him access to our bodies and lives in an intentional (or you could say disciplined) way. May we all "sow to the Spirit" with similar intentionality, and may our joy in God be deep and refreshing.