by David Boshart
Executive Conference Minister
At our Annual Meeting this summer, we asked our delegates, “How do you see the Spirit at work transforming us to reflect God’s unqualified love for us?”
Delegates identified three primary ways that they come to see the Spirit’s transforming work: 1) testimony, 2) mindful reflection, and 3) communal discernment.
The first of these leads to the second two.
Testimony provides the opportunity for the community to hear and “test” the veracity of the Spirit at work. As testimonies are shared in the community we grow in mindful reflection of the Spirit’s movement at all times and in all places. As we listen to these stories, as a spiritual practice, we cultivate mindfulness toward the Spirit moving in each of our own lives. Growing mindfulness of the Spirit’s movement produces more testimony.
The accumulating testimonies provide the occasion for communal discernment. We consider the story we are hearing in light of the Biblical story. Have we seen the Spirit move in this way before? Communal discernment raises the question posed by one table group, “What is God working on here?” As we ponder this question, we become more careful listeners, more skilled in our detection of the Spirit’s movement.
Out of this process of shared testimonies, mindful reflection, communal discernment, as one group described this process, we start to connect the dots of seemingly unrelated events and “goodness emerges.” We start to change. Table groups said that as we listen to one another, we grow in empathy, walls come down, we become less rigid, we become more open-minded, and we become more grateful.
We come to understand the transforming work of the Holy Spirit through this cycle of shared testimony, mindful reflection, and communal discernment.
This process poses some important questions. If testimony is the best way to shine the light on the Spirit’s work in our lives, how much space do we create for testimony when the church is gathered? In what ways are we teaching or equipping people in our churches to listen deeply, to cultivate mindfulness about “what is God working on here?”
And, when in our community life do we pause to consider how we are becoming less rigid, more empathetic, more open-minded, more grateful--and ultimately--a greater reflection of God’s unqualified love for the world?
by David Boshart
At Central Plains Annual Meeting in June, I shared a meal with our speaker, Meghan Good. Meghan talked about how interesting it is to speak in all kinds of settings across the Mennonite Church and how different each context is. I couldn’t resist asking, “So, Meghan, given me the down and dirty analysis of what you see that is unique in our conference.”
Without hesitating she said, “It is very clear that these people really like each other and want to be together.” Then she added, “I also see signs that there is a spiritual hunger here that isn’t apparent everywhere I go.”
Music to a conference minister’s ears!!
One year after adopting “Being God’s Faithful People: A Covenant of Spiritual Practices,” we checked in with representatives of our congregations to hear about their experiences with our new way of thinking about our relationship.
We asked participants at table groups to tell a story of when they felt:
As participants began to tell their stories, the depth of the sharing was palpable in the room. Halfway through the allotted time, we observed one table holding hands in prayer. Here and there, tears were falling. People listened sensitively with compassion.
After this time of sharing, we asked participants, What deep longings for transformation do you hear from God through these stories? It wasn’t until reading the written feedback from these table groups, that I fully understood what Meghan was perceiving.
A new level of spiritual hunger is rising in our conference.
Participants expressed a deep longing to relinquish control so they could more fully experience God’s leading in their lives.
That is a remarkable contrast to the longings that we commonly associate with a society that worships individual freedom and self-determination. While they may not know how it comes to be, these people shared some pretty clear ideas of what it looks like when is spiritual transformation is happening. For example, they think their faith communities (local and regional) would be places marked by unity and compassion. They would also have a confidence that they can be trusted to discern God’s will together.
Our people are longing for these experiences in our life together.
Spiritual transformation is not something we can manufacture or program to happen. But we can cultivate certain behaviors that prepare us for transformation. These behaviors have less to do with programs and structures. They have more to do with orienting our hearts and paying attention to our spiritual hungers.
We orient our hearts to God’s leading through spiritual availability, stillness, mindfulness, being more than doing, presence more than program. Having surveyed unpredictable upheaval going on in the world, the Psalmist tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
In the stillness and mindfulness, we give ourselves to important questions that our world will never pose for us. “What God is doing in this situation?” “What questions might Jesus be posing to us in this moment?” “How might the Spirit be calling us to give ourselves completely, in faith, to do what Jesus would do?”
However spiritual transformation comes about, as we cultivate practices that make us available to God’s presence in our lives,
we will grow in our ability to discern God’s will,
our life together will be marked by unity and compassion,
and the life we share will have us all looking more and more like Jesus.
May it be so!
Next week, I’ll share another reflection on what we heard from table groups at Annual Meeting 2017.
Central Plains Mennonite Conference
creates settings for our congregations and partners to grow in holistic witness to God's reconciling mission by developing leadership, encouraging fellowship and promoting lifelong discipleship.