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:
- God’s unqualified love for you
- submitted to God’s purposes for you
- transformed into the likeness of Jesus,
- the power of the Holy Spirit moving in your life
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.