2021: Opening the Windows
While on vacation (in the before time when vacations were legal) in 2019 I came across a spiritual discipline that I found uniquely powerful. It was presented by a dynamic Episcopalian priest named Terry McGugan in Denver. The audio links to his sermons can be found here. In this exercise he had you conceive of yourself sitting in the middle of an empty room in a chair. In this room were 7 windows of varying sizes, shapes and heights. These windows represent the various ways that Gods seeks access to our lives. The foundation of this exercise is the insight that God loves us more than we could ever possibly love Him and that He is pursuing us more than we could ever seek Him. It is our choice and indeed our call to open these windows to allow God access to all of our lives and to allow Him to strengthen His relationship with us. To that end this is my checklist for 2021, I pray that you may find it useful as well.
The first window to open is that of prayer. Prayer is simply a conversation with God. There is in my mind no wrong way to pray. It may be a traditional recitation such as the Lord’s Prayer or a more informal talk or it may be a plaintive plea; it can be sitting, standing, kneeling or laying prostrate, it just does not matter. God wants us in conversation with Him and that means prayer. To that end my goal is to strengthen my prayer life this coming year. In addition to morning devotions and a mid-day God Pause, I am seeking to add more impromptu conversations with God as the Spirit directs. This means keeping my heart open to those moments when the Spirit directs our attention to those in need or to our own needs. This can and will occur anywhere, if we but open our hearts to His call; in a car, during your workday, while at the gym, certainly while watching the news. The important thing is to just talk to God. I am hopeful that granting God more access through this window will strengthen my relationship with Him. As in most relationships it starts with a conversation.
The second window to open is worship. This is certainly a difficult window to open in a time with so many congregations (mine included), shut down. We are called together to worship in a community. Faith makes little sense without a community. Corporal, communal worship is how we praise God and publicly dedicate our lives to Him and celebrate all that He has given us; especially His Son Jesus Christ. It will certainly be my goal to help move our congregation toward some form of in person worship as we move into 2021. This does not mean going immediately back to pre-pandemic days but to move forward in a way that balances people’s comfort level with what is necessary to bring people together. There are congregations, notably Catholic one’s, that have done this and done it safely. It is critical that this option be opened as there is a deep need on our part to join together in open praise and worship of our Lord.
If this is not possible or if you have underlying health issues that make such public worship problematic, then I would encourage you to seek out online or live streaming options or Zoom type experiences. I know these are second best but any way to stay minimally connected is better than nothing. I must admit I have not done this during this past year. I pledge to do better. I also pledge, however, to make as strong and passionate case as I can that all churches everywhere should open up in some fashion to allow, in person communal public worship. If we don’t then we are closing a window that God very much wants open.
The third window is that of Scripture. We simply must in some way or other study the Bible. This does not mean you must become a biblical scholar. It simply means engaging the Scriptures in some manner on a regular basis. I will leave it to you to define regular. It may simply be a daily scripture-based devotional. It may be a men’s or women’s study group. It might be simply reading a portion that calls to you; the histories of the First and Second Books of the Kings or the psalms; the prayer book of Jesus. Perhaps there are themes that interest you, the Bible can be parsed in that manner as well. As with prayer there is really no wrong way to study Scripture. Just pick up the book and read what the Spirit calls you toward. As for me I plan to more intentionally dive into the “political” texts and better understand how Jesus would have us apply the good news to the issues of the day.
The fourth and fifth windows are that of community and ministry. As Father McGugan states Christianity is not a solo activity, it is a team sport. Being in community means more than just saying we are a part of the community but rather it means being an active participant. There is a myriad of ways to be engaged in your faith community. Just peruse your church’s website and you will find many such opportunities. Building fellowship with one’s church family is a tremendous way that God wants to access our lives. Opening this window will please God and enrich your life. My goal is to more intentionally reconnect with my faith community throughout the next year.
Ministry by contrast is the way we serve our church family in the work that needs to be done. These are the things you do to make the church function. It may mean being a worship assistant; greeter, usher, communion assistant or a reader. It has been said that church is like a football game; 22 people desperately in need of rest being watched by 80,000 people desperately in need of exercise. Don’t be a spectator, get involved. I promise if you put your hand up; someone will find something for you to do. My goal is to get back (as soon as we reopen) into helping with worship, which strikes me as a small way I can repay the congregation for all they have done for me. My suggestion is if you are not already doing so, then find one thing other than worship to do in your faith community by way of ministry.
The sixth and seventh windows are those of service and proclamation. They are linked but yet distinct. Service is simply helping others in any way we can for no other reason than it is the right thing to do. This may mean working in a food pantry or with a peace advocacy group. It might mean working with a special needs community as I have been called to do. The point is not to necessarily do this as a part of a faith community, and it is certainly not limited by anyone’s denomination or faith status. It is what we do to live a more fully human life, the way Jesus taught us to. This does touch upon proclamation because we will of course do this because we are called to this activity. Proclamation, however, is the intentional and forthright statement of whom you follow; in our case our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. This too can be done in many varied ways. Obviously, this blog is my main way. To that end it is my goal to expand the scope of this online presence to include information on the key areas of peace, stewardship and anarchy, and to make the Gospel case for all of these as a part of our Christian faith. As for others this proclamation may come in any number of ways. It may be as simple as inviting a friend to church or mentioning where you go on Sunday mornings and why. The point is proclamation need not entail cornering some random person in an elevator with a sermon. First, few of us are comfortable in doing this and second, it is not likely very effective. Better to proclaim your faith in your lived experience and plainly state it when asked. Trust me, live like a Christian and you will get asked.
My prayer for us all, myself included, is that we may all throw open the seven windows that allow God unfettered access to our lives. Doing so will allow the fresh air of faith to renew our souls and pull us into tighter relationship with our heavenly Father. Remember, God is swirling outside that room, all we need to do is open the windows and He will rush in and lift us up.
Praise Be to God