• Seasons of the Spirit: Deepening Our Spiritual Lives — An Invitation

    As autumn beckons, we find ourselves once again drawn to the wonder of our changing seasons.  We are awakened to the reality that life itself is change and movement.  We are invited to learn new lessons, to grow in our consciousness, and to take on new understandings life offers us.  Recently Larry Bacow, President of Harvard University, in his address at the Harvard Convocation for the incoming Class of 2023, remarked, “Anyone who is thinking of the next four years as a series of stepping stones to a pre-determined outcome will miss the point of this place.”

    It was clear to me that he was also speaking of a truth about the spiritual life into which we are called. At points, we may have felt the spiritual life was all about following the series of “stepping stones” of religious rules:  rigorous scripture study, correct prayer practices, perfect church attendance, long and complex committee meetings. All of this leading to a “pre-determined outcome” of our “gaining salvation.” Make no mistake, these practices are all worthy and important foundations needed in building an informed and grounded spiritual life.  But the rote following of these practices misses the inner experience of intimacy with God, which the Spirit is beckoning us to engage in.  We must be attentive so as not to miss the point. Our spiritual life is about taking our own part in the dance of life with its shadows and light, its paradoxes which at times seem to offer conflicting messages, its struggles with justice and mercy, equity and equality, its life-affirming and life-denying choices. The point of our spiritual life is our intimacy and companionship with God, and God’s yearning for us and our world as we live out our daily life.

    How we respond to the incredible gift of life depends on us.  God knows each of us intimately.  And God has also gifted us with the freedom to respond to the gift of life given us.  How can we take hold of the immense gift of life and respond to the invitation to be a part of God’s creative purposes?  How do we discover the yearning of God for our fulfillment in our integration into all of life laid before us.

    We are coming to understand the quantum world which physics has revealed is a kind of “corrective” to what can be overly simplistic dualistic views. The quantum world is one of movement, change, and relationally of all things.  Here we come to see that God’s creation which includes each and every one of us is all expectancy and potential, including our very beings—whether we know it or not.  Each day that dawns is a celebration of the fact that we have been invited to consider how our lives are to be spent.  Our choices as to how we embrace or recoil from the creative genesis in which we participate are guided by our awareness (or lack of awareness) of our place in the universe. For example, how we relate to one another is central in our choice to follow Jesus in his “new commandment”— “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  In the dynamic life space in which we find ourselves, we must not grow weary of well doing.  We must dig deep to live out the  “delightful and hopeful” as well as the “harsh and dreadful” love that includes all of creation and the cosmos, as Jesus showed us.

    Our desire for justice is deeply rooted in systems that are holistic and relational.  It seems the way of the universe to recognize our shared destiny.  Perhaps we will find paths toward mutuality when we consider how our lives are spent within a complex cosmos.  We are called to an alertness and commitment to the difficult work of knowing self, others, and the universe as integral parts of a cosmic order that announces its Author in every star and galaxy.  We remember God’s answer to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the universe?”  This need not be a dismissive reprimand, but rather an invitation to our own humility as well as our dignity, honoring our place in the whole, neither more, nor less, but included as an integral part of creation.

    With humility and courage, let us deepen our spiritual lives and the spiritual life of our community, allowing God to encounter us with such a great love that we are willing to be (as the great hymn Love Divine, All Loves Excelling puts it) “lost in wonder, love and praise.”  Amen.

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Associate, First Congregational Church of Winchester (UCC); and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC)

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