Beloved St. John’s community,
I am sitting in my living room, with my laptop on my lap, looking through the windows at the ash tree in my backyard that has ropes, ladders, swings, and hammocks hanging from its branches (well, the hammocks are normally there but we took them down before the latest rain). It’s my daughter Carly’s primary playground. My husband Jeff loves to create possibilities in physical space—and this tree is where his creativity and Carly’s playfulness have met to create something really fun. As you read this, where are you? What is around you? What is within you? Before you keep reading, please pause to become truly present to what you are noticing in the space around you and in your body, heart and mind right now.
During these times, when everything continues to feel upside down, anxiety is everywhere, and the future feels utterly unpredictable, the Holy Spirit is also present with us. We are called to innovate, because many of the familiar ways of doing things are simply not available to us. But we are not called simply to throw out the old entirely. We are in continuity with a Great Story–a Story from scripture that is not finished, that includes an ancient vision of primordial time and the end of time and God’s endless work to heal and restore all things throughout. (By the way, it’s worth noting that the beginning of time AND the end of time in scripture both contain a tree: the Tree of Life).
So we are called to what some people call “faithful innovation”—discerning and maintaining that which is truly valuable about our history while innovating new forms and new ways to live our faith in a radically changing world.
What is needed in order to faithfully innovate?
I would suggest that, in addition to attending deeply to scripture and to God and one another in prayer, we need three qualities in order to do anything new:
The first, presence, is about the quality Jesus embodies wherever he is in the stories of Scripture. Although he is constantly on the move, he is always radically open to whoever and whatever is in front of him. He is not rushed, or distracted. He is paying a kind of spiritual attention on multiple levels at once: to God, to the essence of the person in front of him, to himself. When Jesus encounters some of John’s disciples at the beginning of John’s gospel, they ask him where he is staying. He simply invites them to “Come and see.” (John 1:39). They do, and they remain with him for the rest of the day. They slow down, and spend time together. They are supremely present to him, and he to them.
Presence leads to curiosity, and to imagination, and honesty. Grounded in the presence and Spirit of God, these open us to new ways of seeing things we are really familiar with, that we thought we knew already.
At St. John’s this fall, we will continue to innovate. We will discern what God asks us to do with regard to dismantling racism, and with regard to caring for the earth. We will constantly seek to deepen our lived connection with Jesus’ Way of Love, as a lifestyle that includes justice work and so much more. We will find new ways to connect with each other, and to celebrate All Saints and Advent and Christmas. We will remain grounded in an ancient story that is unfinished, whose latest chapter we are living and the Spirit is writing. And through it all, we are called by God to be faithfully present.
I encourage you to find some tangible object that can remind you to be present throughout the day today. Perhaps write Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see” on post-it notes and put them on your computer, and bathroom mirror, and nightstand. Perhaps set your alarm to ring every hour so that you can take a few minutes to breathe, let go of your to-do list, and simply become aware of all that is happening around and within you, and seek to connect with the presence of God who is everywhere. Perhaps print a photo of something that you saw recently that captured your imagination, that can remind you to slow down and get out of auto-pilot.
Then, notice what happens. How does this practice, the practice of being faithfully present, change your day? Consider posting about your experience on the St. John’s community facebook page, or emailing me or someone else at St. John’s about it. Bring your experience to noonday prayer or to the sermon discussion or backyard watch party on Sunday.
God bless you with peace, awe, expansiveness, and hope as you pay spiritual attention today.