Photo Courtesy of Rev. Ken Hagler
I have learned that when you have children in your home, no matter the age, no matter what you have taught them, meal times seem to carry certain, shall I say, challenges? Whether it is, “I’m not hungry,” “I’m in the middle of something!,” or “I don’t like that!,” food and family is always an experience.
Gathering in God’s family is really not so different as I was reminded today (for our lesser manners are just on the inside where others don’t see). In a last minute change to our weekly schedule, I took responsibility for serving noon communion at Cumming FUMC. As I glanced through some materials to prepare, I came across these words from the great contemplative, Evelyn Underhill. She notes the following…
“Saint John of the Cross says that every quality or virtue the Spirit really produces in human souls has three distinguishing characters – as it were a threefold trademark – Tranquility, Gentleness, Strength. Fuss and feverishness, anxiety, intensity, intolerance, instability, pessimism and wobble, and every kind of hurry and worry – these, even on the highest levels, are signs of the self-made and self-acting soul, the spiritual upstart. The saints are never like that. They share the quiet and noble qualities of the great family to which they belong: the family of the Children of God.
Yep, I got that nudge.
Just like children at the family table, how quickly and hurridly do I come to God’s family table as an upstart? I come with my own listing of great concerns and worries (and I love the word wobble…makes me think of Weebles sorry). I have my own demands and instability. It doesn’t change that God is still calling me to dinner.
At our recent installment of the Academy of Spiritual Formation, the Rev. Liz Canham reminded us that prayer doesn’t start with our speaking to God, the conversation that is prayer, began long before we opened our mouths or mind. It is God who began the conversation.
Throughout the week, Rev. Canham focused on a number of disciplines of praying the Bible and guided us in many of those same practices. I recalled of the practice of imagination today, as we came to the meal of communion, this meal of God’s family. So I invited those gathered to imagine a table of significance, whether the one in Grandma’s house, the one of their childhood or of their own. It was an invitation to enter into the history and meaning of the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving, a reminder that this is a call to remember, to use one’s imagination, to meet Jesus at the table.
Could we even imagine that Jesus was at this table of our imagination? Could we accept truly that as “spiritual upstarts,” we too are welcome to come? Can we accept all the other upstart children at the table? Can we accept that this table was set-up by God for us and that God was already speaking an invitation to come to dinner?
As Rev. Canham writes, “The value of the Bible lies not in our learning about it and pronouncing on it, but in what we become as a result of entering into the sacred text (58, Praying The Bible).” So too is this the case for our practices and traditions, our meditations and our prayers for when we fail to enter into either the text or practices of our faith, we fail to surrender to the same Spirit of God in our hearts which is, “crying out, Abba, Father! (Gal. 4:6).”
If we fail to surrender, then upstarts we remain.
Thankfully God keeps setting a place for all us upstarts, just like a good parent does.
The Rev. Ken Hagler is associate pastor at Cumming UMC in North Atlanta, GA.