Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 9, 2015
What’s an authentic Episcopal expression of discipleship? That’s a question I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’m wondering this Monday morning how you would answer that question. I welcome your thoughts. (Note: If you’re not an Episcopalian, answer it from your context, another denomination, another faith tradition, unchurched, none, done, etc.) For me, in order to find an answer, I’ve been talking with folks who seem to know something about it. I wrote a friend, a mentor, a monk, Timothy Jolley, who serves at a monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa. He shared thoughts about discipleship, including this bit of insight from one of his buddies who said: “My problem is not that I fail to understand the gospel. My problem is that I have no intention of doing anything about it.” I can imagine Jesus saying something like “Follow me”, to which I respond: “I’m going to need to get back to you on that.”
Some background, as I understand it: Timothy was called to South Africa a number of years ago, when the system of apartheid was breaking down, when that country desperately needed models of community. Church leaders invited the monks to come, to move to a beautiful spot right outside Grahamstown. Like Abraham from the Hebrew Scriptures, they went without really knowing where they were going, or what they would do, no real game plan or strategic vision. Just faithful following. They went because they were called. So they began their time in South Africa by saying their prayers, observing the rhythm of prayer that is constitutive of monastic life. They did that faithfully. Before long, they found the ministry God had for them, or perhaps more to the point, the ministry found them. It was to connect with the children of poor townships nearby, legacies of years of apartheid. Through a tragic turn of events (the death of a couple children who were unsupervised because their mothers had to work and could not find child care), the monks identified a ministry to serve the local children, God’s children. They founded a school, embracing a vision, a hope, a dream that the poorest children of South Africa would have access to education comparable to that offered in the most elite institutions.
It began with prayer. And as I was recently speaking with Timothy about this subject of discipleship (I sense he knows a lot about what it means), he said that in discipleship the first step is prayer. I quote: “Ministry grows out of a commitment first to prayer and allowing God to change our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can light a desire and a fire for conversion. The first task is to teach prayer.”
For this South African community, the remarkable good work which has emerged began with listening, spiritual attentiveness, a humble and gracious spirit trusting that God will show the way. Take a gander at the work they are doing, lovingly described on their website. (www.umaria.co.za and if you feel so inclined plan a visit or visit them with some support). It is remarkable work, a work of justice and peace and service, offered in Jesus’ name, impossible to separate from the spiritual exercise of prayer. Too often in our tradition we set contemplation and activism in opposition. To counter that misperception, the Holy Spirit provides witnesses like Timothy, a disciple of Jesus, our Lord whose ministry to those in need was animated by his stubborn habit of going off by himself to pray.
I have a feeling we need to figure out how to do that more, maybe even this Monday morning. How will we let a relationship with the Holy One unfold in the mystery of prayer, animating our lives, animating our ministry in a world in need of Jesus’ healing presence? Stop what you’re doing and pray this morning for the guidance of the Spirit to show you the path of being a disciple. It’s a high calling. It matters.
– Jay Sidebotham
A daily practice of contemplative prayer can help you fall into the Big Truth that we all share, the Big Truth that is God, that is Grace itself, where you are overwhelmed by more than enoughness! The spiritual journey is about living more and more in that abundant place where you don’t have to wrap yourself around your hurts, your defeats, your failures; but you can get practiced in letting go and saying “That’s not me. I don’t need that. I’ve met a better self, a truer self.”
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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