Surprising discovery

I spent last week attending a conference presented by PRIM (Presbyterian Reformed International Ministries) held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.   One of the best parts of the week was that I got to lodge and eat meals with my granddaughter.  How good is that?

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But why did I go?  What did I hope to learn?

I went because our congregation is beginning a time of renewal, prayer and discernment for mission.  I am more convinced than ever that it must be the power of the Holy Spirit that will guide the Church through the many changes in the next century.   A week from Monday our congregation starts “listening” in a focused way to where God is calling us to do ministry in our community.  So what better thing to do, I reasoned,  than to attend a conference on the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

This is what I learned.  Both Lutheran and Reformed traditions spend a lot of time in their “heads”.  Our thoughts and therefore our doctrines and confessions are organized and logical.  What seems harder for us in our traditions is to be open to the free blowing wind of the Spirit that Jesus referred to in John, chapter 3.

And so in this past week I found myself identifying with the similar struggle of Reformed Christians to talk about the real and present power of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, Lutherans struggle with this as well.  I could respect the Reformed pains to articulate carefully their experience with the more charismatic gifts of the Spirit.  Since I too come from a very intellectually oriented denomination, I have had little experience with the more charismatic gifts alluded to in the Christian scriptures.  But in attending the conference, this is the discovery that really surprised me:  there is indeed  a common thread between, for example, speaking in tongues and prophecy in the more charismatic tradition  presented by these Reformed Christians and the more quiet, contemplative prayer of the mystical Christians which has been a part of my prayer practice for the last decade.  The common thread is listening.  Listening.

At last week’s conference, I listened with other Reformed Christians for the prayers God might want me to pray for others.  These listenings were not merely random thoughts.  I learned these listening, prophetic prayers must be grounded in scripture and that they have to bring glory to God.  I realized that in my own contemplative practice, I too listen for the prayer God is welling up in me to pray for others.  I just do it with more silence and often without words.  Still, the end result is the same:  listening to how the Holy Spirit is directing and obeying where the Spirit leads.

I return to Pennsylvania and my congregation having witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit set loose in Reformed charismatic brothers and sisters.  How exciting and energizing!  But I am not envious to be like them.  Instead, I have come back witnessing to and honoring the power of contemplative prayer in my own experience.  I have discovered that the two traditions and practices are parallel.  While I have not been given charismatic gifts,  I have grown to cherish the gift of silence in contemplative prayer.  As I wait in silence before God, I am renewed and made whole both to pray and to act in tune with God’s Spirit.  Silent, contemplative prayer has been and is a deep well of strength for me.   In silence before God, I am emboldened to pray clearly, directly and through the Spirit’s power in specific situations.  This is the gift that I am called to practice as the congregation enters a time of discernment.  And so I return to Pennsylvania so glad to be a Lutheran contemplative Christian (which for some is an oxymoron).  More than that, I am grateful to be a follower of Jesus, a follower of the One who has invited us to pray in the Spirit’s power (in whatever tradition and way we manage to do it) for the sake of the world.  Thanks be to God!