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The Practice of Descent

3.15. 2017 Written By: Kathy Neufeld Dunn 158 Times read

Kathy Neufeld Dunn is Associate Conference Minister in Kansas for Western District Conference. This piece originally appeared in the WDC Sprouts newsletter. 

Lent—forty days of prayer and practice. Lent is a season of the Christian Year when we openly admit our human frailty and sinfulness. Some of our congregations who rarely practice confession take time to confess our sins as a people and individually each Sunday until Easter.

As a way to train, some of us may individually choose to give up some pleasant pass-time or take on a new spiritual habit.  Lent is like a six-week basketball or music camp for followers of Jesus. In this “spiritual camp,” we practice new ways to be disciples. We recommit to pray, encounter scripture, and give out of our gratitude.  While we practice and stretch, asking our beloved Coach to guide us, God helps us grow in love—love for the Divine, our brothers and sisters in Christ, even love for those we call enemies. We become more disciplined in our faith practice.

When have we needed such disciplined faith practice more?  Since the election, many congregation members have been walking on eggshells around each other, some scared, some hopeful, many angry, and most unwilling to talk about these differences honestly.

There is another way to respond. As I read Philippians 2, I remember Lesslie Newbigin, a British missiologist, who discussed healing relationships. He wrote about Christians at odds with each other being like people standing at the top of two descending staircases, both ending at the same platform. On this platform, at the bottom of the staircases, stands a cross, the symbol of the hope we have in Jesus, the one who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. We are called to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. We are called to take our own certainty and each descend into the servant’s heart of Jesus as we approach the other. “We are invited to meet each other on the common ground at the bottom, because that’s where Christ is.  Nobody has a privileged position before God. We are all beggars. You’ll never heal from your own hurts, until you surrender the moral high ground, and confess your own brokenness and need for understanding and healing.”

Invite someone from your congregation out to coffee. Gently say you’re curious and want to understand the other person’s perspective. Do not try to convince the other of your position. Simply listen and learn.

Pastor Tim Suttle tried a “prayer experiment” with his divided congregation the evening after the election. At the end of the worship service, he invited all participants to the front of the sanctuary to form a circle where he passed out copies of “The Prayer of St Francis.” Instead of reading it through once, the pastor invited his hurting people to take turns reading the different sections of the prayer until everyone had had a chance to pray. At first people did what they were asked to do with little engagement. By the third or fourth time through the prayer, the cry for peace began to seep into their spirits and they began to respond to the deep implications of what they were praying. The congregation became less divided as they quietly, sincerely, hugged each other and handed out tissues as the ancient prayer flowed around their circle.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon…

This Lent, descend into Christ-like humility and meet your brothers, sisters and Jesus on this common ground of grace.

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