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The Journey of Faith

Each fall for 15 years, up to 100 people gathered every Wednesday night at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee, to explore the meaning of the Sacred Journey. Led by the Rev. Dr. Douglass M. Bailey, the participants in the class listened and talked about their own journey and the journey of others. The class affirmed the individual nature of each journey and each person's need to explore the questions that can shape their path. The people who journeyed together each fall learned about prayer, community, death and resurrection. They heard questions and reflections from others, and through them came to a better understanding of their own spiritual growth.

We have included an overview of the Journey material here in hopes that some of the ideas may help you on your own Spiritual path. The questions are meant for you to ask yourself and those traveling with you. Use those that are meaningful to you as guideposts, pointing down a road you may not yet have explored.

Introduction: The Sacred Journey
Our Spiritual Journey is not like most trips. There is not a set starting point, designated route and predetermined destination. Rather, the Sacred Journey is about broadening our image of God, about 'becoming' rather than being, about asking questions, about always moving forward toward the heart of God. The labyrinth, the symbol of the heart of God, is also the symbol for the Journey. The labyrinth is not a maze but a path along which we travel in search of an understanding of life and faith.

Fortunately, there are 'guides' for our journey...the Bible, of course, and other faith-formation writings, like The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner. Movies and music can also help us experience the world around us. Films such as A River Runs Through It, Pay It Forward, or The Hurricane are stories of individuals experiencing life as a journey.

And there are examples of journeys taken by those before us. Scripture describes Peter at three different points in his life. In Mark 14:26-31 and Mark 14:66-72, we see a fearful, embarrassed Peter denying Jesus three times immediately following his arrest in Jerusalem. A different Peter is seen in Acts 4:5-20 after Jesus was crucified. This much-changed, empowered Peter healed the lame and boldly proclaimed Jesus before the Jewish authorities. John 21:1-19 provides yet another view of Peter's journey. In this scripture, Peter and the other disciples encounter the Risen Lord at the Galilean seashore, the third time Jesus had appeared to the disciples after being crucified. Three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?...then feed my sheep."

Our path, like the path Peter walked, is often equally confusing. For that reason, the presence of others can help us find our way.

The church as the community of the forgiven
Ask yourself:

What is your spiritual background?
What do you most value from your spiritual / church background?

If you share your response with others, you will find that everyone's journey has been different. Yet it is in the sharing of our experiences that we start the process of becoming a community...a community of the forgiven.

Our experience with the church usually begins with someone caring enough to invite us into the community...a friend, a family member, an associate at work. Some might call this 'evangelism,' while others would view this as simply expressing Christian love. D. T. Niles, a Methodist missionary in India, once said, "Evangelism is one beggar telling another where bread can be found." We never know what impact we'll have when we share our spiritual food, one with another. When asked, "Why are you a Christian?" Phillips Brooks, a noted theologian, responded, "probably because of my aunt Geneva."

In Acts 2:41-47, we see Peter preaching at Pentecost, telling the story of his own faith journey. The 'community' of the early church grew as the apostles shared their experiences, spent time together, broke bread together and praised God. The early believers were 'doing church' as the people of God...participating first-hand in the preaching, fellowship, worship, and evangelism in a close-knit community that is sometimes lacking in today's more organized churches.

What word or phrase comes to mind when you hear the word church? Is it a place, a feeling, or something else? In reflecting on these questions, try to remain open. Discuss your experiences with others and listen to theirs. A church can be as close as family. Particularly for those who may be separated from their loved ones, the church can be a place to celebrate good times and cry during life's difficult times, a place where others will look to you for fellowship and support. Church can offer guidance on your spiritual path and the company of fellow travelers.

The Journey with the Human Jesus
Jesus is at the center of the community of the forgiven. It is Jesus who offers forgiveness to us all. The human Jesus is God incarnate, God with us. The word incarnation literally means "has human characteristics." Jesus is both human and holy, earthly and divine. We can see Jesus' humanness in Biblical accounts of his anger, his highs and lows, his loneliness, and choices. Oftentimes, our greater challenge is to see our own holiness...God within each of us.

Jesus is also the one who asks us to change. The Greek word metanoia is often translated as "repent," but the more correct understanding is probably "deep change." The community of the forgiven includes those who have accepted Jesus' invitation to a deep, abiding change.

In Mark 8:27-36, Jesus asks his disciples "Who do people say that I am?" and "Who do you say that I am?" How do you respond to those questions. Who is Jesus? What attracts us to him? What are his compelling characteristics? Honest answers to these questions express our faith.

Yet, there is a catch. With faith also comes doubt. If you had the opportunity to speak directly to Jesus, what would you ask? What are the doubts and uncertainties that trouble you in your faith. …. Why do so many bad things happen? Why don't I hear God when I pray? Why do so many people interpret your words so differently?

We cannot have faith without some doubts, without questions...otherwise no faith would be required.

Journey with the Eternal Christ: Experiencing the post-Easter Jesus
In John 20:19-29, the risen Christ appears to the disciples, who are meeting behind locked doors. Thomas is absent then and doubts what the others have seen. A week later the disciples meet in the same place, and Jesus again stands among them. Thomas, now present, is able to touch the wounds of the risen Lord.

This scripture describes a 'sacramental moment' for Thomas. Sacraments are physical activities that help us experience the spiritual. Thomas touched the risen Jesus and immediately saw Jesus as the Christ. It is Thomas' Easter story....the wounded Jesus returns and Thomas is forever changed.

Sacramental moments are not limited to Biblical stories...we all have them, we just may not recognize them. Sometimes these sacramental moments are called 'thin places'; they're where the world of the spiritual and the world of the physical meet. Thin places may be what some call mountaintop experiences. These special moments of closeness to God can happen outdoors as we experience the grandeur of nature, or occur when we, like Thomas, have retreated to a closed room in fear.

Can you recall a sacramental moment or a thin place? It may be a moment frozen in your memory. Who was there? Can you remember the sounds, sights, smells? The key questions is how do we experience Christ today? One answer is that we experience Christ in these thin places.

Prayer is food for the journey. Many times we think of prayer as public prayer, and that makes us uncomfortable. Yet prayer can also be a deep and personal conversation with God. Prayer gives us time to acknowledge God's presence in and around us, to acknowledge our place in the world that God has created, and to stop and wait on Jesus. There are no experts on prayer, only beginners. It is not something we learn in a book, but something we must learn by doing over and over again...a practice we must adjust as our journey continues.

Prayer can be expressed in many forms. The starting point for our prayers may be simple one-liners; later we may progress to fuller conversations with God. Some people pray by facing a 'Jesus chair'...a chair where they can visualize Jesus sitting and listening to their deepest concerns. Other people organize prayers using the ACTS acrostic: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. Adoration is expressing our love for Jesus. Formulating prayers of adoration can be difficult and unfamiliar. If you have trouble expressing adoration, you might try referring to Psalms and hymns, which often contain the words to express our feelings.

While we understand the meaning of confession and thanksgiving, these may not be part of our prayers. When we pray, if we pray, we most likely say words of supplication. These are our petitions or requests to God to address our needs and to intercede on the behalf of others. Incorporating all of the elements of ACTS in our prayers provides a simple way to broaden our conversations with God.

Another form of prayer is repetitive prayer. The most common is the Lord's Prayer, which also contains all the elements of the ACTS acrostic. Other repetitive prayers include the Serenity Prayer from Alcoholics AnonymousGod grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference—and the Jesus Prayer—Lord, Jesus Christ have mercy on me, hasten to help me, rescue me and save me, do your will in my life. These are prayers that can be committed to memory and repeated when we need food for the journey but just don't know how to be more specific.

Journey with God Who Transforms Death to Resurrection
Death is not a subject that we like to talk about, but the journey calls us to ask and wrestle with difficult questions. When asked about death, most of us reflect on the death of someone close to us. Our questions concern the circumstances surrounding their death....why them, why then, where was God? Many of us do not have faith communities where we feel safe asking our questions. Fortunately, we are all Easter people, children of the resurrection.

Thoughts of death can bring forth our fears of the unknown. But in death, as in life, there is a big difference between a personal faith that declares, "I must be certain," and a faith that declares, "I Trust." As we grow in faith, we are certain of less and trust more. As someone once said, "We die the way we live." It is our trust in God that will carry us through all our human experience.

The Journey goes on forever and ever
Our journey with Christ does not end in a specific destination; it always continues in yet another direction. The spiritual journey is about taking a step, even when we are unsure where that will take us. An Hasid story asks the question, "When did the Red Sea part?" According to the Jewish storyteller, the waters separated not when Moses commanded them, not when he waved his staff over the waters. The waters parted when Moses put his feet in.

Faith is a journey that is often formed in our weakness. So it is right that we seek safe places to ask questions that lead us forward...questions about death, about life, about Jesus, about tragedy and pain.

This concept of journey as an on-going process was beautifully captured in a prayer attributed to Martin Luther sometime in the16th Century:

This life is not one of righteousness,
but growth in righteousness.....
Not health, but becoming...not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we should be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished but it is going on.
This is not the end, but this is the road.
Everything does not yet gleam in glory, but everything is in
process of being purified. Amen.


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