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.
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.
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."
path, like the path Peter walked, is often equally confusing.
For that reason, the presence of others can help us find
church as the community of the forgiven
is your spiritual background?
What do you most value from your spiritual / church background?
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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?
cannot have faith without some doubts, without questions...otherwise
no faith would be required.
with the Eternal Christ: Experiencing the post-Easter
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Anonymous—God
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.
with God Who Transforms Death to Resurrection
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.
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.
Journey goes on forever and ever
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.
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.
concept of journey as an on-going process was beautifully
captured in a prayer attributed to Martin Luther sometime
in the16th Century:
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.