Category Archives: Worship
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Dying Before we Die
What is a pilgrimage, finally? It’s a journey where we walk away from a settled past toward a future infused with a spiritual presence. What we leave behind frees us to step forward, discovering our true self, resting in the mystery of God’s love. That requires dying to our false self, to all the imprisonments of the inflated ego, of vain-glory, and of self-righteous control. In that dying, we discover life, and our truest identity. A faithful pilgrimage continues this pattern to the time of our physical death, when we are embraced by the fullness of Life. We remain afraid of death as long as we do not know who we are.
Question: Are you afraid of death?
Laying Aside Our Oars
When those three Irish pilgrims in 891 cast off in a currach—a boat made of hides, without oars— they were relinquishing themselves to the currents of divine Love. Their eventual destination was the one intended, and they were welcomed by God. The end of life requires a similar relinquishment. The oars we rely on to empower, guide, direct, and control our lives are never adequate. Storms overpower them, setting us adrift. Over time on our pilgrimage we learn how to set them aside, preparing us for that final crossing over the Jordan. And then we remember lyrics by Marty Haugen: “Blessed the pilgrim who learns to embrace, that all is gift, and all is grace.”
Exercise: Imagine your funeral. Think of the song, or hymn, or reading you most would like those who gather to hear. Write it down, and then share, in your journal or with others, what you hope those who hear this would understand, and take away with them.
Our lives are emmeshed in society’s economic web. It has its own faith in the golden idols of materialism, endless growth, and technological triumph. It can seem comfortable until the truth of this enmeshment is revealed. The coronavirus pandemic has done this, highlighting the depth of income and health inequality, and exposing the extreme vulnerability of Black and brown people. Sometimes we discover that our “normal” circumstances and sense of security have long been blinders we’ve placed over our eyes and callouses over our hearts. Then we should find a way to walk away. We may retreat to a secluded place to get detached from the Empire’s grasp, and reattached to the searing truth of the present, with a vision of God’s preferred future.
Question: Are you living in the modern Empire’s captivity?
Returning to the Fray
A strategic spiritual withdrawal to regain a truthful perspective on the world, resetting our inner moral compass is the easy step. More challenging is our reentry, where we live out of that truth. This is the “rough test of faith.” Doing so can take the form of a pilgrim journey. We walk in ways that embody our convictions. It’s not just what we say, but where and how we move. Think about it. Protesters always march. They move toward some destination, like a state capital building, and move with a holy purpose. It’s what happened in Leipzig Germany, and at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, and so many other places made sacred in memory, and pivotal in social change, because of where and how pilgrims walked.
Exercise: Select a secluded place and go there, if possible, by walking. Reflect there on today’s question about your captivity to the Empire. Then, try to ask God, where should you be walking, and with whom? Write and share.
On May 1st, Reverend Michael De Ruyter will be welcomed to the pulpit to preach as candidate for the position of Pastor of the St. Croix Reformed Church. The service will be preceded by a cake and coffee reception starting at 8:30 am. The worship service will begin at 9:30 am.
The Pastor Search Committee and the Consistory unanimously and enthusiastically recommend Rev. De Ruyter for the position.
Bio of Reverend De Ruyter
Mike De Ruyter was born in West Michigan. He graduated from Calvin College and went to seminary in Southern California at Fuller. He graduated in 1996 the same year he married Tammy. Tammy also graduated from Fuller with a Masters of Theology. Mike became a church planter in Elk Grove, California and in 2001 joined the Army as a reserve Chaplain.
When his unit was scheduled to ship to Iraq he resigned his church position. Then as his unit was not deployed he looked to go back into full time ministry. He took a position as Senior Pastor at the Midland Reformed Church in Midland, Michigan. He served there until November 2021. Michael’s involvement in the community led to him taking a position in prison ministry in Midland, but as the call developed at St. Croix the desire to return to the church was clear.
Michael brings a wealth of experience and expertise in many areas to his work in St. Croix. He has a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Seminary in Christian spirituality. He studied and worked with Bowen family systems theory and he has led a Reformed Church in America church transformation process called “Churches Learning Change.” He is a consultant and coach with The Leader’s Journey. He has a commitment preaching and teaching the scriptures from a reformed perspective and is passionate about seeing church and community connect in significant ways to meet the needs of the community and reflect the gospel.
Mike and Tammy have three grown children Benjamin (23), Hannah (21), and Ben (20). Ben was just accepted into the Marines and thus the last child at home has shipped out so a move to St. Croix became possible.
In Western culture we take for granted the separation of the material world from the spiritual world. It’s nearly subconscious, engrained in how a secular society views reality. But at times something breaks through this dichotomy. At Lourdes, it’s water from a spring. God’s presence becomes connected to a common element, needed every day for life. It might be experienced at baptism, or when wading into a clear flowing stream with a fly rod. Natural water becomes infused with a sacred presence. We thirst for such living water, and that is the pathway to the earth’s preservation.
Question: Where have you experienced “thin spaces”?
Destroying Modern Myths
On pilgrimages, our encounters with the natural world frequently become supernatural. When we celebrate sacraments, common elements, like bread, wine, water, or oil, take on a holy quality. On a pilgrimage, spirituality becomes embodied through our encounters with the concrete stuff of creation as all of life becomes sacramental.
“I can’t pretend to say anything, with any certainty, about the effects of water, or dirt, or tracing stone at a grotto, or putting an arm around a statue over an apostle’s grave, or taking shoes off on holy ground. But I know this. These experiences, and so many more opened up on pilgrimages, explode the myth of a world rationally comprehensible, comprising inert matter and mobilized molecules in diverse forms. I’m willing to wonder about the myths undergirding pilgrim stories and practices. It’s the myths of modernity and rationality that need to be destroyed.” (Without Oars, p. 127)
Exercise: Set off on a walk without a destination. Go where you feel led. Pay particular attention to the parts of creation you encounter—a tree by the side of the street, a butterfly, grass under your feet, rocks on the path, wind in your face, rain on your hat, the sky, a beetle…Be present, and let your thoughts wonder about what you see, or touch, or sense, or hear, or feel. Write and share.
The Myth of Control
We’re programmed to believe we can control the circumstances of our life. Often we can, to good effect. But then each of us will reach a point where our best plans and intentions fall apart. Such inevitable moments either shatter us or can transform us. Richard Rohr explains it this way:
We must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say. We must be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find our real Source.
Those are the times when grace is not a doctrine, but a lived experience.
Question: When has your life become more than you could plan for?
A Guest at the Table
For those of privilege and power, hospitality is far easier to offer than to receive. We remain in control through our resources and what we offer and we learn nothing of grace. When we are hosted by others in ways unexpected, present in our vulnerability, we are the recipients of unmerited favor. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, the drama comes when the tables are turned, and they are now hosted. The famous Orthodox icon of this scene by Rublev places the eucharistic cup at the center, with the presence of Trinitarian love welcoming the guests. A pilgrimage reveals hospitality as embodied grace, intersecting our lives in moments unpredicted, underserved, and life-giving. That’s how we walk.
Exercise: Write and share what you were taught, learned, or think about the idea of grace. Then reflect and share about those moments in life when you have experienced grace. Is there a difference, and what have you learned?
The Holy Spirit makes many of us nervous. Especially if we’re used to forms of piety that can be controlled, with predictable results, in our spiritual comfort zones. Yet, “the Spirit yearns to break out and to break open our old practices, our protective shells of comfortable spirituality, connecting our inner selves more deeply to God’s love and to God’s world. Your soul no longer stays still. It’s moving with God in the world, and moving toward God, revealed in signs or shrines or saints or surroundings. The pilgrim’s walking body holds incarnate this inner journey of the soul, often recklessly.” (Without Oars, p. 94)
Question: How might the Spirit yearn to open up our lives? How do we resist this?
Pilgrimages are at once inward and outward journeys. They can open a unique space of spiritual discovery. “Pilgrimage may be thought of as extroverted mysticism, just as mysticism is introverted pilgrimage.” Whether a physical trek or an interior exploration—and at best, both—one’s pilgrimage goes to the root of faith experience, to that intimate spiritual intersection. As Richard Hauser, Jesuit scholar of the Holy Spirit, says:
God’s Spirit joins our spirit; it does not replace it. The good acts we perform are truly our acts, not simply acts of the Holy Spirit in us. The deepest part of the self is the spiritual dimension. From the center flows all our freedom and love; at this level we remain free to choose to move or not move with the Spirit.
Exercise: Read pages 95-99 again(posted below), the description from the Book of Acts of the reckless work of the Spirit in the formation of the early church. Reflect, and write or share about where you see evidence today, within or beyond the church, of a similar recklessness of the Spirit, breaking boundaries and forming unexpected community.
The Holy Spirit is the wild card in the Trinity. God the father is discernable, almost understandable, though often formidable. The Son is seen in the incarnation’s mystery, tangible in flesh and blood, but cosmic in an eternal, redeeming presence. But what of the Spirit? Described by the Nicene creed as “the giver of life,” present in the beginning as the breath of God, poured out in explosive power to form the church, prompting the deepest sighs of human hearts while groaning with the travail of all creation-this is the unpredictable, energizing, even reckless component of the Trinity’s life.
This recklessness of the Spirit keeps disrupting normal practices of spirituality, religion, and culture. At the bizarre eruption of the Spirit at Pentecost described in the book of Acts, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, plus those living in Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, along with Cretans and Arabs all suddenly understand on another’s incomprehensible native languages with tongues of fire. The spirit is never captured by settled and secure boundaries of language and culture.
That pattern continues as the journalistic story of Acts unfolds. The preaching of Peter and Stephen encountered opposition in Jerusalem in part because it proclaimed that God’s compassion, revealed in Jesus, reached out to all those in need of reconciliation, rather than being limited to a closed circle claiming an exclusive monopoly on God’s holiness. Stephen paid with his life for this testimony.
This message became embodied in the movement of those who proclaimed it. Philip took the message to Samaria-despite the historic hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. Then, it incredibly enough, an Angel of the Lord told Phillip to journey south, toward Gaza and the wilderness. There he encounters the Ethiopian eunuch. He is a foreigner, a gentile, and, as a eunuch, a person with an ambiguous sexuality. He is explicitly prohibited from worshipping at the temple, even though he had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But this Spirit Demolished those stern lines of division and protective practices of spirituality. And Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch-bringing the body to water and sacralizing both. This story unlocked for me how I meet those excluded from the church because of their sexuality. It shows how the spirit guides the boat without oars, giving someone without a faith community, a community. Offering encounter, being met by Philip as he is.
The story of this unpredictable, uncontrollable Spirit continues as Peter receives a vision at Joppa, being told to eat what he thought was unclean and thereby destroying his well-ordered religious practices that always separated Jew and gentile. Hen then is brought to Cornelius, a roman soldier, and his household, to whom Peter now declares that “God shows no partiality.” Then, to the astonishment of those with Peter, the same Holy Spirit is poured out on those hearing this message in what is sometimes called the Gentile Pentecost. Peter’s response is to say, “Who am I, that I should hinder God?”
All this sets the stage for the story of the Church at Antioch. Many early followers of Jesus fled Jerusalem, and some traveled as far as Antioch, walking twice as far as my ten-day journey from Ponferrada to Santiago de Compostela. Unlike Jerusalem, the center of Judaism with no more than fifty thousand people, Antioch was the third largest city in the roman Empire, with between five hundred thousand and eight hundred thousand inhabitants. This population was highly multicultural, with Syrians, Cypriots, Egyptians, and Persians, along with many others, who had migrated there. About one-third of those in this city were slaves.
Here in Antioch the young church grew and flourished as a multiracial, multicultural community. Tis leaders included Simeon, also called Niger, a black African gentile, as well as Manaen, who was from the court of the Jewish king Herod. The “headquarters’ in Jerusalem was anxious about this unorthodox new church breaking comfortable boundaries of religious practice. But Jerusalem’s envoy, Barnabas, rejoiced in the liberating power of the Spirit he found there, eventually becoming one of its leaders.
Barnabas then went to find Saul, the converted former persecutor of those who followed Jesus, now named Paul, and brought him to this newly created church in Antioch. And what happened: As they fasted and prayed, they discovered that the Holy Spirit was calling them to join God’s mission in the world. Sent out by the Spirit, Paul and Barnabas embarked on the first of these “missionary journeys,” not unlike those Celtic pilgrims casting off without oars. All this started from an upstart church in Antioch, and in three centuries the known world was transformed. And for all of this to happen, those early, fearful pilgrims had to walk away from Jerusalem.
The work of this hyperactive Spirit continually breaks out in embodied ways. We’re told of physical healings, vivid visions, and a spoken enraptured language of praise. Those untouched, then and now, frequently dismiss such manifestations of the Spirit as esoteric, primitive, delusional spirituality, if not worse. But for those participating in the empowerment, their bodies and the material world are reconnected to a life-giving spiritual presence. Further, when fully experienced, community is created.
To step forth into a liberating pilgrimage, we don’t have to desert the Bible for a journey into an unknown wilderness area with the wild hope of communing with trees, although that’s a worthy option. An alternative is to simply read the Bible, with these stories of a wild, liberating Spirit. They describe and call for embodiment.
Theologians who try to describe the indescribable, like the nature of the Trinity, are fond of suggesting that the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between the Father and the Son. Maybe that’s what defines the Spirit’s recklessness, for that love can’t be restrained from breaking out into all that God has created.
The church’s creeds, confessions, polity, and denominational structures, which keep evolving, seem like anxious attempts to make sense of and control the Spirit’s continual disruption of established forms and understandings. Outbreaks of the Spirit in revivals, renewals, and Reformations create an understandable impulse to recodify and restructure life together.
All this, however, depends on the courage to walk forward through embodied, reckless forms of spirituality, leaving our Jerusalems behind in a pilgrim journey of restless faith, grounded in a love fueled by Trinitarian mysteries.
Faith in a Box
We try to capture God with rational formulas and rigid beliefs. Some of that is necessary. We want our faith to make sense, so we construct a box to hold it. It’s sealed with rational propositions, holding the box shut like packaging tape. But for Christians, an infinite God present in every molecule of Creation can’t be so conveniently contained. Further this God’s incarnate human presence in the form of a wounded, suffering servant doesn’t make sense. Neatly organized propositional systems requiring belief as a ticket of admission may bring rational comfort and clarity, but do they yield faith?
Question: Will Belief in Beliefs Save You?
Reconnecting Heads and Bodies
Reacting against superstition, infallible religious authorities, and corruption, the Reformation reconstructed Christian faith, with coherent rational systems. The Enlightenment’s sovereignty of reason fit well most of the time. But too easily, heads were severed from bodies. In Edwin Muir’s words, “The Word-made-flesh here is made word again.” In reaction, religion for some retreated into unvarnished emotion. The whole person was left unintegrated. When we begin walking on a pilgrimage, however, the physical and the spiritual connect intimately. Body, mind, and soul are woven back together. Faith burns in that crucible.
Exercise: How do you experience faith beyond rational belief? Make a list of those ways, practices, or activities when your religious faith finds expression beyond thoughts and words. Write in your journal, or share with a group, what helps you walk into faith.
We are on a Pilgrimage. These posts are published here periodically and on Facebook on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Take time to disconnect from your daily rush to read, reflect and journal.
Leave it Behind
Pilgrimages are as much about what we leave behind as about where we are headed. Relinquishment precedes destination. At a literal level, a pilgrim learns to leave unnecessary things behind to lighten his or her load. More deeply, pilgrims walk away from familiar versions of their self to discover their soul. The “first half” of our lives are shaped by necessary external securities, providing structure and formulas of belief. But religion often stops there, freezing us in place. The test of faith is to walk forward into our “second half,” in a journey of service expressing our true self, mysteriously hidden in God.
Question: Whose life am I living?
“Let Go and Let God”
Honestly, that phrase can sound like one of those superficial spiritual formulas. But it holds a deep truth. Truly walking away from accomplishments which inflate the ego, and comfortable securities of belief which smoother questions, requires relinquishment and faith. As James Hollis writes in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life:
In the second half of life the ego is periodically summoned to relinquish its identifications with the values of others, the values received and reinforced by the world around it. It will have to face potential loneliness in living the life that comes from within….No wonder so few ever feel connected to the soul. No wonder we are so isolated and afraid of being who we are.
Exercise: Review the story of Charles de Foucauld (see below) and then pray his “Prayer of Abandonment.”
(Change the gender language if you wish.) Pray it again. Listen to what it may ask of you. Record in your
journal, and share, if you feel free to, with others.
From “Without Oars” The story of Charles de Foucauld.
Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasburg France in 1858. Orphaned at age 6, he was raised by his grandfather, who imparted parted to Charles faith in the Catholic. Eventually studies and experience shaping his development caused him to depart from religion. The death of his grandfather left him a rich financial inheritance. He joined the military, becoming an officer, and was sent to Algeria, a French colony. Captivated by the culture, and in a conflict with his superiors over a romantic affair, he eventually resigned from the army and settled in Algiers.
Europeans were generally forbidden in neighboring Morocco. But undeterred and leaving previous securities behind Charles spent 11 month walking for 3,000 kilometers, or 1,800 miles, through the country disguised as a Moroccan Jewish rabbi. Returning to Paris, Christian faith became vividly alive for him, and he embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, spending Christmas 1888 in Holy Grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Seeking an abandoned devotion to Christ, he became a Trappist monk.
But Trappist stability couldn’t contain Charles de Foucauld’s wandering spirit. In 1901 he was back in Algeria at Beni Abbes, committed to living a simple life among its inhabitants, striving to be in solidarity with the poor and nurtured by the eucharistic presence of Jesus. Four years later he journeyed further into the heart of the Sahara Desert. settling among the Tuareg people for more than a decade. Charles translated the gospels into the Tuareg language. His desire was to form a confraternity, or Catholic order, of those who would follow a witness of presence and solidarity amidst non-Christian peoples. His life was cut short when the effects of World War I reached Algeria. He was martyred by bandits connected to those fighting the colonizing French.
A pilgrimage marked by abandonment led Charles from comfort and wealth in Paris to poverty and vulnerability in the Sierra desert. He didn’t plan this, but he rather simply tried to follow and kept moving forward in consistent downward mobility with a radical faithfulness rarely witnessed. He had the strength to let go.
I first learned of this story when working on Capitol Hill and exploring life in the Church of the Savior in Washington DC. It was there I read Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment.
Don’t Grab the Marshmallow
We want it now. Instant gratification is the drug of our consumer culture. But as shown among young children in the famous marshmallow experiment, developing patience is key to emotional development. For our inward spiritual journey, it’s a necessity. “We’re so attuned to instant gratification in our daily life that we want it in our spiritual life too: instant wisdom, instant growth, instant clarity, instant wisdom.” (The Samaritan Song blog, L. Phillips) A pilgrimage is like a drug rehabilitation program from our addiction to instant gratification. We practice watchful waiting, getting there step by step.
Question: What am I waiting for?
Does Your Anchor Hold?
Patience requires the development of memory and attention span. In our inward journey, we remember our story in the sweep of God’s story. And we hold our focus, freer from distractions. A pilgrimage helps. But also, retreating to a contemplative space. Either way, it’s how our anchor holds. In the Middle Ages, some withdrew to hermitages called “anchor-holds.” In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes,
…some anchor-holds were simple sheds clamped to the side of a church like a barnacle…I think of this house clamped to the side of Tinker Creek as an anchor-hold. It holds me at anchor to the rock bottom of the creek itself and keeps me steadied in the current.
Exercise: Select a word or theme, like God’s love, or peace, or hunger, or forgiveness…whatever draws your deep curiosity or your inner disquiet. Hold your attention there, either while walking or retreating to a safe space. When your mind wanders, just observe what passes through, and then gently return. See how long your focus can be grounded. Write and if you’d like to, share.
Walk Away from Screens
Let’s face it. We’re attached. Our faces are glued to our screens. This “irresistible attraction to screens is leading people to feel as though they’re ceding more and more of their autonomy when it comes to deciding how they direct their attention.” (Cal Newport in Digital Minimalism) But when you walk on an unfamiliar path, it’s nearly impossible to have your eyes riveted to your digital screen. You’re likely to trip, and you’ll certainly miss wonders being revealed on your path. “The invitation to walk brings us to a place where we can slowly clear away the constant preoccupations running in the background, and sometimes the foreground, of our minds.” (Without Oars, p. 39) Our attention turns to basic questions. Like this one.
Question: Why are you who you are where you are?
“Wisdom is not the result of mental effort”
Those words of Richard Rohr’s are a valuable guide. A pilgrimage is a confession that we can’t discover our true self or maintain a vital connection to God, just by thinking. Our busy minds won’t get us there. An inward journey of the whole person uncovers layers far deeper than just thought. Three steps are necessary in our pilgrim walk.
• Detachment, as we step away routine obsessions.
• Attention, another name for prayer, open to inner promptings.
• And connection, discovering our true self, hidden with others in a love behind and within all
Those steps can help us touch our soul.
Exercise: Decide how long you can detach from screens. Try just a day. Or three. No phone. No
computer. No iPad. No TV. Detach. Pay attention. And discover where you connect. Write in your
journal or share with your group.