Our Spiritual Journeys
Over the next 14 weeks, members of the RenewalWorks (RW) leadership team will be will be using this space to tell you a little about our own spiritual journeys. The reason? We want all of us here at Holy Cross to become aware that we are on spiritual journeys and to focus on increasing our growth as Christians both individually and as a congregation. In our RW meetings, we discussed the idea that people are not simply in or out of the box labeled “Christian” (like we might be in or out of a particular political party or organization.) Instead we are called as Christians to a spiritual journey of GROWTH in our relationship to God, others, ourselves and our world. We as the RW leadership team hope that we might "begin the conversation” by sharing our individual spiritual journeys here with you.
I was blessed to grow up in a family where Christian faith (taught in the Episcopal way!) was a high value, so for me, the spiritual journey began early. When I think about what has shaped that journey, I think of two main areas of influence— people and books. I think of my mom, my high school youth leader, friends and several special priests. And I think of the many times I have “happened” upon just the right book at the right time, and how that book has made a difference in my spiritual growth. I could list many such books from high school on, but I would especially like to recommend a book to you by one of my favorite authors, John Ortberg. It is called The Life You’ve Always Wanted, and I plan to reread it this summer because it ties in so closely with the material we discussed in RenewalWorks. In an enjoyable and often humorous way, Ortberg discusses spiritual practices (prayer, solitude, reflection on Scripture, gratitude etc.) that can lead to spiritual growth.
Those of you who are familiar with Cursillo may remember the question: “With what spiritual aids have you nourished your vital union with Christ this week?” RenewalWorks focuses on the same concept by pointing out that there are certain “catalysts” that are shown by research to encourage spiritual growth. Ortberg’s book provides insight, guidance and encouragement for using some of those aids/catalysts in order to grow spiritually. If you’d like to join me in reading the book this summer, perhaps we could have a discussion group about it in the fall! I would like that because, for me, another source of growth and important part of my spiritual journey has been participation in small discussion groups (Cursillo, Sunday school, Bible study groups.) My hope is that we can continue to grow together on our spiritual journeys.
As a child, my spiritual journey began in a Southern Baptist church where on the weekly offering envelope there was a place to check if you read your Bible daily. Needless to say, the Bible was very important, and you even got a "grade" on it! Fast forward to 20 years ago, this time in an Episcopal setting, there was an overzealous layman who taught several Christian Education classes for us. He could quote from the Bible like no one I had ever heard before. He was knowledgeable, passionate, and certain that what he said was the TRUTH! Neither of these "systems" worked for me. I had ideas on scripture but there was no room to share thoughts in this situation. Plus, it was rather intimidating. My priest at the time told me that anyone could use the Bible as a weapon - find key verses, stick to them individually and fail to see the overall message of love and redemption throughout the Bible.
As Richard Rohr says in "Yes, And...,we have substituted being literal with being serious. Willing people let the Scriptures change them instead of using them to change others." Today as I continue on my meandering spiritual journey, my hope is that the loving words (and sometimes not so loving) of the Bible change me so that I am a better witness to the first and great commandment.
"Yes, And..." Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, 2013, published by Franciscan Media
Do you ask yourself these questions? I think we all do from time to time. What is your response? Do you have more questions? What resources do you draw upon? My spiritual journey forms my answers. My parents and I were Methodists until I was 12 years old. As a paper boy in southwestern Michigan delivering the South Bend Tribune (Indiana). Monday thru Friday the Nuns from the local Roman Catholic school would stop and buy a paper. It contained news from Notre Dame.
I wanted to learn more, I was questioning where I belonged. I asked a friend if I could attend the Catholic church with him. He asked his father. His father discussed this with my parents and soon we were going to the local Episcopal church. I went thru the normal steps of confirmation, became an Acolyte, was involved in church life, Holy Days, learning the traditions of the church.
As I grew older I moved away from the brick and mortar church. Becoming focused on my life, family and providing for them. We attended church infrequently at times. I became a “PW” or pew warmer. I would go on some Sundays, Christmas, and Easter; but rarely became involved. I did not have time for Bible Study, mentoring, or the numerous ministries offered or needed in the church community.
All this changed on New Year’s Day, when I attended Holy Cross. They met at Ashley High School. The experience made me want to come back. I did for three more weeks before Bonnie became curious and joined me. The community was small, loving, friendly and truly interested in us. Work travel requirements kept me out of many early activities, however I always looked forward to returning to this parish family and wanting to contribute to its success.
What does this mean? Who am I? Where am I? I am committed to apostolic ministry. I believe BCP pg.855 is correct. “Who are the ministers of the Church? The ministers of the Church are lay persons (my emphasis), bishops, priest and deacons.” I believe this is what Christ had in mind when he chose his followers. He has chosen us. He leads by example, clarified his word with analogies, metaphors and stories. He expects us to emulate Him. He has blessed Holy Cross and our families. We need to continue His work, spread His word and grow His church.
Each of us have a story to tell. Our lives impact many people; some we do not realize. There are many ministries to serve Him. Renewal Works program has allowed us to take a snapshot of our lives together at Holy Cross. Ask who we are? Where do we want to go? And how can we enrich ours and the lives of others?
My journey has many twist, turns, hills and valleys. I know now Christ is with me all the way.
My Spiritual Journey
I am Judith Beckett, a charter member of Holy Cross Episcopal Church. I am an Episcopalian and have been active in my faith for over fifty years. I guess I can say that I have a fairly good idea of what it means to be Episcopalian. I know high church and low church. I know conservative service, and I know progressive service; I lean toward the latter. With that said, I also feel strongly about tradition and order—roots. I admit that I have a restless spirit—inquisitive and searching, willing to take some risks for what I feel is right—willing to say “yes” when my first inclination is to say “no—hell no!”
Where am I on my spiritual journey? I’m not sure. It’s hard to say where I am without saying where I’ve been, so I’ll speak a little about the inception of Holy Cross parish (serving Carolina Beach). Lord knows that was a huge journey in and with the Spirit. What moved me to “yes”? I would like to say the Holy Spirit, but in all honesty, I don’t know. I thought about it all that day and into the night. So, yes, I prayed about it. My prayer was, “Lord, if this is the right thing to do, help us make it happen. The idea was interesting, I’ll admit, but also bigger than life. I had certainly never been involved in anything of this magnitude, and I didn’t know anyone else who had. So it pretty much came down to, “Lord, with you behind us we can do anything!”
Being moved into action was a sign to me. I do not remember the “mi-nute” particulars now, but this is how it began: My husband, Carl, Fred Hammond and I were going to St. Paul’s. I happened to be meeting with Beverley Hill and Jim Warren (then St. Paul members also). I told them Fred had communicated with me that morning, and said there was an empty church down the road a bit, and let’s buy it and start a new church on this end of the county. We discussed possibilities – mainly things like amount of hard work, lack of resources, next steps, etc., etc. Jim was all for it, Beverley brought up the expenses. Well, soon after that we were meeting in Jim’s home – Carl, Fred, Jim andMarie Warren, John Carter, John and Claudia Bennett [all from St. Paul’s], and Paula Studebaker. (Paula was a member of St. Andrews at the time.) Then Fred had the idea we should meet with The Rev. Dr. Dick Warner, if he was willing, to discuss the possibility of forming a new church and what all it would involve. We (Fred, Carl, the Warrens, and I) met at Henry’s restaurant one afternoon for lunch, and he went through some of what we needed to do. The first thing was to pray a lot for guidance. Second was to inform the Bishop of our intent, contact the Lower Cape Fear Deanery, which we did. Dick agreed to shepherd us along the way on this new journey (thank God Fred had the foresight to include Dick in these early stages). So, in answer to my prayers, the Lord was putting people in our path who needed to be there to help us. Dick Warner, the Rev. Steve Teague (Deanery), for beginners, and the Rev. Canon Matt Stockard from the diocese.
We faced so many obstacles. Prayer played a lot into my faith along this new path. Everyday there was something going on, it seemed. It is amazing I wasn’t fired! Luckily my boss at the time was very active in his church, so he was understanding of my “cause” and was a good listener, along with being very lenient about my sporadic absences to take care of matters that came up or attend meetings during the day such as meeting with the Rev. CanonMatt Stockard, or going to the Deanery to “plead our case”. The Deanery at the time had a representative from St. James who informed us that in the seventies their parish had attempted to assist in forming a church at Carolina Beach, and it flopped. Plus, there were already numerous Episcopal Churches in New Hanover County, and why did we need another one? He was very negative to our cause. But here again, we did not let this burst our spirit and kept on plugging away. My feelings were, always, that forming this church was the right thing to do, and God would be with us in our struggles. (If you have an Apocrypha, read Sirach 2:1-6 or look for it in the church library.)
Prayer was centermost during this time. Was there ever a time I felt like giving up? No, never!
I prayed for strength and courage to meet the obstacles— God, if you do not want us to continue with this project, please give us a sign. We had bright days and lots of help all along the way. The Bishop finally realized the best way to get us “off his back” was to have our first official celebration of Eucharist. Thanks to Harold Layne we were able to use the Yacht Club at Carolina Beach for the function. It was about two weeks before Christmas in 2003 and very rainy and cold. The Bishop was expecting a handful of people and was most impressed when he saw the number of people who participated in the event. We had almost sixty interested people show up! That sealed the deal. We were on our way. Praise the Lord!!
We felt God’s presence with us. We faithfully met every week at our house on Wednesday evenings for fellowship, singing, and prayers. Some of the early folks to come were Fred Hammond, John and Claudia Bennett, Ed and Donna Dunlap, Linda Lashley, Adelaide Brooks, Marian Hills, Vi, Bloomer, Ted and Judy Guilford, Charles Bell, Mary Johnson, Kathleen McLaren and I’m sure some others I can’t recall at this time.
A huge sign that the Spirit was walking with us in this journey was the Wednesday evening when Marian Hills entered the house, weaving her way from the front door through the dining room into the kitchen where we were serving coffee and everyone just stared at her in shock! We had no idea who this woman was or why she was standing in our kitchen! Her priest at St. Andrews had told her about our new formation, and since she lived in the area, she came over to look for herself. As you know, she has been with us ever since that night! So, news was getting out – we advertised in the local and Carolina Beach papers for several weeks and got a steady stream of calls – one of these calls was from Allison Rankin who lives in Carolina Beach and was also a former member of St. Paul’s and also from Barbara Fulp, who lives in Kernersville and visits regularly.
Beyond that “yes,” where is my spiritual journey taking me? I do not know if God is leading me to do more. I do what I physically can and will do for as long as I can. I am thankful that I am able to do what I do—thankful that there is a guiding hand in what I do. I know God is present in my life, and yes, he does lead me. A number of years ago, just before one of my numerous surgeries, I asked God to please guide me by putting his hand on my shoulder as a sign He was there and would be with me. He did. I felt his presence. It has never left.
Where else is God leading me to on my spiritual journey? I have no idea, but isn’t it exciting to wonder what is around the next corner in my journey with the Lord??
At the age of 18, I found myself in Raleigh, attending St. Mary’s Junior College, an Episcopalian girls’ school. Up until this point, my spiritual life had been pretty passive. With my mom, my brother, Jim, and I attended St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville a couple of times a month. My dad attended the Presbyterian Church occasionally. We went to Sunday School, Bible School, confirmation classes and participated in parish activities. Jim served as an acolyte and crucifer, Mom taught Sunday School and served on Altar Guild, and I frequently opted to help out in the nursery instead of sitting through Morning Prayer or the monthly communion service. As a teen I became involved in EYC and loved the social activities, but didn’t do much more than show up and have fun. I went when I was told to go and did what was suggested I do; I put forth no effort to explore, to learn, to be involved. And then there I was at St. Mary’s…homesick, a tiny little fish in a much bigger pond than I had been in…surrounded by smart, confidant, beautiful girls…I felt like such a misfit! The one place I felt a sense of peace and belonging was the sweet, little St. Mary’s Chapel. I didn’t feel judged while in chapel, I could follow the service and sing the hymns, I could listen or day dream. As the months went by, I knew I was changing, becoming a bit more comfortable in my skin. At the time I couldn’t really identify the change but I now recognize it as the beginning of my awareness of God’s presence in my life. Perhaps this is the beginning of my spiritual journey where I began taking responsibility of my role in the church and my spiritual growth.
Life progressed smoothly, just as expected. I graduated from college, married, taught school. My husband and I attended church regularly and became involved in a variety of ways. Children came along and we continued to do the “right thing”….taking them to church and Sunday School. We participated in parish life but we weren’t growing spiritually. We were just floating along enjoying our “perfect life”.
And then, I hit a spiritual brick wall. My brother was diagnosed with leukemia and lost his brief battle 2 months later. Wow….how could this be? How could God allow my parents to lose their son, me my brother, and my children their only uncle? He was 39, healthy, strong, and had so much living left to do. We were all struggling…especially my parents. This is when my questioning began and the search for answers. Shortly after my brother’s death, I found a book a friend had given my mother and was I intrigued by the title: When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Author Harold Kushner gave me answers and food for thought and I found a sense a peace I hadn’t felt since my brother’s diagnosis. Bad things happen but our faith in God will get us through these periods of pain. I was ready to learn more.
Life settled back down, work and family resumed its hectic pace…and unfortunately that desire to learn and explore my faith was put on the back burner. We bumped along for the next 8 years, the children involved in their activities, and their dad and I tried our best to balance work, caring for our parents, and keeping up with two busy kids. We found ourselves frequently going in different directions and felt pretty good if we all sat down together for a meal once or twice a week….and we were drifting further and further apart.
In 2000, my marriage of 27 years was over….and I was completely at a loss as to what to do next. I found myself so lost I wasn’t sure how I would ever find my way out of the ditch I had fallen in to. For some reason, I woke up one Sunday and went to church. I became aware of small signs, visible signs, of God’s presence in my life. One of these happened on that first Sunday morning I attended church after the separation. I was always cold, a bone chilling cold, shivering on the inside uncontrollably. On that Sunday morning, I sat on the end of a pew toward the back of the church….I could make a quick getaway here if needed. I found myself washed in the brightest, warmest light coming through the window near me. I felt myself calming and the chills were fading. I remember feeling a sense of peace and not wanting to leave it behind…how could I hold onto this feeling? I can tell you, I have sat in that very spot hundreds of times since that Sunday morning, and I have not found that warmth or the beauty of the light coming through the stain glass window. I know it was God’s loving embrace that morning that encouraged me to step up my journey. The path had changed, but it was up to me to move forward. I found myself looking forward to church, needing that time on Sunday morning to sit quietly with God. I realized that hour on Sunday gave me the strength to make it through the week. I was hooked!
In an effort to become stronger and to grow in my faith I committed to a book study at church facilitated by our deacon, Kay Swindell. If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg was exactly what I needed to encourage me to step out of my comfort zone. Through the study I found I was a part of a supportive faith community and I wanted to be more involved. This is when my faith journey began to pick up a bit. Sitting in the back of the church was no longer enough….I needed to “get out of the boat” and become an active member of this faith community.
Although I was moving forward, I still had doubts about myself and my self-worth. Kay had moved from being my deacon to being a very good friend. She had watched me struggle and held out a hand when I was losing my grip. I trusted her completely and when she approached me about attending Cursillo I agreed to go. I have to tell you, this was a life changing weekend for me. It was not an easy weekend, but when I left I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was a child or God and that God loved me….no matter what!!! WOW!!! This was in 2002…and my faith grows stronger every day.
It has been quite a journey, with ups and downs along the way. Being actively involved in a faith community is important to me and helps keep me centered and balanced. Questioning, studying and discussing with others helps me along the journey. I have recently committed to the EFM program and I’m excited about the growth opportunities this will offer. Right now, I feel grounded in my faith, but I know there is so much more to learn, to share and to do as my faith journey continues….exciting times indeed!
We are all on our own spiritual journey because we are spiritual beings made in the image of God. This was something I did not know or come to believe until I was an adult. Jesus said that “God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). We grow, develop, and mature spiritually just as we do the same physically. It happens even without our thinking about it most of the time although there are certain specific events or incidences in which we become acutely aware of them.
My spiritual journey began as a child by being born to good Christian parents and raised in a Christian home. My father was raised in the Lutheran Church of Pennsylvania Germans in Lancaster, PA, while my mother was raised in the Methodist Church in West Virginia. Dad’s career in the National Parks meant moving on an average of every three years from Oregon to Virginia, Texas to Kentucky and then Florida, Michigan to Nebraska, and eventually to The Great Smoky Mountains in TN/NC where he was the superintendent. There were many other places in between those states mentioned.
Beginning with our move to Everglades National Park in Florida, our family attended and were members of the Methodist Church. I was very active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship in Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, and Tennessee. I attended a MYF Washington-New York conference my senior year in high school. This experience begin to show me that the Christian church was bigger than the local congregation to which I belonged.
After high school I attended and graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Once in a while I would go to church with friends or maybe by myself because I knew I should. Whenever I was home I of course would go to church. This was just all of what I would consider today “normal” for someone raised in the Christian church.
Following Emory I was accepted in the Tennessee College of Dentistry located in Memphis, TN. My spiritual journey was about to take a quantum leap forward which I did not know was coming and surely was not prepared for what was about to happen to me. In my second year of dental school a group of instructors and students organized a fellowship called the Christian Dental Fellowship. I was asked to join and I replied “Sure, I’m a Christian!” ”Why Not?” I thought to myself. We began meeting weekly after classes on a regular basis, sharing personal testimonies and talking. It was different and kind of “cool,” you know, hanging out with professors, class mates, and upper level students.
After only a few weeks it began to dawn on me that these men had something I did not have, and it just literally blew me away. They talked about Jesus as if He was a real person that they knew, like a friend. Now I had been going to church my whole life and I knew about Jesus and that He was the Son of God. I knew that we all sin and that God can forgive us of our sins, but to actually know Jesus was something I had never experienced. This revelation shook me up so badly that I could hardly concentrate on my studies, and that was something very important to do.
I talked to my dad about this. He tried to help me by encouraging me and telling me I had faith and that this was just part of life. However, I knew that it was more than all of that and I needed an answer to my question. The question was very simply this: Who IS Jesus?
The next decision I made is one of the most important one that anyone can make. I decided that I was going to read and study the Bible for myself and that I was going to find out what the Bible had to say about God. I asked my mother to send me a Bible and I began every morning and evening to read the Bible or a devotional tract. And then it happened! One night (Tuesday, April 6, 1970 at 12:20 AM) I needed an answer from God about a situation in my life. I knew that only God had the answer. I prayed that He would show me the answer and that I would accept His answer, no matter what it was, because I knew that it would be the right one.
Bam! God the Holy Spirit came into my being, dividing asunder my spirit, soul, mind, and body. I experienced three levels of being. I have never been the same person since.
My spiritual journey since then has had several significant events. I started attending fundamental and Bible teaching churches, and became involved in lay witness revivals, the International Full-Gospel Mens’ Fellowship, the charismatic and Pentecostal movements, and teaching Bible classes. I have spoken and given my personal testimony in TN, KY, SC, MD, NE, and NC.
The recent levels of my spiritual journey have been here in Wilmington. I am a charter member of Holy Cross. I have never experienced a Christian community like we have. Through my brothers and sisters in Christ I was introduced to the Cursillo Movement which revealed to me the love and grace of God in a deeper and real way. The Way of Christ is an ideal towards which we strive daily to follow. My personal time with God begins at 5:00 AM each morning during the week and at least my 6:00 on weekends. I have been keeping a journal every day for years. I meet every Wednesday morning at 6:30 in the home of Pat and Chuck Harrill for reunion group. I am involved with adult Christian education here at Holy Cross. As a teacher I have become a better student of the Bible.
I would like to recommend a book that has been most influential in my life the past year and a half. It is THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE, What On Earth Am I Here For? The author is Rick Warren. Remember that if you want your life to change, you have to change your life. That can only truly happen with the help of the Holy Spirit.
In closing I would like to quote a Native American proverb: “On the day you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so on the day you die you rejoice and the world cries.”
I caved in recently and purchased a FitBit...more technology!
My hope is that it will help me keep track of the steps I take each day. Since I retired last July, I've realized that now that I'm not on a tight daily schedule, I have no idea as to whether or not I'm exercising enough to stay healthy.
Ten thousand steps a day is the goal...each day itself a journey.
So when I consider my Spiritual Journey, I'll be quick to say I'm not aware of any apps that can help you to track your spiritual fitness. And if there were some...I'd be suspect, because I'm pretty certain that our journey through life can't be measured in any conventional way.
I was brought up Presbyterian, then attended a Methodist Church while a teenager. In college I was very erratic about church, then dated a guy in grad school who was Quaker, and got me really thinking. When I moved to Wilmington, I attended Ba'hai meetings, until an Episcopalian friend invited me to Church of the Servant. When I first received communion via the common cup, that really moved me.. it really made sense with what I believed about God and how God is God to all of us.
I found truth and love in each of these experiences, but have found that I'm most comfortable with the Episcopal Church's focus on Scripture, reason, and tradition. I also love that the Episcopal Church is progressive in areas of social justice, and Bishop Curry's frequent reminders that we are part of the "Jesus movement," and that love is always stronger than hate.
EFM was a huge part of forming me along the way. EFM helped me to understand that Truth can be found in scripture, yet it should not be interpreted literally for many reasons. Also, one of the main tenets in EFM is that we should not get stuck in certitude about issues, and thus feel we can sit in judgment upon those who don't believe as we do.
To that end, one of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott goes: "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty."
And another from Leonard Cohen, "There's a crack in everything...that's how the light gets in."
In short, there's no rulebook of how to get this right. Life is hard. We are all guaranteed times of crushing sadness. We are often confused about how to proceed next. Yet in Jesus, we have the promise of company on the journey, and the hope of great joy and peace.
So as I do my 10,000 steps, I hope to look for God, for the good, for the Truth in all things and all people. I want to keep reading (love Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr!) and exploring my faith. And when it's dark - and I know there will be darkness - I will be watching for that little crack of light, that will eventually become a full sunrise.
I'm excited about all of us at Holy Cross figuring out what new things we can do (read, pray, act) to walk together and walk together in the coming year.
“Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord (Ps. 25:7).”
David, the man after God’s own heart, dedicated this verse to me. Yes, he did!!!
After a Christian conversion experience at age six and a childhood and adolescence committed to faith, the painful realities of life (parental divorce and family illnesses) and the arrogance and ignorance of youth combined to produce an atheist. I was not an agnostic; I was a Richard Dawkins type of atheist.
In my late thirties at the fringes of my head and heart, I began to feel a sense of longing. Soon thereafter, another brutal reality (the totally unexpected death of someone whom I loved profoundly) brought me to my knees. I simply prayed the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. . . . “ That was in 1984, so I have been on a long journey, one filled with much church-shopping, Bible study, prayer, Christian books, and small group worship. In 1994, I joined the Episcopal Church. Its reliance on Scripture, tradition, and reason allowed me to mature as a Christian.
Three Christian authors, in addition to those in the Bible, also have played an important role in helping me grow spiritually. Dr. Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions and The Soul of Christianity provided a perspective on Christianity that I had not absorbed as a young Southern Baptist: “Everything that came from Jesus’s lips worked like a magnifying glass to focus human awareness on the two most important facts about life: God’s overwhelming love of humanity, and the need for people to accept that love and let it flow through them . . . (Soul, 53-4). What Jesus Meant, What the Gospels Meant, and What Paul Meant, three books by Dr. Garry Wills, enriched my understanding of the foundations of Christianity. More recently, I have found Rob Bell’s Love Wins nourishing. To keep me going in the right direction, periodically I read the Bible in its entirety.
During my years as an atheist, I made many very good friends. One is a somewhat a pantheist, another somewhat a Buddhist, another a New Ager, and two are non-practicing Catholics. We remain very close; they respect my choice, and I do not impose my belief upon them. However, I have asked God at this stage of my spiritual journey to enable me to reflect His love in a way that draws them to Him.
I like to think that I am a centered Christian, at the last stage of the journey—but I still cannot feel comfortable sharing my faith with someone who is not a fellow believer. So---I have a way to travel on this spiritual road.
Ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, is credited with saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In addition to this basic truth applying to a physical expedition, I believe a spiritual journey must be initiated likewise.
For some of us that initial step can be quite large, a life changing event or an inspirational message that grabs our attention like none other. I had been cruising through life as a token Christian, attending church on Sundays, participating in various church activities, when I encountered that life changing experience. It occurred following a Faith Alive weekend in 1973 that I didn’t even attend! Faith Alive is a spiritual renewal program involving a team of people that come into a parish for a weekend of witnessing, prayer and group sharing. I don’t know any of the details of what happened in my parish at that time, but I do know that after the weekend, many of my friends were very different, “glowing”, in a mystical way that I found inviting. And so I began seeking the same; what appeared to me to be a sense of spirituality that I knew could only be found through a closer walk with God.
Jo actually took the lead on this venture, but I eagerly joined her. Over the next couple of years, we attended several seminars such as Marriage Encounter and Life in the Spirit, designed to provide tools for creating a more intimate relationship with God and each other. We attended prayer and praise meetings, and separately she tried Women Aglow while I participated in Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship. All good stuff you might think to grow closer to God. But I felt the greatest impact when I attended Southern Ohio Episcopal Cursillo number nine in September, 1981. Throughout the weekend, I experienced the overwhelming power of God’s love expressed by the serving team. This I knew must be His intention for us each day of our entire lives.
Since then I have remained active in the Cursillo ministry as one means of sharing God’s love with others. I have also felt called to serve God in other ways that emphasize His work, not mine. We are His instruments, His servants, and in serving others we glorify Him. I have come to realize the importance of prayer and meditation, how much our Heavenly Father yearns to hear from us. For me, listening for God’s call to discern His will is hard work. I hear no voice from heaven or anything else so profound (yet), but rather sometimes experience a strong notion to pursue a certain direction. I long to be continually open to know God’s word and have come to accept that silence doesn’t mean He is not listening.
A spiritual journey can have several significant steps; one to start searching for the path and others to point the way more clearly. What about you? Are you actively building your own relationship with God and ways in which to share His love? Are you on that journey? If not, take that first step. The trip can only be described as incredible!
The Renewal Works materials asked team members to reflect on their own Spiritual Journey. I thought I was going to be asked to share my story with the whole team at the first workshop and was very uncomfortable with how to do that. While Renewal Works tells us that we grow spiritually by increasing our love of God and our love of neighbor, for me the reading material did not clearly articulate what a spiritual journey is or should / could be nor how to measure it. I therefore resorted to the internet for some guidance. I found a questionnaire from the St. Louis Consultation Center that clergy may be asked to complete to reflect on their spiritual journey. I answered questions that seemed relevant to me and what follows is a synopsis of my answers.
Until the age of ten I lived in a small village in rural England that was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The village had a two-room school house, a 13th century Church of England church, a medieval preaching cross (I loved to climb on it), a Methodist chapel that had been there for a couple of hundred years, a few shops and a gas pump, the ‘Green Dragon’ pub (next to the rectory) multiple small farms and possibly as many as 300 inhabitants. Our family regularly attended the Church of England services and I remember watching ‘magic lantern’ shows of Bible stories at the Methodist chapel. I had an idyllic childhood growing up in the midst of rolling hills and river valleys with wild animals in the forests and many fish in the clear chalk steams. I understood that God created all the beauty I saw around me and to this day Hymn 416 ‘For the beauty of the earth’ resonates and recreates in my mind wonderful images of my childhood and growing up in “the boonies”.
When I was eleven our family moved to Salisbury, a city then with a population of 23,000, the tallest cathedral in Europe and Stonehenge as its neighbor 8 miles away. My parents, particularly my Dad, were involved in church activities e.g. usher, reader, food preparation, yard maintenance. I became an acolyte, a member of the church choir (resplendent in cassock, surplice and starched ruff around my neck), attended youth church camps, participated as a teenager in an incredibly powerful Bible-centered ‘Discoverers of the Way’ program and met at the Rector’s home on Sunday evenings for discussion with other teens. All this helped me grow in my love for Jesus and provided guidelines for running my life. I understood that I must be truthful and honest in my dealings with others and appreciated that not everyone is as fortunate as me. From age 4½ through the end of high school I attended daily worship services in my schools - not unusual in England at that time where there was little separation of church and state.
For me, the 1970’s were a time of wandering spiritually and rarely attending church – a proverbial lost sheep. However, the grounding I had experienced in my early life enabled me to easily rejoin church activities after the birth of our daughter Kate. When Kate was 18 months old I was given a three-year assignment to work in the Wall Street area of New York City. I contacted an organization in London called ‘Christians Abroad’ which put us in touch with All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Glen Rock, NJ. Led by the priest, we were quickly welcomed into the parish family and made incredible friendships with other families who are still dear to us today.
Apart from three years when we lived in the suburbs of Boston MA (where we were very involved in providing support to the priest in Brookline who was in the process of successfully rebuilding a dying parish), All Saints’ was our church home from 1984 through 2010. We became very involved in multiple ministries. I became a Reader / LEM (chalice bearer), shared in the men’s group maintenance activities and Habitat projects and led summer mission trips for our youth to work on projects in disadvantaged areas of Maine and West Virginia. I was a Vestry member for a time, chair of search committees, and, between jobs, spent 18 months as interim youth director. My spiritual ‘high’ happened at All Saints’. One Sunday while administering the chalice I became aware of the light of Christ beaming down and warming me as I shared the remembrance of the Last Supper with others. How do you explain such an experience?
Another wonderful experience was joining Holy Cross services in the Middle School when we were visiting this area looking for a new home. The emphasis on worship with a commitment to tithe to assist the less fortunate was refreshing and the joyous upbeat music would stay in our heads as we traveled back up the I-95. The sense of family, commitment to Christ and being made so welcome made us want to return to Holy Cross. We did. We moved into our new home at almost the same time that Holy Cross moved into its new building on Myrtle Grove Road.
I had no idea that joining the Renewal Works team would be such a rewarding experience. I shared with others that I am very comfortable with being with God in quiet places, particularly in my garden, weeding and bush trimming in the Memorial Garden or when reading the Book of Common Prayer. I shared that I still feel challenged to pray and read my Bible more often and that I realize I am so blessed to be here and must work harder to grow further my relationship with Jesus and with my neighbor.
The next phase of Renewal Works at Holy Cross is to share with the congregation potential initiatives emanating from the workshops that we hope will assist with the ongoing spiritual growth of the parish family. I will be in a team with Judith Beckett and Carolina Villa that will take the first steps to consider potential opportunities for ecumenical service and for pastoring our immediate community. We will share our initial thoughts with you this fall. Please consider joining us in that endeavor so that together we continue to grow both as individuals and as a parish family and share our love for Christ with others.
I’ve never been a profound thinker so trying to put my spiritual journey down on paper is a scary prospect for me. I have worried about this task all summer. So, time to give it a shot.
I was lucky to be adopted into a family of faith. My father was an American Baptist minister ( that is the church of Martin Luther King, more ecumenical than Southern Baptist). My mother was a nurse, loved little kids and was born to be a Sunday school teacher. My mother read me Bible stories from the time I could sit up and my dad told me “Rocky the Red-Headed Cowgirl” bedtime stories. Rocky could ride the buckingist bronco , shot a gun with both hands and round up the bad guys with one hand tied behind her back. Thinking back, I was more influenced by Rocky than the Bible stories. Or so I thought.
I watched my parents live their faith everyday showing kindness to every person with a pot of coffee on the stove and a plate of cookies on the table. All races, income levels , religious or non-religious people showed up at that table and were greeted with warmth, intense interest in each individual and no judgement. One time my Dad took me to the bus station in South Philadelphia. I was returning to ECU after a summer at home. We got there early so went across the street to a diner in a VERY BAD section of Philly. Coffee and donuts were a necessary part of life for my father, so there we were. A group of young men surrounded our table and started joking and trying to embarrass us .This was 1967; we would call them a gang today. I was 19 and very afraid. Not my dad. He invited them to sit down, have coffee and a donut. An hour later we knew about their lives and I had been shown how to deal with a BAD situation.
Well, I went to school, got a job, got married , had a child , got divorced, got remarried, moved every few years for my husband’s job, worked in social services with great responsibilities, little pay and on call 24-7 and LIFE got complicated. I did remember the lessons of kindness I learned as a child. I worked with some very challenged and I should admit dangerous clients, the most chronically mentally ill at a crisis center in Texas and a behavioral unit for the developmentally disabled in Texas and Maryland, and as Nursing Home Ombudsman and Public Guardian in the slums of Baltimore ( Here the clients weren’t dangerous but the staff was. Yes, The Director of Nursing didn’t show up one day. She was murdered!). I truly enjoyed the company of my clients, tried to see their best potential and, I hope, was helpful in getting them services. Not much time to think about God and my spiritual life. I did pray a lot when my son was a teenager. I figured we needed all the help we could get at that point, but God didn’t play a major role in my life. Luckily God didn’t forget me.
Fast forward 40 years , I was severely depressed and a mass of stress. I was 60 years old and my marriage was failing. Yes again. I was miserable. I knew I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years going in the same direction I had for the last 40. But what to do? Well, God had a plan for me, I just didn’t know it. I saw an ad for the Lone Star Community College Senior Programs. A class in Reiki was advertised and I thought it sounded interesting. Energy healing and Stress Relief. Well I needed that! I should mention I had attended the Episcopal Church for 30 years in the many states we lived in. My second husband was a cradle Episcopalian, so you know they don’t change. I loved the liturgy and rituals of the Episcopal Church but just never felt a connection to God.
Back to Reiki Class. It was taught by a very God centered teacher, Gerry Taylor, who lead me back to God through her deep conviction that the God sourced healing energy learned in the practice of Reiki heals us individually and allows us to transfer this energy to others. I met Hindus and Buddhists from the Japanese and Chinese communities in Houston, Mormons, agnostics and unbelievers, and a new dear friend, Lucy, a staunch Southern Baptist. I watched each of these people transform from tension and fear filled, sometimes sour faced individuals to people filled with joy. And, it happened to me too. God’s healing energy changed our lives and He doesn’t discriminate between believers and non-believers.
I studied hard, worked on others at a free Reiki clinic, and learned the practice of Reiki healing. I felt God’s energy flow through my hands to help people in all kinds of distress. After a year of practice I was ready for my Master attunement, planned for a Sunday afternoon. That morning at the 7:30 service in my Texas Episcopal church I knelt at the communion rail. I felt my whole body enveloped by a warm blanket of love so overwhelming it cannot be described. I felt that God approved my new direction. He healed me in many ways through my new practice, took away my stress and fears, helped me let go of yesterday and set me on a new path to embrace a future in North Carolina. That’s a whole other story not for this telling but it lead me to Holy Cross and a community so spirit filled with God’s love it GLOWS.
My point is this, ( I know it took a while to get to it) God is paying attention to each of us all our lives. He wants us to have a relationship with him and He keeps trying to find a way. It took a long time for me to listen. He gave me lots of opportunities all my life to find Him, but, I had to reach a really low point before I allowed Him to find me and He found me in an unconventional way. All He wants is for us to say ‘Yes, I want to find YOU’ and HE will. Then the new journey is full of adventures, not always good adventures, but this time I was traveling with Him in charge in full faith that things would work out; a lot more Joy and less fear in this new journey! I hope my story gives you hope if you are floundering. There is a way out. God will find you, just ask.
I began my spiritual journey in a box of certitude taped shut with Roman Catholic dogma and guilt! This occurred in the rural environment of northern New York State. I was spiritually and with all good intentions placed in this box when I was 5 years old. This is when I started Catholic school with the Sisters of St. Joseph who were dressed in the full "nun regalia". Before I go any further let me clearly state that reflecting back on these early years I would not change anything of this experience. Nevertheless I swallowed hook line and sinker all that Sisters Celine, Hubertine, Gabriel, Boniface, Damien, Father Cotter and so on and so forth, told me about God, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the numerous saints. All of this took place in the late 50's and early 60's in the midst of the Cold War. I was instructed to fervently pray the rosary for the conversion of Russia. This was my role in defeating communism! I remember being full of fear that a atomic bomb would end it all!
The other major tenet engrained in me was that only Catholics were going to heaven. So this prompted me to tell my 5 year old neighbor friend, Johnny, that he was doomed to hell because he wasn't Catholic! My mom certainly heard about this from Johnny's mom which led to my apologizing to Johnny. But I must admit it wasn't clear to me why I was apologizing! Then I had another dilemma centering around committing a mortal sin if you didn't go to Mass on Sunday. Well my father hardly ever attended Sunday Mass with my mom, brother and me. So was my own loving father doomed to hell along with all those non-Catholics? So after grade school I attended a public high school in a perplexed spiritual state, just accepting and not questioning. I did though harbor a superior attitude to those public school kids. In my mind they weren't "toeing the line" with God as well as me! Then onto my college years once again in a Catholic institution. Here finally I started to question and that tape around that box of certitude started to loosen up. During my 4 years of college I ranged from participating in the Pentecostal Catholic movement to claiming I was an agnostic by the time graduation rolled around in 1975.
After college I stopped attending church regularly until I attended my father's funeral in 1983. The consoling and inspiring words of the priest during that service started to open my eyes to a loving and faithful God; a love that is unconditional and a faith that was enduring. Yes suffering exists in the earthly world and God isn't the one causing this suffering. But God is there for you through thick and thin. I started to realize that it is up to me to decide every moment to love and trust God and accept the gift of grace. I do this by loving my neighbor. I continued as a Catholic even though I still didn't have all the answers to my doubts and questions, but I figured God had the answers.
When I was in my late forties I moved to a heavily Southern Baptist populated area of Virginia. I encountered first hand some negativity from some Southern Baptist because I was Catholic! Also Catholic churches were hard to find. So I was invited one day to attend an Episcopal service. Well I finally took my first baby steps outside that box of certitude. After about 13 years as an Episcopal and having been spiritually enriched by four years of study and reflection in EfM (Education for Ministry), I can say that I am completely out of the box of certitude. However that box still lingers nearby sometimes trying to lure me back to a "superior" certitude....that is thinking that those who I meet that are in certitude are somehow not enlightened as me. This is wrong of me! I try to love all, no matter the stage of faith or even the faith they follow, including all the non-Christian faiths. After all I have learned that Christians do not by any means have the monopoly on love.
With God's help I can open my heart and mind, I can accept his gift of inner peace amidst the chaos in our world. I am at the stage in my journey where I try to act redemptively rather than resentfully (I learned this from EfM!). I still don't have all the answers and never will! But that doesn't concern me. Rather I will trust in God and someday hopefully be not so much in a place called heaven but rather in an eternal state of peaceful, loving existence with a loving trusting being named God.
If you have been reading the spiritual journeys from the Renewal Works team you will have surmised that there are a great many paths that can and have been taken. My path, like my teammates, is unique. I can honestly describe my spiritual journey as one that is “greater than the sum of its parts.” To give some context, I grew up barely Roman Catholic in that we couldn’t even characterize my family at C and E (Christmas and Easter) Catholics. In fact, we were almost the “hatch, match, and dispatch” variety, seen at church only at Baptism, Marriage, and Funeral. Therefore, the first part of my faith journey I was almost an agnostic.
In high school I joined two groups almost simultaneously Key Club (a Kiwanis sponsored high school service group) and church youth group at the local Roman Catholic Parish in southern California. Key Club brought me out of my shell in high school as I began to see a world outside myself. I began becoming involved in my community, working with Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels, an orphanage in Mexico, local graffiti abatement projects, creating a nature park in the city, and more. About the same time, I joined a parish high school youth group. I also served my parish in the variety of roles. After I was confirmed I served my parish as a lector, eucharistic minister, attended youth retreats, and was a team member on youth retreats. This second stage of my spiritual journey, this merging of service and faith, was the foundation for my life’s spiritual journey. This stage impacted the rest of my life in the church (small “c”).
My first few years in college I became involved in another Kiwanis sponsored service group, Circle K. I participated and organized many similar kinds of service projects as I did in high school, and I stayed active in my home parish. I became aware of the Newman Ministry, a Roman Catholic version of Campus Crusade for Christ. It was run by the Marist priests, a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. It was here that I began to sense a call to ordained ministry. I even went to their mother house in San Francisco to explore the possibility of joining their order. I couldn’t wrap my head around the notion of celibacy, so I abandoned the idea. A year or so later, I found myself still struggling with the call to ordained ministry, so I talked to my parish priest and started studying for the Diocese of San Bernardino in southern California. While in college seminary in the San Jose area, I completed my undergraduate studies in Humanities and a minor in Behavioral Studies. In the Roman Catholic Church, all seminarians are required foundational studies in philosophy to prepare them for graduate theological studies. Additionally, college seminary was to serve as the foundation for living in and helping to create faith communities. I was blessed to have lived with and studied with a great deal of wonderful individuals. It was in college seminary where I had the opportunity to see numerous forms of liturgical worship, i.e., morning and evening prayer, daily eucharist, spiritual direction, and liturgies in Spanish, Vietnamese, and English. This third stage of my spiritual journey cemented the idea of self-reflection in three areas of ministry: pastoral care (service), private and communal worship, and theological understanding.
It was just before graduation that I became aware that the diocese was going to send me to Rome, Italy for my theological studies — a very unique opportunity. It was in Rome and Europe that I was able to not only excel my theological studies, especially scripture, but I was able to visit, first hand, many of the biblical and early church sites. It was not all wine and pasta, as seminarians at this stage are much more scrutinized in the areas of pastoral care, worship, and theological studies. I believe it was in this environment that I was expected to be more reliant on my personal relationship with God where my college seminary experience I was reliant on my community for support. I had the usual support system, spiritual director, friends, but no family. Four years later, with two graduate degrees in theology, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate and placed in a parish near my home. I worked with Spanish speaking parishioners as I did through out my seminary years, adult education, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the parish school, Christian Education, and performed weddings and baptisms. In hindsight, I realize that this was the first environment that I didn’t really have a people in my life as a support system. Everything learned about spirituality in seminary (communal living and academic studies) was not a part of my parish life experience.
Not too long after that, I chose to leave the Roman Catholic priesthood and married my wife of almost 25 years. We continued to practice our Roman Catholic faith in a nearby diocese. She, like I, had a strong faith rooted in service. We became involved in religious education teaching religious education classes, confirmation classes, and classes for parents and sponsors whose children were being baptized. The religious sister in charge of the Religious Education program and the associate pastor (a vicar in the Episcopal Church) knew of my Roman Catholic background, and I believe they came to rely on both Regina’s and my expertise to take those classes and ministries that others shied away from. We spent ten full and fulfilling years in that parish. However, we began to see greater and greater hypocrisy in the Roman church. In addition to the growing priest scandal, we saw the new pastor (rector in the Episcopal Church) force the sisters out of their covent home on the parish’s property, the continual denial of women’s leadership in the parish, the denial of gay rights, and many other things. It was time for a change.
Regina and I began to visit other churches including three local Episcopal parishes. There were many things that we liked about the Episcopal Church, especially the liturgy. When we arrive attend St. Mark’s in Upland, California we knew we were home. We attended the parish for about a year and a half before being received into the Episcopal Church by the Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles on September 18, 2003. We quickly became involved in many aspects, including religious education, liturgy, vestry, and other ministries. We had a similar experience and voyage with our faith journey at Holy Cross. For me, my spiritual journey is a journey that ties my personal faith, my marriage, the parish liturgy, AND service. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26) and we are justified by faith not works (Galatians 2:15-21).
Two other Scripture passages come to mind when I think of my spiritual journey. The first is a quote on my ordination card. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1:47-48 — New American Version) It is a reminder that I am God’s servant/slave, here to do God’s will. The second is a framed quote when I received candidacy to ordination. “My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honored at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.” Ecclesiasticus 2:1-5 (Jerusalem Bible) Both passages are in the study of our home, and a reminder of my spiritual journey, both past and present.
In preparation for Workshop #3 for the Renewal Works team we were introduced to the five Best Practice Principles of spiritually vital congregations. I gained information and insight from reading about each of them but the one practice in particular that stood out to me was “Get People Moving.” The reading suggests that this includes “welcoming and incorporating newcomers,” but goes on to say that it’s more than that. “It’s about communicating to everyone in the congregation, new and not so new, that they are on a spiritual journey.” Al that moment my own spiritual journey crystallized and I saw it for what it truly has been and continues to be.
Ten plus years ago my life looked pretty normal on the outside but on the inside there was a relentless hollow space. When trying to ignore it failed I attempted to address it by “borrowing” an Upper Room daily devotional from a local church when I dropped my grandchildren off at their preschool. The first thing I recall reading was “Self absorption is a sin.” It didn’t seem to apply to me until I realized that worrying, which was/sometimes still is my basic operating strategy, is nothing more than self –absorption. This experience gave me something to build on and from there I progressed to reading The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. There I learned something about the human condition, myself and God and the hollow spot abated just a bit and I sensed that I was on the right track. From that time forward I’ve earnestly looked to God to help me find my way to the next book or class or means of filing that original void and He has faithfully guided my path.
Footsteps describes spiritual growth as “taking the steps needed to deepen relationship with God, with neighbor, with the world, and with ourselves. “ But for the Renewal Works project I would never have recognized my own spiritual journey for what it has been and most importantly for what it will continue to be in my life and mean to my life. I look forward to sharing the results of the project with each of you in the near future and I look forward to continuing our spiritual journeys together.