The Church is Inside

The church is where God is. I believe this is part of what George Fox meant when he said:

The mighty day of the Lord is coming, the voice of Christ is crying, and God that made the world, dwelleth nor in temples made with hands, neither is he worshipped in the Steeplehouses which are made with mens hands, and you think to worship him there; but God is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth; and he hath given to every one a measure of his spirit to profit withall; in the spirit is God worshipped, the Father of spirits; (To all the PEOPLE Who meet in the STEEPLE-HOUSES IN ENGLAND, And elsewhere.)

anglican churchBy saying this, George Fox was trying to correct a common misconception. His point was that tradition had led people to believe that they needed to go to a particular place to find and worship God. He wanted people to know that God was be found in the inward aspect of reality – in spirit and in truth!

God is everywhere, as spirit and truth are everywhere. The challenge is to allow ourselves to be open to spirit and truth! Our ability to worship God is not dependent on making it to a meetinghouse or any other place on Sunday but is dependent upon our ability to participate with Spirit in truth.

I believe that the future of the church depends on our ability to go where God is. The future of the Religious Society of Friends does not depend upon the number of children who grow up in our Meetings but upon our ability to be open to and to discern spirit and truth!

Spirit has guided me to facilitate a prayer group in a prison, so I believe that is where God is and where I am called to help build up the church.

I read the following scripture at the beginning of our first Centering Prayer group session:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God. (Ephesians 2:19-20)

Riverside_NaveAs I read this passage, a hush fell over the room, silence descended as it does when Friends enter into worship. Spirit gathered and stayed with us and was busy at work among us building a dwelling-place for God.

The church is where God is. In the case of our group, church is inside, inside a prison, where Spirit has come to rest and has opened the possibility for truth to become more fully known.

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Father’s Day in the County Jail

On Father’s Day this year, I went with two other women from our Meeting’s jail ministry team to the county jail here in Cincinnati. Our arrival and entry followed the usual pattern. We waited, went through security, rode the elevator up, then walked toward the pod where the men were housed.

Hamilton County Justice Center

Hamilton County Justice Center

As we approached the pod, I felt a wave of anger and fear. It surprised me. I don’t usually sense others’ feelings, especially not without seeing the people first. I didn’t get anxious. My inward response resembled curiosity. It was like the Christ in me was saying, “I’m getting the sense that we’ve got some work to do here.”

When we entered the pod, I heard one of the corrections officers talking loudly and brusquely as he rounded up the men for worship. The tone of voice of most corrections officers has a hard edge to it, but this was more harsh than usual. This voice was reflecting and attempting to contain anger and fear.

About thirty men gathered for worship. We followed our program: Welcome, introduction to Quakers, reading, song, overview of Quaker-style worship, silence, joys and concerns, closing. During the service, the corrections officer paced then leaned against the railing of the catwalk.

I don’t know when it started, whether it was my saying that Quakers believe that there is “that of God in everyone” and so we have a deep respect for every person, or if it was when Evie read from one of Howard Thurman’s books, whether it was Mary Kay’s prayer, or if it was when one of men prayed that their families not be brought down by them that day. Whatever it was, whenever it was, by the end of the service, we were at peace. We lingered in a sense of community.

father-son-silhouetteThat morning, all of us, thought about fatherhood. We considered how we had been affected by our fathers. Some pondered what kind of father they were, how they were affecting their children even then by being in jail.

We also learned from the One who created fatherhood, created us. We came to see that the harm and the hurt, the shame and the guilt, arose not from God but from human error. God was there to teach us that we were loved beyond measure, beyond what we had known, beyond what we had done. We learned that our Father in Heaven was reliable and did not hurt you. He loved us and wanted to build us up.

We were changed that morning. Maybe the Presence of the Holy Spirit was there for only a short time, but we all shared in it for a while. Love, hope, even joy was present. I trust it remains in us in some portion even still.

Naming Our Own Spiritual Condition

This past summer, I received a leading at the first gathering of Friendly Mystics that called for Friends to “name the spiritual condition of the world.” A seasoned Friend recommended that we start by first naming our own spiritual condition. So, at this year’s gathering, we will be attempting to do that. In this post, I’ll describe what I mean by spiritual condition then ask you to share some thoughts and experiences about your spiritual condition.

Prior to describing what I mean by “spiritual condition,” I first want to define the word spiritual. I believe this is important because the word spiritual has a number of meanings and people tend to use it without being clear about what they mean. Sometimes the word spiritual is used to refer to anything that is uplifting. Other times, it is used to refer to that which is unknowable or purely supernatural. Neither of these uses of the word refer to what I’m thinking of.

For me, Spirit is knowable. I feel it. I have been changed by it, and I see it at work in the world. Also, I believe that experiences of Spirit are important. They create and maintain the Power that invigorates lasting change in material reality. I define Spirit as the purposeful energy which emanates from God and creates the potential for God’s will to become manifest in earthly reality. Thus, to me, spiritual is that which refers to this aspect of Spirit.

I believe that every person has a spiritual body. (This is a body that we do not usually perceive but is present nonetheless.) At birth, everyone is born with the capacity for a spiritual body, with the growth and development of that body being dependent upon the conditions (i.e., physical, relational, socio-cultural, religious, etc.) surrounding the person during their formative years. Because of the limiting and/or hurtful nature of the conditions people live and grow up in, I believe that most (if not all) persons, particularly in the Western world, need to recover from the damaging effects of those conditions. While we are not precluded from participation in spiritual reality, our ability to co-create with God and assist Christ in His task of redemption, bringing the world back into attunement with God’s purposes, is dependent upon our spiritual state.

Some people describe spiritual condition in an either/or fashion. Either you are born again or not born again. Either you are saved or you are not saved. While these states are important, they are insufficient for this conversation. Rather than looking at whether our spiritual condition assures us of a particular fate after death, I would like to discuss the quality of our spiritual condition, its level of fitness, and how it helps us accomplish God’s work during our time on Earth. I believe that if we can assess and know our spiritual condition, we can become more fit.

In a subsequent post, I will discuss more about what I mean by spiritual condition, but first I’d like some help from you. What do you think spiritual condition means? How would you describe your spiritual fitness? Have you seen how your spiritual condition has improved over time and allowed you to receive or do more? Have you seen how your spiritual condition has limited your ability to follow your spiritual path or your ability to carry out those tasks that you’ve been given to complete?

Please share your thoughts, questions and comments. (You’ll need to scroll down past my bio to find the box for replies.)