by Tim Otto –
Here at Sojourners we try to inspire each other to spiritual growth by creating a spiritual greenhouse. Rather than straining to fix each other and ordering each other to “Bear fruit!” or “Flower!” we’ve learned the truth that, “The best thing I can do for you is to give myself completely to Jesus.” We also try to create the conditions for spiritual growth by using the water, sun, and fertilizer of the spiritual disciplines. Here are three of our favorites:
When we had more energy than sense in our early life together, we acted as if busyness were next to godliness. We worked full time social-work jobs, participated in all the community activities, and hung out with our emergency housing guests in any spare moment. In the midst of all that, we took a retreat together and realized that our life was not sustainable. We made the commitment to have a three hour Sabbath each Sunday morning. We decided that it would mean not talking to each other, refraining from work, and giving ourselves to a spiritually refreshing activity such as reading Scripture or going to the beach (extra points for reading Scripture at the beach!).
At the time, It seemed like a reach. How would we carve out three whole hours? And how would we fill all that alone-with-yourself, silent time? Over the years however, we’ve come to cherish Sabbath time in our weekly rhythm. We’ve learned the truth of theologian Abraham Heschel’s comment that Sabbath is a “palace in time.” We’ve learned that we don’t take Sabbath in order to do better at work. We work so that we can have Sabbath—our “make out with God” time, our “my trust is not in my productivity but in God” time, our “I’m going to breathe and remember the beauty and wonder of existence” time. Sabbath is when we open our arms to all the love God has to give and let God’s love lasers stun us back into gratitude, wonder, and belovedness.
Our former pastor, John Alexander, used to say “our most important meeting is dinner.” At Sojourners we try to make “life together” real by sharing space, money, and time. Outsiders find sharing money (we have a way of pooling money) and sharing space (most of us live together in four big houses) curious and challenging disciplines. But from the inside, the hardest thing to do is share time. We’re busy. Even with good intentions, it is hard to connect.
One way we combat that is we eat together as households three nights a week (and as an entire community two nights a week). Yes, it is a sweet eating arrangement. Cook a meal one night a week and get four meals cooked for you! But more importantly it is a time to check in and exchange stories about the day. It is a time to rejoice and lament with one another. As idealists, we can spout beautiful language about “loving each other self-sacrificially with the love of Christ.” But day to day, liking each other can be the challenge. Dinner is a place that—at our best—we ask each other questions and answer generously and vulnerably as ways of liking each other.
We have the practice of telling each other, once a week during our worship services, how we’ve seen God at work in one another. We say things like, “Thank you for your work with the kids. I see you growing in patience with them. I believe God is loving them through you.” Sometimes our affirmations feel like petty “thank you’s.” Sometimes they feel like blatant flattery with a subtext (please watch the kids more!). But when we do them well, we’re looking for how God is at work in others and naming it.
Living with others is hard. We notice the sins and shortcomings in others because they affect us. It requires intentionality to see how the Holy Spirit is at work: transforming and redeeming. If we lose sight of God’s work among us, we’re tempted by despair and depression. But, by naming how God is at work, we remember that God is good. God is present with us. We have the privilege of cooperating with God’s work in the world.
All Three in Worship
By God’s grace, worship has been a consistent source of encouragement for us at Sojourners. Our worship combines all three of these disciplines: we come to worship as part of our Sabbath day, we balance a plate of food on our laps and eat together, we speak the ways God has been at work in each other. As these disciplines converge, we realize that they are not a burden: they are making us into joyful, mature disciples.
Greenhouse – Forrest O., cc 2.0 via Flicker
Beach – Benjamin Combs, cc 2.0 via Upsplash
Bread – Ken Lawrence, cc 2.0 via Upsplash