Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
After we returned from lunch the presenter talked a little bit about forgiveness [6:00] and how Matthew 18:15-17 should be applied to avoid hostilities building up. The verse he quoted from Matthew:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The presenter said that we might try and make a list of people that we feel we have wronged and go and ask for their forgiveness. He also suggested [9:30] that we might want to pray a prayer for thirty days, maybe the image prayer, for people that we feel have wronged us. All of this was in context of freeing up stumbling blocks that would interfere with our prayer lives. The presenter rightly pointed out [13:45] that often we make our forgiveness conditional based on the perceived effect of the person we forgive and this isn’t something that Scripture teaches or advocates.
The presenter then moved onto the subject of spiritual direction and asked the participants [14:45] if we had a “spiritual director or spiritual guide.” The presenter said that he had been pointed to spiritual direction over twenty years ago and that he had retained the same spiritual director for what he believed was seventeen years now. The presenter continued [15:20];
”Martin Luther had John Staupitz, his father confessor, and really it’s very similar to that. I went through a school of spiritual direction, I am a certified spiritual director, it’s a two year program and so on, in which you’re trained, you don’t have to be trained to do this but it’s helpful. The spiritual directors meet, I meet with mine once a month, for an hour to an hour and a half, we pray together, he holds me accountable to my prayer, we talk about what’s going on, he was the one that suggested the stepping stones image to me (an earlier story where the presenter envisioned a series of stones to help him visualize a solution to a problem that he was experiencing). He will sometimes say it might be time to go on a personal retreat or this book might be helpful on your journey or I think it’s time for you to read the Gospel of John. Or, he will make suggestions to me, he will challenge me, it’s someone that journeys with you who is with, once and while it feels like counseling but it’s not counseling, the focus is about Jesus that usually you’ll begin with “what is God doing in my life right now and is God saying something right now in you life?”
The presenter said that sometimes we could use “accountability groups” or even friends as spiritual directors but warned us that friends aren’t the best choice because friends are often not able to be as “challenging” or “objective” as someone who is trained to be a spiritual director. He said that often spiritual direction is often started at retreat centers and sometimes might even be held at a church.
The presenter explained [17:00] that while spiritual direction could be conducted at a church it would be unusual for it to be done by a pastor because “as pastors we aren’t trained to do it, we aren’t trained in spiritual things very much”. And while this spiritual direction that we were going over was part of our historic church the presenter believed that many pastors simply didn’t even know such things. According to the presenter the exception in the universal church was the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian church bodies that retained training and formation in spiritual direction and spiritual directors. The presenter also stated that the SED was bucking the trend and had five spiritual directors on staff.
It was stated [19:50] that before the SED had spiritual directors we would have had to go to either a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian priest for spiritual direction; which would have been ok because spiritual direction is not about anyone teaching you their doctrine; it’s about someone journeying with you.
The presenter made clear [20:00] that spiritual directors could be ordained but a majority of the people in his circles seemed to be laity with more women than men involved in the movement. If we needed to find a spiritual director we were told to ask around or we could look one up on Spiritual Directors International if we couldn’t find one in our own circles. We were also pointed to several retreat centers like Richmond Hill which provide opportunities for spiritual direction (the training required to be a certified spiritual director could be taken at this facility as well which all were encouraged to do is they felt so moved) at no charge other than maybe a free will offering.
It was said [22:30] the even our district president has a spiritual director and reportedly he has said he could not do his job without the aid of this important individual. The presenter made the statement that there was no way he could have done his ministry without the aid of his spiritual director. Even if he had pastors to talk to, the presenter claimed [23:15], most pastors, being very completive and all, only seem to want to talk about “how many members do you have, what’s your latest building program, all that kind of stuff, which who cares? And that’s not what it’s all about relationships.” The presenter reiterated the point made earlier that pastors are simply not trained to work with others or in teams so the “being vulnerable with one another” in spiritual direction just doesn’t work well. Even if not true with every pastor the overall model of spiritual direction is something that makes the task nearly impossible and why he feels it’s necessary to look to those outside his brother pastors for guidance on matters of spirituality.
The presenter again recommended [26:30] that we go on a retreat for ourselves and suggested Richmond Hill. He said we could go as a group or by ourselves and we could even go on silent retreats where we didn’t have to say anything to anyone at all but just be alone. He stated that churches should sponsor retreats as a way to build communities and women’s retreats were becoming very popular.
We then moved on to the subject of journaling which according to the handout:
Journaling is an ancient form of prayer in action.
Use it to reflect on God’s presence in the events of your day.
Write about the results of your prayer practices, such as the Lectio or Examen.
Write your questions, thoughts, feelings, and desires in relation to God.
Record your dreams.
The presenter didn’t spend a lot of time on journaling compared with the other spiritual disciplines. He said that Julian of Norwich, (1342-1417 AD) advocated this particular discipline and explained [27:30] that journaling wasn’t the same as writing in a diary in that “it is much more reflective in nature.” He stated that he himself resisted journaling and really only did so when it was suggested by his spiritual director. He made clear that journaling was a very private thing and that if any of us were married that (from the handout) “If you are married, covenant that your journals will either be burned or buried with you (unread). You need this assurance to be totally uninhibited in your writing. This is a conversation between you and God alone.” The presenter said several times during this section that journaling was a private conversation in a prayer form with God and fear that a spouse would read it would hinder the spirit of the journal.
After a participant talked [30:15] about her experiences with journaling and how it showed her that God was answering 80 – 85% of her prayers in addition to helping her as a congregational worship leader the presenter commended the women for showing us her way of using journaling to dialogue with God. The presenter suggested [33:20] that we should draw a line down the center of our journals and on the left side of the line we should write down our side of the conversation while on the right side we should journal what God is saying to us. Said the presenter [33:30]:
"You do this in a time of prayer. And when I look back at some of those dialogues after I’m finished, I don’t remember writing what God said. I can not explain that, but God sometimes basically takes a hold of it, my hand and writes what is there, I believe that. Now I can’t explain it at all. But Ben (the presenter’s spiritual director) encouraged me to do that as well with my dreams. The bible nowhere indicates that God stopped speaking through dreams. The Bible is filled with dreams where God spoke in a winding way. I still believe that God speaks to us in our dreams, not every dream. The danger is that we take kind of a logical approach and this symbolizes this and this symbolizes, that’s really not a Christian approach to dreams and dream work. I’ve been in a dream groups and what they do in a dream group is basically you’re looking for a, you have a series of dreams and you begin to say is there a common theme here, does it seem like God is maybe pushing me in direction here? Is there something God might be trying to break through? And usually it’s confirmed by some other ways God might be speaking, I don’t know what it is but is but sometimes it is."
After recounting a visit from Christ who told him that He will always with him in everything he does (we were assured that this was indeed Scriptural) in one of his dreams the presenter recommended [38:47] that the easiest way to remember our dreams might be to start journaling and after some practice we could learn to remember our dreams. The presenter recommended [40:25] several books for our reading in the hope that we might not limit God in how he communicates with us. He said that dream work was next to impossible alone and recommended we seek out a spiritual director.
The presenter then moved to the subject of fasting and asked us if this was something that we did as part of our prayer disciplines. He said [45:30] that fasting was coming back and provided the medicinal benefits to fasting and said that as our bodies are cleansed through fasting and that the eastern way of looking at it, the Hebrew way of looking at it, is that the body and mind are one and the spirit can benefit from fasting in a way that is “an opening up” The presenter also said [43:30] that fasting wasn’t limited to food but could be used to discipline ourselves from watching too much TV or any other distraction that takes us away from being spiritual. The presenter also gave a fairly decent account [54:00], with the time allotted at least, of how normal and commonplace fasting was in Scripture; both Old and New Testament.
The presenter then started on the “Healing Prayer” portion of the workshop and it was this subject that most animated the participants. It was also this subject that the presenter stuck the closest to the handout we were given the night before. He stated [1:00:00] that this subject is one that he would not have talked about three or four years ago because too many people have the misconception that “that was then and this is now” concerning healings by prayer and if we might want to look to what’s happening in Africa before we discount that healing can performed by prayers. The handout stated that:
Like many other mainline churches, the Lutheran church focuses primarily on Jesus' teaching and preaching ministries (explanation of God’s love, content), while giving little attention to Jesus' healing ministry (experience of God’s love, action). This is puzzling, since 40% of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and about a third of Luke and John, focus on healing. The book of Acts exhibits a similar abundance of healing miracles. Jesus sent His disciples out to (1) preach the Gospel, (2) heal the sick, (3) raise the dead, and (4) cast out demons (Matthew 10:1ff.; Luke 9:1ff, 10:1ff). These were “signs” of the Kingdom of God. All four of these are part of His commission to “teach them to obey all things I commanded you.”
The presenter praised [1:01:00] the Lutheran Service Book (the most recent hymnal) for including in the Agenda a healing service but then added:
"Here is where I have a problem because we say we are a biblical church but, and I have the Scriptures here, what did Jesus send his disciples to do? Four things at least; preach the Gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, and we only do one of the four. Now how can we do that? I don’t understand it, and when Jesus said to his disciples: You see what I’m doing; you’re going to be doing even greater things than that. Do we believe that? I didn’t, I think I ignored it. It’s hard to justify our lack of focus on healing when we don’t. And when you go through the Gospels; there’s loads. When you look at the early Christian church, when you study the church fathers, that’s how people came to faith. Go talk to in India today; there’s miracles, healing miracles. “And then they were told.” The head of Missional (sic) India, John DeVries, who’s an Apollo missionary with Apollo Missionaries, says we got too much explanation and not enough demonstration. And what he said, what they are teaching us in Africa and Asia, what we’re seeing there is where the bulk of Christianity is vital, leaps and bounds. We tend to think that Christianity is dying because of what’s happening in this country but it’s not, it’s bigger than ever, it’s crossing the world. But they access the whole Scripture, including healing, it’s essential, very important. And all healing, what I saw was all healing done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Spirit and there was no focus was on the healer, it was all focused on giving Jesus glory because that’s what it’s all about."
After briefly discussing the mystery of why some are able to be healed and some are not and his training [1:03:00] in healing by a Roman Catholic priest who had been laicized (removed from the priesthood or defrocked) the presenter gave a list of pastors in the LCMS who specialize in “powerful healing ministry” which he said not should be confused with TV healing ministries who are but “charlatans”.
The presenter stated [1:09:00] that it was a shame that he had to go to an Episcopalian to receive healing when he needed some and lamented again the we just don’t like to even talk about healing in Lutheran circles while highlighting [1:14:00] cancers that had mysteriously disappeared during prayers conducted before surgeries to remove them. He also reaffirmed the portion in the handout which stated:
During the first 300 years of the Christian Church (until Constantine and the Edict of Milan, 313 AD), the primary means of conversion was not preaching, but healing and exorcism (cf. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Tertullian). According to Francis MacNutt, (Healing, p. 48) “The test of orthodoxy is not doctrine alone, for doctrine remains incomplete unless it is accompanied by the power to make doctrine come true.”
After we returned from a short break the topic we took up next but that received little attention was the “Jesus Prayer.” The handout explained that this particular prayer discipline was from the Eastern Orthodox Christian monasticism and draws it strength from the fact the “We take seriously that there is power in the Name of Jesus.” The handout laid out the basics:
Blind Bartimaeus stands by the side of the road and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47) “Kyrie eleison”
Decide how long you wish to spend in this prayer (e.g. 5-15 minutes).
The Jesus Prayer can be done anywhere—as you take a walk, in your office, in the car, at church, or at the beginning of your regular prayer time.
Repeat silently “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”.
The repetition should be continuous
Allow the words to flow into your entire being.
It can be helpful to match them to your breathing.
When you have completed your time of prayer, observe for a moment God’s movement, and then express your thanks to God.
Resource: The Way Of The Pilgrim by an unknown Russian
The presenter gave his most forceful defense of the entire workshop when it came to the “Jesus Prayer” by pointing out that Matthew 6:7, which states; “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words”, should never be taken a forbidding the “Jesus Prayer” Our Lord’s name has power said the presenter and therefore repeating “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” over and over was not the equivalent of the prayers offered by the Gentiles and their repeating empty phrases. Repeated the presenter more than once; “our Lord’s name has power!” and therefore Matthew 6:7 was not a text to be used to refute the discipline of the “Jesus Prayer.”
On the topic of labyrinths the presenter gave the shortest introduction to walking a labyrinth as a prayer form and pointed us to several Episcopalian institutions along with Richmond Hill retreat center as places to go to practice this particular discipline.
We wrapped up the workshop not by a review of the spiritual disciplines we had learned about but rather a short talk from the presenter on how important it was that we as a church body support President Gerald Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. It was stated by the presenter that the LCMS would benefit greatly from the proposed recommendations and that we should pray for our synod that these changes are implemented.
And that concluded the workshop.
A programming note: As promised, the next post will cover the conversation during lunch with the presenter after he sat down at my table for the lunch break. The reason for this is that not everybody heard the conversation we had at lunch so my thinking is that what was said at our table needs to be dealt with separately.
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7