In my recent blog entry Imaging Text I observed that as we move from the age of the printed word into the digital age it is images not words that matter. To be more exact its imaged words or word images that begin to matter more. No more powerful an word image is given to than when Jesus tells his disciples that they are now no longer servants but friends. The point of telling them this: is that my joy may be in you and your joy be made complete.
We don’t talk much about joy these days. We seem to prefer the term happiness. Happiness results from a set of propitious circumstances. So we need things to be a certain way for happiness to result. By contrast joy is not dependent on a propitious context. This is my experience at Trinity Cathedral. Fewer among us are happy with being in relationship with the Church. Most of us are hungry for relationship with God, especially if we fall within the 20-50 age group.
If younger Christians who are principally driven by a need to find spiritual meaning in lives largely disillusioned by the world of institutions then the only joy will suffice to keep them connected to institutional Christianity. Eugenia Price quoted by Macrina Wiederkehr in her lovely Office Book Seven Sacred Pauses describes joy as being God in the marrow of our bones.
Jesus tells us that we are no longer his servants but are now his friends. The implication of this is rather interesting. Most of us seem less satisfied with an older notion of being religious, i.e. good Church People and serving the needs of the institution. What more of us are in search of is the relationship of friendship with God that Jesus is talking about to his disciples. The upside is that we are no longer servants but friends. The downside is that we are no longer servants but friends.
Friends have choices that servants don’t have. One of those choices is to put love of God before love of Church. How will the Church survive when fewer and fewer feel committed to it, in its traditional form? This is an issue concerning the renewal of our understanding of stewardship. As an aside, at Trinity our attempt to renew our sense of stewardship results in the gathering of a small group we now call the Stewardship Ministry Team. We are currently working through Dwight Zschaile’s latest book People of the Way: Revisioning the Episcopal Church.
What does friendship with God look like? On Thursday evenings between 25 – 30 people gather for Eucharist, shared meal and an evening devoted to what Benedict calls the school of the Lord’s service. The shape of the evening models the elements of spiritual practice _worship, scriptural engagement, and common prayer- as understood in our Anglican Tradition. Our aim in Episcopal 201 is to explore and support one another as we develop patterns of daily spiritual practice. We are currently working in small groups using a model for Lectio Divina. We note the effect of the short scriptural text upon us and then attempt to connect this awareness with the possibility of an invitation from God concerning our situation over the next 3 – 5 days. We conclude with praying for one another. In this short prayer communication we offer to another valuable perspectives which they may have missed in what they were saying.
We come close to experiencing friendship with God when we encounter others similarly on the same path. The quality of this friendship does not need to be particularly intense. Yet, its quality communicates the feeling of joy that comes when soul connects to soul in an experience of mutual recognition.
This is the place to begin. Let’s trust that in due course other more temporal and corporeal priorities characteristic of loyal servants will emerge into our re-centered experience of ourselves as joy-filled friends of God.