It’s been 10 days since the end of our biennial General Synod gathering, and I am finally returning to the office after a much-needed break. What I find myself reflecting on as I come back is the power of the Holy Spirit, and our utter dependence as a faith movement on her movement in our midst.
If General Synod is anything, it is an insistence on our part that we cannot fully discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our time unless and until we gather as a community and listen deeply to one another.
We are, each and every one of us, a beautiful creation, fashioned in the image and likeness of the God we know as our Creator, and whose likeness we bear as an imprint of their enduring beauty. Whatever their intention was in creating us, it had to include a belief that we are agents on their behalf of their vision of Shalom.
Each of us has not only a unique set of gifts, talents and visions that can contribute to the greater good, we also each have a unique set of life experiences that inform and shape our perspectives along the journey. Every one of those experiences has the potential to alter our perspectives, shift our thinking and contribute to a lifetime of stored up wisdom that gains depth with each new experience.
For these reasons, when it is important for us as the Church to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our time, to invite her to speak to us about which of the moral issues of our day require our attention and to reveal to us for what purposes we should be stewarding our time, talents, and resources, it makes perfect sense that we do that in a community that is open to the full array of God’s shaping hand.
That is both an old and a new way for us – or better put, we are doing an old thing in a new way. For too long, too many voices were left out of the process. The call to discern was entrusted to a very small circle of those who made up the Body of Christ. For quite some time, it was only land-owning, educated, white, straight men who were asked to speak. It was only their experiences and wisdom that mattered.
To quote a recently commissioned hymn we now sing, we have begun to draw the circle wide and draw it wider still. If Synod is for us the time to gather the beloved community together in an act of discernment, it must then be a body composed of a circle drawn wide. Age and ability, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, theological perspective and political belief no longer serve as determinants for inclusion in the dialogue. In fact, we have come to believe that when the circle is drawn too small, anything we derive from the discernment is going to be flawed from the start.
I can tell you from experience, this makes for a far more difficult conversation. Deep passions lead people in many directions – and points of view are not only shared with that passion, they are therefore held onto with deep devotion. When the voices who assemble come from a wide swath of the human experience, you are guaranteeing that there will be deep and profound disagreements. Spirit can yet be revealed in these conversations, but it takes much more time and a great commitment to maintain love and respect for those whose experiences lead them to different places on their journey.
In the end, difficult and challenging as it may be, the beauty is that Spirit is revealed when the dialogue deepens, the listening is honest, open and intense, and when all voices are heard. At times, all we can discern is that more voices need to be heard before the Spirit’s intent is made clear – as was the case for at least one of the dialogues that was opened up at Synod.
I find myself in awe of this. This is the Church living in our time and seeking to hear the voice of a still-speaking God. She, and the Church she birthed for the sake of her vision of Shalom, are alive and well. May we all be open to the movement of Her Holy Spirit, revealed through our own life experiences and the experiences of those who gather with us in community, on this – our journey Into the Mystic.