I Think God’s been Talking to Me
October 30, 2019
In the 21st Century post-scientific, pragmatic, individualized world, Christians still talk about the Holy Spirit – at least in our liturgies and prayers on Sunday morning. And there are those, formed in the faith just a step away from my own path, who readily reference the Holy Spirit in conversation. I admit I sometimes wonder at times how far away some conversation is from superstition since the intervention of the Spirit might be connected to finding a lost iPhone, an elusive parking space, or the reasonable good judgment of not telling someone what they were actually thinking.
It is curious that non-faith-based disciplines actually take interventions from outside the self quite seriously. Psychology gives considerable attention to synchronicity, the simultaneous occurrence of events in a person’s life that are related but not connected. Writers know about the “angel of the library” that seemingly directs the writer to a resource or interview with some sense of surprise because the writer was unaware and not necessarily seeking in that particular direction.
If we do believe in the activity of the Holy Spirit, what is it that we believe the Spirit is leading us to or saving us from?
Friend Jerry Rardin and I used to joke about “bibliotherapy” when working on a writing or consulting project and, to our surprise, a book or article we knew nothing about would surface with an answer to the question we were facing. The direction in life does not always come from our own good sense and life experience. There are voices outside ourselves worthy of attention. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
So… let me report on the still, small voice I’ve been hearing lately. It first appeared while I was working with the Commission on A Way Forward in preparation for the disastrous 2019 Special Session of General Conference. A conversation took place about the Great Commandment that Jesus identified in the Gospels. Asked what law was most important, Jesus responded with the dual commandments – to love God with all one’s heart and mind, and love one’s neighbor as oneself.
In Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus then says that all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.
More than just the two priority laws, says biblical theologian Richard Hays, these are singled out by Jesus as the two pillars of faith – the two truths that bear the weight, carry the freight, define the faith. I wondered at the time how these two most important laws, these foundational pillars on which all other truths are to be grounded, were informing our interpretations of clearly lesser passages of scripture – let alone our own laws in our UM Book of Discipline that we ourselves wrote within my own adult lifetime.
But the point is what happened since. Since then I have had about a dozen more encounters with that same biblical story of Jesus being asked (tested) about what law is most important. I’m actually not sure of the exact number of encounters because I may have already begun to lose count by the time I was really aware of the pattern. But it was there in several sermons (in Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York), in some blogs, in a number of emails from friends working on their own writing, in my daily meditation resource, and some personal reading. Enough, certainly, so that I began to pay attention and to wonder.
Is the Holy Spirit somehow pushing me to get back to what is most important? Is the Spirit just pushing me – or also the church I am part of? As the conversations about the future of the denomination get even more complex, is there a more basic truth to which we are being asked to give attention?
As the future and the frustrations about congregational growth, vitality and even viability worry us, is there a more basic anchor to hold on to? In the confusion of our present time, is it not important to go back to the source? People know, from ball players to Supreme Court Justices, that in moments of uncertainly it is important to go back to the fundamentals.
What this repeatedly surfacing story of Jesus is meant to say is not yet clear to me, although it certainly has my attention. So, part of me wonders what you think? The other part of me is just going to keep paying attention to what is most central to our faith. I don’t think the Spirit is through talking to me yet.