Why Meditate?

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Hi City Chapel friends,

I’m Matt, and I'm excited to be leading a meditation walk on September 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Frederik Meijer Gardens. In addition to this, Pastor Anna asked me if I would be willing to share what meditative practices like this have meant to me. I want to start this off with an admittance that I, by no means, make this a regular enough practice in my life. I find more often than not that the busyness of life and all of its distractions prevent me from making time to meditate on any sort of regular basis. And that is exactly why I proposed this event to the City Chapel team!

 

Growing up in the church in the '90s, I don't remember anybody talking about meditating or meditation as a spiritual practice. I feel as though only recently this ancient practice (as called by name) has permeated its way back into the mainstream. For this reason, I don't believe I knew to call some of my most fulfilling, life-giving, spirit-filling moments meditation. I recall feeling the most "spiritually fulfilled" after experiences of what I can now see were meditation, but at the time I was rather ignorant of this ancient tradition. 

 

If you look up the definition of 'meditation' you will get a variety of definitions, mostly associated with the act of thinking, contemplating, philosophizing, etc. An act of self-guided "doing". For me, I find the act of meditation is more about creating space. Tuning out the incessant calls for distraction to make space for God. Through and during these times of prayer, contemplation, basking in God's creation, losing myself in a song or album, studying a magnetic work of art, I wasn't just experiencing those things. I was making myself available for Truth, life, and Spirit to speak to me and into me. 

 

Writing this I am reminded of an interview with comedian Louis C.K. A few years ago while appearing on Conan. Louis went on a rant about why he hates cell phones. His thesis being that we are addicted to our phones because we are afraid of being alone. By being alone we open ourselves up to. . . gasp . . . meditate! While it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that Louis is a bit of a pessimistic person, I can't help but agree with him during this interview. We are constantly busy, either by our choosing or not. Often the hardest thing to do is to rid ourselves of all of life's distractions to just listen, pray, meditate, explore, or ponder. Whether you are like Louis, who needs to meditate about his fear of being alone, or perhaps everything in your life is going swell, I think it's incredibly important to make time to meditate. To make space to be with God and to be with yourself--listen to God and listen to yourself. 

 

I hope that this meditation walk on September 10 will afford us all a little bit of time to do this. For me, art museums and nature are my meditative catnip. You may not find this to be the case for you, but perhaps you may still be willing to give it a shot. This type of practice may be new to you and we will welcome anybody who wants to give it a shot. I hope that folks will take creative liberties in owning this time, either writing prayers, doodling, taking photos, or doing nothing at all but meditating. We will gather as a group after our walk to provide an opportunity to share your experiences as well.

 

I hope to see you on September 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Frederik Meijer Gardens. If you have any further questions about the walk, don’t hesitate to connect with Pastor Anna, Pastor Ron, or myself. 


Written by Matt Clark

Leaving Space for Lament

Currently, our City Group is reading and discussing Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. This past week we discussed a chapter on Scripture passages of lament. Through our conversation, we all agreed that based on what we read, the church is sometimes a hard place to be when you’re in a season of lament. Which is unfortunate. The church should be the place we feel the most comfortable to share all our hurts--even the deepest, darkest ones we assume no one else will understand--without fear of being misunderstood or unaccepted.


While we have plenty of examples of people who have gone before us who have experienced struggles, and trials, and, frankly, real-life (including several in the Bible), it’s still hard to find space for lament in church. 


In this chapter, Rachel shares, “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for ‘holding space’ for those in grief.” And it’s true. When our churches take on a mindset or even an atmosphere that we have it all together, we leave hurting people sitting in the pews feeling even more isolated and alone and unwelcome. It gives them one more reason to keep it hidden so they don’t stand out. From an outsider's perspective, churches holding this mindset often look like they are only for people who have it all together. And this type of thought or attitude can deter someone new to the church from feeling like they belong. 


Both of these scenarios, whether we like it or not, break down the community of a church. They leave no room for vulnerability. But, when the church makes space and does it well, it often leads to deep growth as a body of believers. 


But being vulnerable is hard. Sitting with people in their trials and deepest pains isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It’s more than a casual, “How are you?” on a Sunday morning. And holding space for people in our community who are hurting is a lot harder than saying the next “right phrase” or sharing an encouraging Bible verse (which of course isn’t bad in and of itself). 


Lamenting together is hard work. 


Rachel goes on to share in the next few sentences about the value of the Psalms in times of lament. She shares, “The Psalms are, in a sense, God’s way of holding space for us. They invite us to rejoice, wrestle, cry, complain, offer thanks, and shout obscenities before our Maker without self-consciousness and fear. Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?”


As our City Group discussed this chapter of Rachel’s book, we all came to another agreement that churches don’t necessarily always ignore lament. Sometimes we have a special poem, prayer, or even Bible passage reading focused on lament. But there is always some sort of positive spin at the end. An uplifting praise song, a reminder that God blessed Job in the end, or a short reflection on God’s goodness, even in times of trial. Still, it’s hard for us to hold space for lament. It takes trust, vulnerability, and a willingness to be uncomfortable with each other, none of which is easy. I believe City Chapel has done a good job of holding space for those who are suffering from illness, have experienced loss, or live with anxiety and depression. Yet, there is always more work to do. I want to challenge us all to do the hard work. To take one step toward holding space for someone who might not have the energy for one more peppy praise song on a Sunday morning or one more surface-level conversation. 


As a pastor of a church I attended once shared, “We, the church, are a bunch of beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” We don’t have it all together nor should it look that way. So let’s stop pretending. Let’s do the hard work. Let’s leave space for lament--regardless of how uncomfortable we might feel.


Written by Kelli Gilmore

Three Authors That Remind Us Questions Are Okay

Do you have questions and doubts about faith? I do. I have been a Christian since age seven, but as I get older I find I have more questions about God, not less.

When I have questions, I find it comforting to know I’m not the only one. One place I have found that comfort is through memoirs from other Christians. Because here’s the deal, it’s not just you and me, it’s pretty much everyone that has questions. Some people are just more comfortable talking about it than others.

 

Here are three books I have read recently written by people who have chosen to be vulnerable and let us glimpse their story so we can be more comfortable talking about our own.

 

Remember God by Annie F. Downs

“I know God is loving; I know He is good; I believe He is big and powerful. But sometimes I wonder if He is really kind – really deeply always kind. Is He?”

 

I feel as though Annie and I have become friends (we have never met but she is a great social media follow). I recently went through a season where I was just not interested in pursuing spiritual growth. I wasn’t rejecting my faith, just the hard work that comes with improving it. During this time, Annie’s work helped gently lead me back to a renewed excitement for growth and relationship with God.

 

In Remember God, Annie opens up about her own disappointments and frustrations. She walks you through her journey and all the ways she felt God didn’t match her dream, and all the ways God showed her that his dream was better.

 

The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor

“The journey toward new sight can be equal parts beautiful and all out hell. But it comes to all of us the same—slowly, in moments separating old from new, before from after. Moments that split time or split our very souls, and we suddenly see life as we have never seen it before.”

 

I loved this book, not because my journey is very similar to Lisa’s (her and her family have truly been through a wild journey of deconstructed faith and devastating events), but because I can understand how she ended up where she did and it is amazing how she was able to pick up the broken pieces. Lisa’s writing is poetic and emotional. It made me contemplate my pre-conceived notions and helped me reconsider what aspects of my faith could use some breaking down and rebuilding. 

 

The Wondering Years by Knox McCoy

“[Faith] Was something I held in my heart from a very young age; and while I never lost it or had it taken from me, I couldn’t help but notice how both it and I were changing. And it has been during this process of change that I realized how you can be grateful for something while also being occasionally discontent with it.”

 

This book hit home with me in a very different way than the first two. First off, Knox is a very funny writer. I have never been more interested in footnotes as I was while reading this book. But also, I saw a lot of my childhood in his story. There are certain pitfalls that are more easily stumbled into when you have not known a life outside of Christianity. You sometimes do silly things like try to evangelize to the neighborhood dogs or try to warn all your friends about the dangers of “The Simpsons” even though you haven’t watched a single episode.

 

Another thing that has helped me become more comfortable asking questions is finding a community I can trust. For me, that community is City Chapel and if you are in Grand Rapids, we welcome you to join us and bring all your questions with you. We are a community of people who are all on a faith journey and are not afraid to talk about the real things and the hard things. Your doubts are welcome here. You are welcome here.  

Written by Elizabeth Bosscher

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. It’s a day dedicated to recognizing the millions of people around the world who have become displaced from their homes for various reasons. It’s important for us as a church to see and welcome our neighbors who are new to Grand Rapids because of difficult circumstances wherever they once called home.

We’re grateful for our friends at Treetops Collective who do an amazing job at welcoming out newest neighbors. In observance of World Refugee Day, we hope you will take time to read this testimony from Sylvia Nyamuhungu, a Treetops Community Connector.

A Starting Point for Understanding the Holy Spirit

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

2 Corinthians 3:17

This Sunday, June 16, is Trinity Sunday. For those of you that are like, “What? What is that?” or “How come I didn’t know?” Here is a handy calendar for things like this :) It’s called the “church calendar,” and it’s handy for things like this. It helps us in the church remember, celebrate, teach, and learn about important topics and events for the body of Jesus.  

Anyways, this Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and last Sunday was Pentecost--where we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and, really, the start of the church. So, with these two days in mind, I wanted to write a quick thing about one of the persons of the Trinity--the Holy Spirit.  

There can be some confusing things surrounding the Trinity, and especially the Holy Spirit. So, I wanted to try and make things just a little less confusing. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive attempt at tackling the Holy Spirit or the Trinity (how is one supposed to ever imagine even coming close to covering everything there is about God?!), but it’s a good starting point. I’ll be using scripture, and some other resources throughout, but mainly scripture, as well as trying to keep each point short and sweet.


Let’s start with four big places in the New Testament where we see the Holy Spirit mentioned and two in the Old Testament:

New Testament

  • John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Here we see the Holy Spirit be called the “Helper” or “Comforter” by Jesus.

  • Romans 8:26 a: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness…”

Here we see, again, that the Spirit is a helper.

  • Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Here we see what “fruit” the Holy Spirit produces (or grows, or creates, or brings out).

  • 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Here, we (sort of) see the whole of the Trinity in one section (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but since we’re focusing on the Holy Spirit, I’ll just highlight that it is one Spirit who is working in all of us and that work is meant only for building up others (1 Cor 14:26) and the common good.

Old Testament (Jesus’ Bible)

  • Isaiah 11:2: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

Here, again as in the letter to the Corinthians, we see the Spirit being active in building up others, bringing wisdom, and drawing one closer to God.

  • Psalm 104:30: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”

Here we see the Holy Spirit being active in (new) creation, renewal, and reconciliation. We also see it going out ahead of us and working in and around us.

I mention all of these verses to highlight one important thing about the Holy Spirit and the work the Spirit does. That one thing is this: Everything the Holy Spirit does is for the building up of the church. Not tearing down. Not dividing.

If someone is doing something in Jesus’ name, or claiming to do it by the power of the Holy Spirit, but you don’t see more love (agape), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control coming about, then it is not from the Holy Spirit.   

The Holy Spirit offers gifts (we see one of them at Pentecost--speaking in tongues, or other languages, and there are many more--1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12 are good starting places), but these gifts are exactly that. They are extra. They are an overflowing of God’s grace (John 1:16 “...grace upon grace”). They are not necessary to be part of God’s family (be in the church and follow Jesus), nor are they a “sign” or “proof” that someone is a Christian (Matthew 7:21-23) or not. The gifts of the Spirit, if I were to dive deeper into them now, would require more than just one blog post . . .  so I’ll leave that for another time.

Here is the main thing:

Everything the Holy Spirit is about is building up the church (body of Christ), drawing us closer to God in Jesus Christ, giving us peace and comfort (especially in hard times), and growing us up and helping us to mature (fruit of the Spirit). Everything else, if it’s good, is just extra grace. And, if it’s not good, well, you can be sure that it’s not from God. Because God is good, and God is love, and “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” (James 1:17-18)



Written by Pastor Ron Radcliffe