John Morrison – 2 April 2017

Today we conclude the ten-week series of messages on spiritual practices for renewal. Diana Butler Bass calls them “signposts for renewal” in her book “Christianity for the Rest of us”. Ten practices that characterised the vital, healthy churches that she researched – discernment, hospitality, contemplation, healing, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, beauty and reflection.

In an appendix on her research methodology and findings, she says: “The congregations studied have found new vitality (viability, spiritual depth, renewed identity and mission, and, often, numerical growth) through an intentional and reflective engagement with Christian tradition as embodied in the practices of faith, with the goal of knowing God…

 These congregations emphasize contemplation in action, faith in daily life, finding God in all things, the reign of God in the here and now, and creating better communities; by joining spirituality to social concerns, they are constructing a theological alternative to both conservative evangelicalism and classic Protestant liberalism.” (p. 305)

The churches she writes about remind me very much of Canberra Baptist in many ways, even though none of them were Baptist.

Pilgrimage is a unifying metaphor used throughout her book, and one used by many of the people and churches she interviewed. In several places she contrasts being a pilgrim with being a tourist. “Unlike being a tourist, we embark on a pilgrimage, not to escape life, but to embrace it more deeply, to be transformed wholly as a person with new ways of being in community and new hopes for the world. Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new. Pilgrimages go somewhere – to a transformed life”. (p. 216)

Psalm 84:5 (NIV) says: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”.

We explored this theme a couple of Thursday nights ago in one of Kristine’s Introduction to Spirituality sessions. We concluded that while going on an actual pilgrimage walk might be insightful, we can all embark on a spiritual pilgrimage and live out a pilgrim mindset even while settled in one geographic place for a long time, as many at our church have been.

Transformation is a related theme that Bass often addresses, as in the previous quote. There are in fact three lengthy additional chapters on transforming lives, transforming congregations and transforming the world. They testify to the positive transformations that can result at all three levels through engaging in these ten spiritual practices.

May positive transformations be the ongoing commitment and experience of us all. After all, transformation lies at the heart of Easter and the Gospel.

John Morrison

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