A week or two ago a client commented on my recent Recording as a minister with Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends, “That’s quite an accomplishment! You must be proud of yourself.” My response was, “Not really. I’m mostly humble and grateful.” That moment has passed, but I’d like to set the record straight. It WAS an accomplishment and I AM proud – BUT NOT OF MYSELF. Mostly the work was God’s, done through my communities of faith. The accomplishment was the result of years of faithfulness.
In the church community of my childhood I was invited to participate in the life and celebrations of church seasons in music, plays, and programs. As a young person I was invited to take on responsibilities maintaining the church building by putting up bulletin boards, joining in on workdays, helping with community meals, etc. As an older teen I taught Sunday school, worked in summer camps, and eventually led a midweek children’s program. In college I was entrusted with leading dorm room Bible studies, various children’s meetings, and sang with a touring choir in little churches throughout the Appalachian Mountains.
As a single adult I worked with other 20 somethings developing a preschool program for use during mid-week adult Bible study times. Together, we developed a 3-year, hands-on systematic theology curriculum serving about 60 three to five-year-olds every week. We even took the 5-year-old graduates on an overnight camp out to the California redwoods. That program developed and continued for the years transitioning through my marriage and becoming a parent as well as being a part of two church plants.
After moving to Idaho Bruce and I found our family attending a charismatic church for a few years. That community taught me to expect to hear from God through direct revelation. That notion was a formerly almost heretical idea! Eventually we moved to Hayden Friends Church where we were introduced to Quakerism. The years serving and learning at NW Yearly Meeting were personally challenging and transformative. There, I learned that my voice was needed and to trust my inner guide. As I learned more of Quaker thought and practice, my gifts and voice were welcomed and affirmed here at Spokane Friends Church where I was not limited to serving children and other women. I have been nurtured and challenged here and from here was released for ministry in north Idaho. Our local faith community, Friends in Common, provides space and encouragement not just to minister but to learn, grow, and change alongside other seekers of truth and justice. Through the Way of the Spirit contemplative retreat program and Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends I have found the grace and invitation to step more fully into my gifts. For all of this I am deeply grateful. WELL DONE family of God for YOUR good and faithful service! I am proud of YOUR accomplishment in me.
I was asked to complete a questionnaire for a doctoral student writing about ministers. One question was, “Who are your mentors?” My answer was in part, mostly old dead guys and some current writers too. I have been shaped by reading. One of the most influential books I have read in recent years was Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance. In it he challenges the traditional Christian understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity: that God is ONE expressed in three persons (emphasis on the one). Father Richard ponders, What if God is not essentially one, but in essence community: three distinct expressions of divine love, light, and wisdom in a dance that exists both in and out of time?
I wonder, what if God isn’t singing in unison, but harmony? What if God is found in diversity and interaction and the doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to articulate just that?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. If all matter emanated from divine energy, we should see this divine diversity and interaction everywhere. AND WE DO!
Biology teaches us the diversity of living organisms and the complex interactions within them.
Ecology teaches us about the relationships of the organisms to one another and to their surroundings.
Physics teaches us how matter behaves in time and space and how it reacts to energy and force. It seeks to understand the interactions of all these components.
Chemistry teaches us about the composition, structure, properties, and behavior of elements and what happens during reactions with other substances.
All around us we see diversity not only in the form of matter, but in the complex relationships and interactions between them. All creation is a dance, a divine dance.
Acts 17 contains a message Paul spoke in Athens relating to a statue to an unknown God. In the VOICE version of the Bible he states,
This is the God who made the universe and all it contains, the God who is king of all heaven and earth. It would be illogical to assume that a god of this magnitude could possibly be contained in any man-made structure, no matter how majestic. Nor would it be logical to think this God would need human beings to provide food and shelter. After all, God has given to humans everything they need: life, breath, food, shelter, and so on.
This is the only universal God, the one who makes all people, whatever their nationality or culture, or religion. This God made us in all our diversity from one original person, allowing each culture to have its own time to develop, giving each its own place to live and thrive in its distinct ways. The purpose in all this was that people of every culture and religion would search for this ultimate God, grope for God in the darkness, as it were, hoping to find God. Yet, in truth, God is not far from any one of us. For you know the saying, “We live in God, we move in God: we exist in God.” And still another said, “We are indeed god’s children.
The NIV translates those last statements, “For in God we live and move and have our being…We are God’s offspring.” This is a divine dance. We live and move and have our being in God. We are in God.
Colossians 1:6 – 7 in The Message reads,
“This mystery has been kept in the dark a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: CHRIST IS IN YOU, so you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.”
We are IN God.
God is IN us.
God is love. We live and move and have our being in Love.
God is Light. We live and move and have out bring in Light.
The word “in” is a preposition. Prepositions tell the relationship between nouns and other words in a sentence. They help us understand order, time, connections, and positions. They can tell us when, where, and how. I taught 5th grade for 8 years of my teaching career. I love teaching about prepositions because when you understand prepositional phrases, grammar gets a lot easier. I started with requiring my students to memorize a list of common prepositions. We used motions to help us remember them.
The Psalms give us a record of the experiences of the writers with the Divine. They used prepositions to describe their relationship to God.
Psalm 3:3 You, O LORD are a shield about me.
Psalm 16:8 I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for God is right beside me.
Psalm 23:4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid for you are close beside me.
Psalm 34:8 The LORD is near to the broken hearted.
Psalm 109:31 For God stands beside the needy.
Psalm 121:5 The LORD watches over you. The LORD stands beside you.
Psalm 139:5 You have surrounded me on every side, behind me and before me.
Other Old Testament passages speak of this relational being, the divine dance.
Genesis 9:16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.
Deuteronomy 33:12 12 The people of Benjamin are loved by the Lord and live in safety beside him. He surrounds them continuously.
One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.
Romans 8:31 asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In our dance with the divine, whether we move from a Christian perspective, a less tangible profound mystery, a Quaker focus of inner light, or some other path of understanding the dance, prepositions give us words that hint at our relationship and interactions with the One in whom we live and move and have our being.
One way I have come to understand God is as the energy of love and movement, truth and grace that connects all life. Another way I understand God is as preposition- always moving in to show us our relationship to the diverse and ever-changing elements that make up our lives.
I think Saint Patrick understood God as preposition. He expressed it:
Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort me and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend or stranger. (390-461 A.D.)
Quakers understand the prepositional or relational nature of the Divine particularly in the dance of diversity and interaction between the Spirit and all of creation. Our core values speak to this.
Simplicity speaks to our relationship to possessions, the environment, and how we communicate with one another.
Peace speaks to our internal frame of reference as we relate to individuals, our local communities, nations, and our planet.
Integrity speaks to the relationship between our inner and outer worlds and how we move through our life on earth.
Community speaks to the value we hold for entering the divine dance with one another.
Equality speaks of our value of diversity in community.
Here, at Spokane Friends, and at Friends in Common, I have seen us work to flesh out this value of diversity and relational way of expressing our faith. We would love to hear stories of other faith communities represented here today as we share a meal together after the service. Sometimes this work in community is messy and it is always hard work when we take it seriously. Good job, Friends.
We have a great deal to celebrate today. It is the fruit of our life together in the Spirit. It is our participation in the Divine dance.
I leave you with these queries:
How are you engaging in the divine dance?
Which prepositions describe your relationship to the Divine in this dance of life?
Is there someone you are inviting to, investing in, and encouraging in the divine dance?
This message was delivered by Leann Williams at Spokane Friends Church on Sunday, June 23, 2019.