REVIVAL And Healing Prayer
I helped plan the 1999 conference in New Orleans, so it's always exciting to see all the new faces at each subsequent REVIVAL -- some coming from as far away as Nevada, California and even England. We don't seem to get much repeat business from conference to conference, though, so I am interested to see how the UUCF (or maybe a new organization) will work to nurture a continuing sense of Christian fellowship, discipleship and spiritual practice among attendees. However revelatory it may be to be part of a weekend gathering of UUs who who pray unapologetically in the name of Jesus and who worship God, we must find more ways to encourage one another to spiritual growth and commitment. Small UUCF groups is one way to do that. Bi-annual retreats that focus on spiritual practice, worship and prayer may be another way.
It was nice to see Sue Spencer, who recently left the UU ministry to join a community of Episcopalian nuns, for an hour across the aisle at worship this morning. Bless you, Sue! You look happy!
Two highlights from REVIVAL for me were Chris Walton's Taize service on Friday morning and the healing service led by Peter Boullata on Saturday evening. The first service I loved for its emphasis on music, and for the way that the liturgy moved, WITHOUT EXPLANATION, from one element to the next. Of course this takes careful preparation, and we were lucky to have Chris in charge of this service. Sometimes the liturgical elements that seem simplest require the most careful preparation.
Taize is such a wonderful antidote for that overly-talky UU way of worship, where we explain everything we're doing before we do it ("Now we're going to light the chalice." "Now, we're going to have a reading." "Children, please come up to hear a story about Adam and Eve/Buddha and the Elephant/Batman and Robin"), making casual, chatty editorial comments throughout.
I'm guilty of this on occasion myself, although I do sincerely try to create a worship experience that isn't so expository that it (1) kills the mystery and the movement of the Spirit and (2) insults the intelligence of people who have the Order of Service right in their hands.
I sometimes want to wear a button that says, "SILENCE IN WORSHIP IS OKAY!" And many times as I lead a service, I have to tell myself to resist the chatty, editorial comments, which are really a product of nerves, awkwardness with transitions I should have thought out well in advance, and discomfort with sacred ceremony. Sarcasm is the worst. When I make a sarcastic crack during worship, I'm miserable for days. Sarcasm has no place in worship. Warm, loving humor, yes. Hearty laughter, yes. Snark, never. NEV-AH!!
The healing service was particularly meaningful for me because back in 1999, I attended the healing service at the first REVIVAL and received my first laying on of hands. I remember when we planned that service over a conference call, and we were all like, "Whoa, this is going to be so RADICAL!" We knew that many UUs, hearing of it, would freak right on out along the lines of "What are they DOING!? Are they going to smack people on the head and have catchers who fall the people as they faint? What's next? SPEAKING IN TONGUES?"
But of course you can't really have a Christian spiritual life if you don't deal with the fact that Jesus was a healer and that he preached a healing God. So we had ourselves a healing service, and it was monumental for me, and I suspect not just for me.
The Rev. Thomas Mikelson was the preacher that evening, and through one of the most heartfelt, extemporaneous sermons I've ever heard, he wrapped us in a warm intensity and sense of communal safety that opened up many of us and encouraged us to approach the altar for healing prayer. I had never done, or imagined doing, such a thing before. Like, please. But I went up to one of the prayer teams that night and when I was gently asked, "Is there something in particular you'd like us to pray about?" I choked out, "I'm so lonely, and I'm in so much pain."
It was my second year in the parish ministry and I was desperately lonely, and I was suffering terribly through a very difficult and conflicted parish position. The thing is, I had no idea until that moment that I was that damaged and that deeply hurt. I had been working too hard to notice. Being prayed for -- to participate in the irrational act of asking God to be present in my life as a healing spirit-- was so nuts and so crazy full of love and faith, that it sliced through my intellectual defenses and opened me up to the possibility that the theological concept of God's grace just might be a reality, even for me. I sobbed while two or three people prayed over me, and I'm sure my nose ran all over them, bless their hearts.
I walked away from that service feeling new-born, exposed but not vulnerable,and more grateful than I can ever acknowledge. I decided not to worry so much about what I believed or did not believe about God. What converted me to a dedicated Christian path was the sure evidence that this faith could lead people to behave in such a compassionate way as to make themselves vehicles for the Holy Spirit, whatever that meant. It no longer mattered what it meant. I had experienced it, for my minister's heart was whole where it had been broken. I wanted to put myself under the authority of the same spiritual teacher who was inspiring those UUs at that conference. I was once and for all over my UU suspicion of all authority.
Later that weekend, I was baptized. I had planned to do it in advance, and it was a simple and lovely thing. The only lousy thing about being baptized is that I have to consider myself in the same spiritual family as all the Christians who, in my opinion, so thoroughly violate the whole meaning of the Christ event. Of course, they feel the same way about me, so there you have it. One of God's big Ha ha's.
"Ha ha, you kids, you have to work it out."
It was very meaningful, therefore, to stand last night with the Rev. Kelly Murphy Mason on the steps of the 4th Universalist Church chancel and to be the one praying over others. It was a privilege, it was an honor.
Jim Mulholland, one of the speakers at the conference, writes,
"I am reminded of the story of a little boy who was afraid of the dark. He was afraid of the monsters he thought lived under his bed and in his closet. His parents would pray with him every evening and ask God to protect him, but he would always end up in their bed.
One night his father said, 'You don't have to be afraid. God will be here in your room with you.'
The little boy answered, 'I was hoping for someone with skin.'"
(If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, p. 145)
My friends in faith -- whether Christian or not -- are "God with skin" for me, and Jesus chief among them. God is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unnameable magnificent intensity. How can I know God? I never can. How can I speak to God in a way that makes sense? No way makes sense, so I talk to God in the human way, as that's the only way I know. How can I experience God? As love, as has been made most abundantly manifest to me in my family, in my community of theatre friends and UUs, in my congregation, and in the UU Christian fellowship.