– Andy Wade –
Celebrate Newness! That was the theme of this year’s Celtic Prayer Retreat two weekends ago. Gathered under a canopy of trees at the edge of 40 forested acres, we worshiped, prayed, listened to the Spirit speak, and conversed with friends, new and old.
As we packed up on Sunday morning, I asked the remaining participants what denominations they represented: Quaker, Mennonite, Episcopalian, Nazarene, Assembly of God, “Anabaptist”, Free Church, Lutheran, Catholic, and Presbyterian. And this was just those who camped with us overnight! This rich diversity of Christian practice opened us all to hearing, learning, and sharing in new ways. It’s also this kind of diversity that inspires me as one of many Mustard Seed Associates encircling the globe.
Tom has already posted some of the highlights of the retreat, so I will focus on a few of the things I heard the Spirit speaking to us, both as individuals and as a group.
I’m not a fan of Sir Frances Drake; his history as a pirate and participation in the slave trade are tragic. But as flawed as he was, and we all are flawed, God still spoke to him, resulting in this amazing prayer:
Disturb us, Lord, When we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask You to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. Amen.
And God, indeed, was about to disturb us!
After hearing the words of the Prophet Isaiah (ch. 42), we dispersed into the surrounding forest to collect symbols of how God is speaking/working in our lives. We brought these gifts of God in nature back to the altar as an offering of thanksgiving.
Our first passage for Lectio Divina (deep reflection and listening) was Isaiah 42:5-10 (hover link to see passage). Several people mentioned being touched by the phrase, “I will take you by the hand and guard you.” How personal our God is, walking with us, beside us, into every circumstance. It is God who makes and maintains contact with us.
Another person remarked how the passage was obviously speaking about Christ, and yet all these things, opening blind eyes, releasing prisoners, and the like, are things we are now called to do.
Gil George, Quaker friend and pastor, wrote these words in response to his time listening:
Where is freedom?
The captives are still bound
Addictions still rule us
Our gods are still not you
We stay lost rather than found
We choose the familiar cage
Over an unfamiliar world
Our captivity is maintained
By shining screens which change
To match a growing desire
Which can never be filled
With things that break and fail
We need freedom from our captivity
To every thing that is not you
We need peace from incessant noise
Help us find silences filled with you
There is freedom
As I read the familiar words from Isaiah 42 I also heard something new. God does all these amazing things in Christ, then invites us into that ministry and more. The prophet declares:
See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.
All this I’ve understood before, and that’s usually where we stop reading because most of our English Bibles insert a break and a new section. But keep reading:
Sing a new song to the Lord! Sing his praises from the ends of the earth! Sing, all you who sail the seas, all you who live in distant coastlands.
Our first response to God’s “new things” is to “sing a new song”! Now I realize this is a contemporary way of hearing these words, but that’s OK since a big part of Lectio Divina is to hear God speak to our hearts today. And what I was hearing was that, while God declares “new things” and invites us into them, we are often unable to move into them in the ways that God desires because we’re still singing the same old songs. How often I’ve gotten stuck because I was unable to let go of “the former things” in order to move fully into the new things of God!
I was deeply blessed at this year’s retreat as the Spirit spoke through this single passage about God’s initiative to meet with us, to walk with us, to hold our hand and guard us. And Gil’s moving poem echoed perfectly the words I was hearing: we are indeed still captive until we learn to sing a new song, a song we often fail to hear because we are so busy and distracted. Until we can be still, be silent, we will neither know true freedom in God nor be able to move fully into the new things God is declaring to us, to our communities, and to our world, today.
I’m singing a new song now! What an exciting and enriching retreat, made even more so by the beautiful diversity of sisters and brothers in Christ.
“Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask You to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. Amen.”
For more about the retreat, including another poem from Gil from our time reflecting on Revelation 21:1-4, please check out the links below: