While not new terms, discipleship and spiritual renewal are having a resurgence across denominational circles. And it is often misunderstood in terms of a “movement.”
For some, “renewal” implies a new revivalism, while for others it is simply synonymous with a particular expression of renewal such as the Charismatic Movement, Cursillo, or Tres Dias of many years ago (and in some circles continues). There are those who perceive in the emphasis on “renewal” as self-indulgent flight into personal interiority by well-off churchgoers unwilling to confront the many pressing social and political problems that surround us.
There was a time when dioceses created and published materials for their congregations for forming and empowering lay leadership. Granted, these were also times when adults regularly attended church, participated in adult education before or after worship, or attended traditional Wednesday night offerings of study. It was also a time when education was a priority exemplified in diocesan and church budget lines. In the 70s and 80s there was an educational focus on spiritual growth and discipleship with the creation of resources to assist that growth. Deja vu? Yes (and no).
With most of us in the United States (and world-wide) staying safe by staying at home, we are now worshiping virtually with our faith communities via Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, church websites and other platforms. While meeting in this way has proved wonderful for staying connected with the practice of coming together for Sunday services, weekday prayers such as Compline or Morning Prayer, not being in our sanctuaries together has been hard.
We have experienced that the Church is not a building but a community gathered in prayer. We’ve also realized that our homes can also be places of prayer. So as we near the end of our Lenten journey and prepare for Holy Week, perhaps it’s time to create a prayer space at home that is available anytime of day or night to anyone in your household. In the midst of the chaos of homeschooling and worries of this world right now, working together as a household to build a home altar or sacred space may be an excellent way to create order and peace.
It is quite simple and can be done with what you already have at home most likely. Find a surface in a low traffic area such as a window sill, small table, portable tray table, or book shelf. I find it helpful to have it in a quiet area (usually this is on a shelf above my desk so it is always in sight) where there is little “action.” The pictures below are from my new area in my living room – no television or computers in this room!
What do these three things have in common? Plenty! Julian was a Roman Catholic born about 1343 CE and lived during a time of upheaval. The people of Europe were full of anxiety due to the Black Plague, the Hundred Years’ War, and a papal schism. They were yearning for a personal, experiential faith that spawned a growth in Christian mysticism. Not her actual name (which remains a mystery), she is known as Julian because she lived (as a recluse) at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the parallels with our world today.
At the age of thirty she became gravely ill soon after Easter. A week later her parish priest visited her, bringing her a crucifix. “Look at it, and be strong,” he said as he gave her last rites. Although she was very weak, she was able to look at the figure of Jesus on the cross, receiving insight into his suffering and love for us. Later she described how the room seemed to go dark as she felt she was about to die, but no longer felt any pain. Over the next twelve hours she saw wonderful things in her mind, as clearly as if they were real. She soon got well and wrote about her fifteen visions (shewings) in what is now called Revelation of Divine Love.
The life and legacy of Absalom Jones is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, his faith, and his commitment to the causes of freedom, justice, and self-determination. Born a slave, he became one of the founders of the black Episcopal church in America, becoming the first African American Episcopal priest. He was a leading figure among Philadelphia’s African American community (born a slave in 1746 in Delaware, he was manumitted – released from slavery – in 1784) who advocated the abolition of slavery from the pulpit. You can read more about him at the Episcopal Church Archives site. His feast day (day of death) is February 13.
Set us free, Heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for Absalom Jones, February 13 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 160)
There are many sermons and documents, plus an official portrait of Absalom Jones. Choose more or more of the following to delve deeper into the life of this important American and priest: