Our recent Pilgrimage was designed to look at four different streams of church history in which God manifested Himself in unique ways. Each season of His manifestation was unique in that it seemed to occur in a particular place and for a particular reason. God works in the particulars. He reveals Himself to us as particular individuals that He loves. He desires a particular thing from each of us, maybe best summarized as love, but for each of us it will be in particular ways.
We were hiking the country lanes and cityscapes in search of these historical movements of God. Our first stop was to spend some time with the Northumbria Community at their Mother House in north east England. The Northumbria Community has been very helpful to us in Rhythm of Grace from the very beginning. The founders of this community spent time with me years ago and gave me encouragement to follow Jesus' call to do what we do today.
In and around the landscape of the community's retreat house we ventured off on day trips to discover the ways and stories of what is known as the Celtic Church. There are many ways to describe what God did in this period of time, but one of them is the truth that God will manifest Himself and His heart to us through what He created.
My spiritual tradition of today holds that we will learn about God's heart through the Scriptures first and foremost. For me it is in the Scriptures that I understand who God is and how much His love for me is expressed. But now as we walked in these Celtic lands we can 'see' this truth that we learned from Scripture through what He created. We are reminded, by what we see, just how God works. But when the Celts were following after God was a time before the printing press. Most did not own a copy of the Scriptures. They relied upon the preaching and teaching of those servants of God in the many established abbeys throughout the area. Creation became the visual aid and the sacramental means by which their attention to God was directed.
Sharon Gentry was one of our pilgrims. Sharon has been a long time participant with Rhythm of Grace. She is a wife, mother, and teacher in a Christian School in the KC area. She has also served on the Board of Directors of Rhythm of Grace for many years. I want you to read her reflections as she strapped on her boots for a hike and made some interesting discoveries through what she says in the roots.
Roots. Really??? Roots? I went all the way across the ocean - making a pilgrimage to historic Christian sites in the UK, and what God showed me was ... ROOTS!??!
While at the Northumbria community, I took a walk through the beautiful British countryside with the assignment of doing something creative. I took pictures of wildflowers, an old stone barn, sheep, cattle, and a lazy river, yet my camera became increasingly focused on the roots of trees.
I noticed that roots are massive and gnarly. When exposed through erosion, they twist and turn, get intermingled with other roots, dodge rocks and turn direction when they run into obstacles. God showed me that the growth of roots does not create a pretty, symmetrical picture that mirrors the tree.
Why is this significant? At the Christian school where I teach, we use a graphic design of a tree to represent beliefs and worldviews. A person's beliefs are shown as the roots which influence the growth of the tree and results in behavior and actions, represented as fruit. That makes sense to me, and my students seem to understand the illustration easily.
But God showed me that as we are formed spiritually, our beliefs will be exposed, twist and turn, get intermingled with other ideas, dodge hard spots and turn direction when we run into obstacles.
Spiritual formation isn't a straight path. Sometimes the roots run deep; other roots are shallow and close to the surface or even above ground. The roots are essential, though. Roots anchor the tree from blowing over during storms. They hold on to the earth, creating stability. They seek water - the living water - that will nourish and allow the tree to flourish. They don't look pretty; they don't grow in a symmetrical, balanced pattern.
I'm grateful to Rhythm of Grace which provides space, time, and ideas to help my roots grow strong. The spiritual disciplines we practice help me to cling hard to the Truth that God is good, present, and active in the world, even through the storms. Rhythm of Grace has helped me develop patterns for living that don't result in a perfectly patterned root system, but in roots that continually seek Him. It is my prayer that my roots will continue to be strengthened and the fruit of my life will honor Him.
How rewarding it is to have people like Sharon hearing God's voice like this. She has read about, studied and taught spiritual formation for many years. But through some gnarly old roots she 'saw' it, and sealed it deeper into her heart. Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your observations.
I post this in hopes that it will be a blessing to you. I'll try to recapture other participants thoughts in coming weeks. Don't forget to take a look at the offerings we have to practice listening through retreats and training. You can read about them elsewhere on this site.