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Struggle, Suffering, and Growth

By The Rev. James D. Findlay

James FindlayAs our journey in Nature’s time cycles brings us to the High Days of Summer, when daylight grows strong in the 24-hour round of darkness and sun, the Lectionary texts of the time also speak of growth and expansion.  In whatever narrative we encounter, the power of God to overcome human powers, weapons, and expectations, at all levels of life, is always apparent.

The Books of Samuel describe David’s rise to power, from his anointing as a child to his kingship in the prime of his adulthood.  Yet in each story surprises occur and expectations are reversed.  When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem seeking a future king, he is guided by God’s voice to choose David, the youngest of many brothers, because YHWH “looks on the heart,” not the outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7).  In his startling victory over Goliath, David uses the stones of creation and the guidance of the Creator to defeat the well-equipped militarized giant.  In his lament for Saul and Jonathan in 2 Sam. 1, David sings of grief and sweet memories of two men he loved and honored, even as his own star rises at their falling.  And in 2 Sam. 5, he becomes king of the formerly separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

All of these texts are signs for our own spiritual development.   Though our own choices shape our journeys, God’s care anoints and guides us more than the goals and plans of our egos or organizations.  Whatever military forces the nations wield, they are certain to fail and fall before those who trust in God.  Grief often accompanies growth, and we experience loss and sorrow along the path of our own progress.  Finally, realizing our higher potential entails overcoming obstacles and integrating past wounds that God heals, as we travel the path to spiritual wholeness.

Paul, too, describes how perspectives grow and perceptions are altered on the spiritual path.  After noting Christ’s guidance and sacrifice, he states that his worldview has been transformed by his experience.  Neither Christ nor other people are seen as they once were; all things are now viewed in light of God’s “new creation,” no longer from a human point of view, “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:14-17).  In 2 Cor. 6, Paul eloquently recounts how suffering has not defeated him, but opened his heart.  And in 2 Cor. 12, he alludes to a journey to the third heaven, being transported to Paradise, encountering indescribable realities, and receiving a thorn in the flesh.  He also states what he learns from these striking experiences: spiritual ascension produces humility; God’s grace is always sufficient for what we face; divine power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Finally, the Gospel narratives of High Summer describe growth, empowerment, and healing tempered by loss.  Two of Jesus’ most well-known parables compare the kingdom of God to seeds: growing in a way not known or controlled by the farmer, or as a tiny seed which becomes a giant shrub which shelters birds and their nests (Mark 4:26-32).  Also, Jesus commands a storm to be quiet when his disciples are disturbed (4:35-41), heals a woman untreatable by standard practices of his time or ours (4:21-43), is rejected by those he grew up with in Nazareth (6:1-6), and sends out the Twelve in pairs, empowered to heal and cast out demons as he has done.  In this growth-filled season, these texts, too, guide and encourage our souls.  We are always growing, even if we do not perceive it.  We can change disturbance into calm if we allow the winds of trial to pass; while the spirit can address needs of the body in powerful ways.  All of us, as we grow into Christ, are empowered to do his work, blessing others and as Christ has blessed us.

May all of us savor the power and beauty and life in the Spirit in these days, and continue to learn and grow from the gifts of Word, Sacrament, Community, and attentive Solitude.

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Note from author: Please feel free to contact me via e-mail at sleight_of_time@yahoo.com .  I wish to engender a conversation among us about how the Word and Spirit are active in our lives, and how we might nurture these gifts further. I also am happy to work with groups and individuals on how to nurture the Word and Spirit among us. Please visit my Facebook Page at   www.facebook.com/pages/Spiritual-Accompaniment-Services/219750211459838  as another way of being in this sacred conversation. I look forward to hearing from many of you soon!

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