Vector: (mathematics) a quantity possessing both magnitude and direction.
Faith communities can be very unpredictable places. Take a look around your own spiritual home to see it with fresh eyes.
At the church I call home, we are often proud of the fast pace of happenings on our campus and their diversity. Sometimes we even go so far as to say, “You just never know what’s going on around here!” or “We don’t have ‘regular Sundays’ here!” And in a sense, these expressions are correct: it’s sometimes a busy, wacky place to be.
But in another, deeper way, what goes on here and at other faith communities is entirely expected. The Spirit of Life is at work. And while the Spirit is unpredictable, her vector is always the same. The Spirit moves in the direction of wholeness, peace, justice, grace, and love. Where the wind of Spirit rises and blows is always a surprise to us. The example during my own lifetime is clear: I never would have predicted 20 years ago that marriage equality would begin to sweep the country. The speed at which hearts and minds (and laws!) changed was a joy to observe. The where and the how fast both surprised me.*
“The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up. Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God.” John 3: 8 from The Voice New Testament
We can imagine a weather map of the United States (pardon me for being ameri-centric, it’s the geography I know best). Imagine a wind that always blows from east to west. Sometimes a gentle breeze stirs on the Carolina coast from Wilmington to Charlotte around the issue of climate change and creation care and marine conservation. Sometimes a gale stirs the Great Plains from Des Moines to Lincoln around worker rights. Another day, a warm gust rises in El Paso and heads toward Phoenix, with energy and passion for humane immigration. Winds converge and create storms and new patterns. These winds can be different, but they blow always in the same direction: toward greater wholeness, peace, justice, grace and love.
So what do we do? How can we participate?
We care. Thankfully there are some true constants in a life of faith. Love God; Love one another; love ourselves. Everyday acts of kindness, service, and self-care stretch us and keep our hearts soft. So, when the wind around us begins to blow, our excitement can become greater than our fear.
We prepare. We ready ourselves for the new work that awaits us, with practices of silence and contemplation. We gather around ourselves others who are also preparing to join in and invest in relationships. We get some tools and supplies ready. Depending on the kind of wind we observe, we might need a kite or maybe a sail; prayer flags or perhaps flower seeds.
We watch. We study the horizon, looking for signs that God is at work. We become like spiritual meteorological Minutemen, ready to act at a moment’s notice when conditions change.
We harness. We join the Spirit at work, as our gifts indicate. The work gives us joy and purpose.
Unpredictable? Sometimes. But the holy vector is constant.
*Of course the pace has seemed slow to others, particularly those who were involved in this ministry of change. In some ways, this point of view reflects my own privilege and isn’t meant to denigrate or minimalize the hard work done by many.
Karen Richter is Director of Spiritual Formation at Shadow Rock UCC. She has worked previously in a variety of educational and nonprofit settings. Her interests include peaceful parenting, theology in pop culture, and adult/adolescent faith formation. She is also active in Shadow Rock’s sanctuary ministry and Whole Life Center. Karen lives in Anthem, Arizona with her husband, children, and tiny dog.
You may contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org