When young people step off the bus, plane or van inNew Orleansnext summer, I want them to step into a community of the beloved that operates according to God’s economy of grace. I want them, and me, to experience a community wherein the rules of merit are broken, a moment in time when God is completely in charge for a while.
In our culture we base almost everything on “achievement, performance, accomplishment, payment, exchange value, or worthiness of some sort.” * In God’s economy of grace we are released from the “internalized merit-badge system” that holds many of us hostage. Within that system, and “without grace, almost everything human declines and devolves into smallness, hurt, and blame.” Many of us try so hard to earn the merit badge ― consciously or unconsciously ― that we sacrifice the freedom and peace we are promised in Christ.
I want young people, and the adults who accompany them, as well as myself, to be disoriented when they are inNew Orleans, disoriented by grace that “humiliates our attempts at private virtue” in an effort to gain the merit badge. I want us all to experience the peace Paul references in our theme passage (Ephesians 2:4-20), peace that knows no division between people, nations or faiths. In Christ, where all are one, (v. 14) we give up what Richard Rohr calls our “ego consciousness” and replace it with a “soul awareness.” Fr. Rohr says it is going from being “driven” (to perform, achieve, accomplish, please, earn, etc.) to being “drawn” into God’s heart.
I would like to suggest that it is at the intersection of action and prayer (contemplation, reflection) where we are drawn into God’s heart and where transformation happens. That is why the Gathering program activity days, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, are wrapped with worship at the beginning of the day, and prayer/reflection at the end of the day. In worship we enter into the paschal mystery (the death and resurrection of Christ) as we join with the saints of every age, the body of Christ, around the Lord’s Table. We become the body of Christ after we eat the body of Christ and are sent out into the world to be Christ for others. But “Jesus did not call us to the poor and to the pain just to be helpful to them, although that is wonderful, too. Jesus called us there for fundamental solidarity with the real and from that, to the transformation of ourselves.” Each night, as groups gather for the Final 15, they will be reflecting on where God has met them in the day, and asking God to use those moments to draw them closer to God’s heart.
I cannot predict when the Spirit will move in the hearts of young people at the Gathering, but I know chances are good that during times of prayer and reflection (i.e., contemplation) on the action of the day young people may glimpse the grace-shaped, life-altering path of Christian discipleship. Their witness upon returning to their congregations may not be one of celebratory victory for mission accomplished, but rather they may reflect a powerlessness that is evidence of God’s economy of grace.
* All of the quotes in this blog come from “A Lever and a Place to Stand: The Contemplative Stance, The Active Prayer” by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico www.cacradicalgrace.org