Praying Exodus: Reflections on God leading Community

Exodus Prayers: The sea of red and blue light along Interstate 94

Exodus Prayers: The sea of red and blue light along closed Westbound Interstate 94

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

“Exodus is a story of a people, not a person – that God leads in community.” – Amy Long, Women of Prayer discernment participant

With the whirring sounds of a helicopter overhead and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles passing outside our windows along Emerson Avenue North in Minneapolis, we convened a community of prayer, story, reflection, and song.  Our community of discerning women gathered at St. Jane House last night for session 4 of the vocation series entitled, “The Prepositions of Call: Reframing Suffering and Vocation.”

Against this backdrop of protest sounds and justice-seeking circumstances surrounding the shooting of Jamar Clark by a local police officer, we began our evening ringing the singing bowl and moving into silence.

“What path is God leading us on? How do we know the wilderness in our journeys? Where are our pillars of cloud and fire? How is this journey, that we are all on, a communal experience toward freedom?”

As facilitators for the series, S. Katherine Mullin, Karen Wight Hoogheem and I gave voice to our distraction, marking the reality outside our doors. In honor of Jamar Clark’s life, we had a candle burning for him and his family — and by extension, our human family the world over – from North Minneapolis to other communities knowing upheaval from violence –including Paris, Beirut, Russia, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Yemen.

We entered into prayer.

As part of every session, a member of our series facilitation team leads the participants in a form of prayer — meant to inspire and support women in their “listening and leading from within.”  Last night’s experience of Lectio Divina was led by Karen, who took us through Exodus 13:17-22. In this Old Testament passage, we heard the story of Moses and the Israelites being lead out of Egypt. God takes them on a circuitous route through the desert, into the wilderness, revealing himself in a pillar of cloud by day – and fire by night.

Pillars of Fire, photo from protester camp on Plymouth

Pillars of Fire, photo from protester camp on Plymouth

As Karen lead, she invited us to see ourselves in the flight of the Israelites and immerse ourselves in the literal and imagined details of the scripture. She invited us to listen for resonant lines in the text and for God’s invitation to each of us in our present circumstances. She asked us to consider the ways we know suffering, and the way God is faithful to us in leading us along the road to freedom.

As the scripture was repeated, the darkness of the Israelites path at night came alive in my mind. And too, was this flicker of light from fire, the smell of smoke in close proximity, the palpable feeling of anxiety that comes with uncertainty and next steps, and this potent question, “Will you follow me into this wilderness, into freedom, Melissa?”

The whole time, the whirring of the very real helicopters overhead buzzed in my ears; the faces of men, women, and children, who were marching along Plymouth Avenue when I made my way in traffic an hour earlier, came into my mind’s eye.

Together, in prayer, we asked, “What path is God leading us on? How do we know wilderness in our journeys? Where are our pillars of cloud and fire? Where is liberation? How is this journey, that we are all on, a communal experience toward freedom?”

***

This Saturday, Visitation Sisters all around the world will renew their vows. As they make their way toward this feast day, they remind me, and all of us, of our commitments before God. And too, of God’s faithfulness to us.

Join me, the Women of Prayer, the Visitation Sisters, Jamar’s family, and people grieving life lost to violence all over the world, in the prayer of Exodus. Together, let us recall that our journey toward liberation is bound up in God’s love and promises for all of us.

“How can we hear and respond to God’s call for our lives?”

Laura Kelly Fanucci

Laura Kelly Fanucci

by Laura Kelly Fanucci, Project Researcher, Collegeville Institute

From the time we are children and teenagers, people ask us questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” Sometimes such questions seem exciting and full of possibility. Other times they feel oppressive and overwhelming. Yet at every stage of life’s journey-at mid-career or at retirement, for example-we are full of questions about what to do, where to go, who to be.

How can we learn to see where God is leading us through our journey? How can we become aware of how God speaks to us, often in “tiny whispering sounds”? How do we understand what God wants for and from our lives? These are questions of vocation that call for careful discernment.

Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities?

The process of discernment is a centuries-old Christian practice of personal prayer and reflection with others that examines our lives in light of what we know about God’s hopes, dreams, and love for us. Discernment involves paying attention to our experiences in order to recognize God’s presence. Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities? What other voices around us are competing with God’s voice or leading us towards selfish, even evil, inclinations instead of the good God wants for us? What patterns do we notice about how we make decisions: are we careful planners or do we simply fall into situations without much thought? How do we choose? Through discernment we consider our inner thoughts as well as our outward actions; we listen to ourselves, to others, to our community and our context.

Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life.

The Christian tradition offers many formal practices of discernment. Ignatian spirituality uses a review of where God’s presence is felt throughout the day (called the examen). Quakers gather “clearness committees” where a group helps an individual to discern God’s voice within them and find clarity about a question or dilemma. The practice of lectio divina that you are learning from the Rule of Saint Benedict is another discernment process with a long history of helping Christians sort out God’s voice from the many other voices that call to us.

But many people already have informal habits of discernment. Perhaps you have a trusted friend that you talk to about big decisions. Maybe you journal or pray or take long walks when you are wrestling with important questions. Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life:

“Vocation…comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

…Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

–From Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

We often think of God’s call as a voice that is heard. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call,” and “calling” has traditionally been another term for “vocation.” And people often talk about discernment as “listening for God’s call” or “hearing God’s voice,” as in the stories in Scripture when God speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) or wakes someone with a voice in the night (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Yet it seems that most of us do not experience God’s call through a booming voice from heaven that tells us where to go or what to do. Instead, we are called by God through the people and places, the events and the encounters, the challenges and the changes of our everyday lives. God communicates with us through conversations and questions, through friends and family, through our own hopes and thoughts. Maybe we feel “pulled” or “drawn” towards one decision instead of another. Perhaps we see signs or feel led down a certain path. These can all be ways that God reveals our vocation to us.

And vocation is not just God’s call to us; it is also our response to God. We call on God in turn as we struggle to figure out where and how to live out our vocations. Discernment practices are valuable for questions of vocation because they help us develop habits for exploring our relationship with God. While it takes effort and patience to learn how to look and listen for God, such habits of discernment can help us during times of doubt, fear or anxiety about our vocations. Making time and space for discernment can open our ears and our hearts to find God in the “tiny whispering sounds” of our lives.

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Excerpted from “Called to Life: Reflecting on Vocation” a curriculum we are using as part of the Following the Spirit discernment series. We are happy to be able to share this as a resource from the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion; Co-Facilitator, “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series

Practices of Discernment: Learning to Listen – Elijah’s Experience

Image from The Foundation Stone; blog by by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg.

The following prayer and questions are ones we will draw on in Session Two of our Discernment Series. Session Two is entitled, “Learning to Listen: Practices of Discernment.” We are grateful to our partners at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research for this curriculum and the resources they offer us.

Then the Lord said,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord— but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?”

1 Kings 19:11-13

  • Elijah expected to find God in a powerful force of nature. Instead, God was revealed to him in a “tiny whispering sound.” Have you ever experienced God’s presence in an unexpected way? What did this experience feel like? What did it teach you about God?
  • How do you think God communicates with us? Through other people, nature, music, events, prayer or worship, Scripture or other reading, the needs of the world, or our own thoughts or ideas? Name one or two ways you have experienced God communicating with you in your life. What message did God communicate to you?