Being Present

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The theme for this year’s Renewal Fellowship annual general meeting was Practical Renewal. What do you do and how do you keep your faith active and alive? Interestingly, the two speakers—Liz Honeyford from St. Paul’s, Leaskdale, Ont., and Rev. Alex MacLeod from Kortright, Guelph, Ont.—interpreted the idea of “practical” as prayer and sabbath.

Think on that for a moment—a practical renewal of your life and faith is to a) not work, and b) pray.

Honeyford opened by saying: “We need to look at the prayer life of Jesus because his Spirit is reproducing the interior life of Christ in us. We are being formed, transformed, in and by all things, into the very nature of Jesus Christ.”

MacLeod began with: “I want to suggest that the most practical way you can be renewed in your life and in your congregation is to not work. You want renewal? You need rest.”
The following are excerpts from their two separate talks. I’ve edited them into a dialogue of sorts because their ideas echo the same themes. —Andrew Faiz

Alex MacLeod: I find myself telling people how busy I am all the time. We don’t realize how often we do this. It’s a sickness—I’m crazy busy. It’s partly a complaint and partly a boast. Does it impress anyone? The truth is that we’re busy because we’ve chosen to be busy and due to a kind of disorder in our lives. We have not made it our priority to love God and to love people—notably, our families, our church family, and our friends.

Liz Honeyford: I think Jean Vanier says it best when he says: “More and more people are becoming conscious that our God is not just a powerful Lord telling us to obey or be punished. Our God is family. Our God is three persons in love with each other. Our God is communion.”

Henri Nouwen once said: “I had to come to the realization that my entire life depended upon my willingness to re-enter the womb of our Mother God and find my home there.”

MacLeod: The idea of sabbath comes from God as creator. In Genesis we read that “God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that He had done in creation. ”

For six days, God worked at creating everything in the universe and then rested on the seventh day. God didn’t need to take a break. Why did He do it? Well, God also didn’t need to make creation happen in stages. He could have done it all at once. But God gives us a natural order, a pattern for our benefit. God’s resting seems to have more to do with celebrating the completion of creation and enjoying its goodness than recovering from the work.

Honeyford: I think the evangelical world has some repenting to do around a teaching about living for Jesus … or the What Would Jesus Do mindset. It is not the gospel; and it is not indicative of the interior life of Christ. WWJD is the wrong question. The right question is, What Is Jesus Doing? What is God doing right now that I can let the Spirit who dwells in me, who is present and active, do on earth as is done in Heaven?

Right here. Right now.

We don’t live for Jesus. Jesus lives in us and he lives out his own life in and through us as we surrender. So, Jesus in John 5 says: “I only do what I see the Father doing.”

MacLeod: Through sabbath, we take the time to focus on our redeemer, Jesus Christ, and we do that together by gathering for public worship. Every worship service includes the range of our responses to God: we pray together, we study God’s word, we praise God, we confess our sins, we are sent out to serve God. Above all, we are quiet and we listen to God who says: be still and know that I am God.

1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, “make it your business to lead a quiet life.” It means strive to be quiet; work hard to rest; be ambitious for peace. It’s an invitation to listen.

Honeyford: In Revelation 1:10, John of Patmos writes: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and I heard behind me a loud voice.” And then in verse 12: “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me.”

I turned to see the voice.

Jesus lived in such close proximity, in his interior life, to the Father that he could see what the Father was doing, and become the hands and feet and voice of the moment.

John is in the Spirit, which actually has a double meaning: It means he was present in his own spirit and present in the Spirit. It’s what we call a kairotic moment. Kairos time: God’s space and time.

Prayer is a kairotic moment. It is a moment that I become awake and aware to the ever present One who is right here in the moment.

MacLeod: As you consider how you could practice the sabbath in your life, I want to propose five priorities:
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Participate in Christian community and make Sunday worship a weekly commitment—that’s the basic sabbath act.

Stop working on your sabbath (whether it’s Sunday or another day)—for you that might mean not checking your phone, not going on a computer, not doing housework or shopping.

Enjoy recreation (something as simple as going for a walk, going skating, playing a game with your son or daughter).

Enjoy devotion (read your Bible, pray, pursue Christian education).

Serve others (practice hospitality, reach out to someone in need, give a gift or offer encouragement).

Study to be quiet. In the quiet, we learn to pray.

Honeyford: Someone said recently that we live in a culture where we are in a state of continual partial attentiveness. And it is this partial attentiveness that robs each of us of being fully present. Present in my spirit. And present to the Spirit of God who resides in me.

Jesus was present to the presence of the Father continually. Without interruption. How is that possible for me?

For me, it’s about two things: Position and presence.

Is it possible to live in such a way that I can be so tuned in to the voice of my Father that I could continually turn to see the voice?

Yes. I am created for that kind of living and intimacy.

But there is going to have to be a relinquishment of unnecessary work and worry­—the tyranny of the urgent. I’m going to have to let the Spirit get at some deeper issues in my life around identity and how my identity got formed by the wounds and the insecurities of others around me.

One of the practical things I do and have others do as we begin to teach present moment awareness is to take something like hand washing—something we do five to 10 times a day. And in that moment, deliberately slow down. Feel the water. Feel your feet on the floor. Linger in the moment. Just for a moment.

Take a breath until your heartbeat has slowed down.

And ask, what am I feeling right now?

That’s harder than it sounds for most of us. What am I feeling right now?

And then turn to see the voice. That’s a simple practice of positioning.

MacLeod: A couple of years ago, our clerk of session suggested that we stop in the middle of our session meetings for an hour of prayer. That’s crazy, we thought. We’re busy. But then we tried it—and it was very good; it was better. In recent years, our staff team at Kortright has chosen various theme psalms. At our weekly meeting, we read the psalm slowly. Right now, we’re soaking up Psalm 90. “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We go around the circle and take our time to read it, and it slows us down and opens us up to God. And so we hear God’s call—He makes His purpose clear. That’s sabbath, too.

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About Liz Honeyford and Alex MacLeod

Rev. Alex MacLeod recently celebrated his 20th anniversary in ministry. He is senior pastor at Kortright, Guelph, Ont. Liz Honeyford is associate pastor at St. Paul’s, Leaskdale, Ont.