The denomination I am ordained in, United Church of Christ (UCC), has a catchphrase: “God is still speaking.” That means God continues, throughout all of time, to reveal Godself to us, just as God did to the people of Israel in the ancient near-east and in the time of Jesus.
For a long time, the motto was mostly used to counter those brands of Christianity that tried to say the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God and it is all we need to know from God and about God. And, because we don’t take everything in scripture as the last word, my denomination is known for its social justice “firsts.”i
The UCC’s social action bona fides are not in question. However, our commitment to contemplative spiritual practices has not been as robust — which is why this week’s news that delegates of the UCC’s General Synod (our big convention that occurs every two years) approved a resolution calling on the wider church to base its activism on a life of foundational spiritual practices.
Spiritual directors and spiritual formation teachers in the UCC are ecstatic. We’ve been talking about this for a long time! One part of the resolution reads, “Contemplation without action fuels narcissism, and action without contemplation is a recipe for bitterness and spiritual depletion.” The resolution asks churches to follow the example of Jesus and provide times of silence, meditation, and solitude to foster an “intimate relationship with God.”
The resolution was brought forward by the two young UCC leaders: Rev. Matt Carriker and Denson Staples, a member in discernment, both from the Southern New England Conference. Carriker told delegates about a conversation he had with a woman who had tried to bring an awareness of contemplative practice into the life of her church, but found people resisted for one reason for another. Carriker asked, “How can our churches live out both the contemplative and activist dimensions of our faith?”
The resolution is already creating ripples of interest. This past Sunday, First UCC Phoenix pastor Rev. Susan Valiquette opened her sermon with the news of the resolution and encouraged the congregation to balance its activist work with a look inward, suggesting that members consider prayer, meditation, chanting, fasting, tithing, meditative reading of scripture and…..spiritual direction.
To embrace that “God is still speaking” is to also ask this question: “How are we listening and responding?” Before we can adequately respond, we need to carefully listen and discern what what work this Still-Speaking God is inviting each of us to.
Rev. Teresa Blythe is a spiritual director, educator and author based in Phoenix. To learn more about spiritual direction, visit her website at www.teresablythe.net.
i. First act of civil disobedience in the colonies—a protest against an unjust tax on tea; first ordained African American pastor by a Protestant denomination—Lemuel Haynes in 1785; first integrated anti-slavery society in 1846 when Lewis Tappan of the Amistad movement organized the American Missionary Association; first woman pastor in 1853—Antoinette Brown; ordination of the first openly gay minister, Rev. William R. Johnson, in 1972; and the first Christian denomination to support gay marriage on July 4, 2005.