Sunday, March 13, 2011

God Encounter

One of the rehab ladies paused and let everyone else get off the van this morning, leaving just she and I staring at one another. "Miss Tammy, did Misty talk to you?" (Misty is one of her peers who has recently discharged.) Um ... about what? I replied. "Well, I want to get baptized and Misty said I should talk to you."

This is a conversation I have on a regular basis. I am perceived among the rehab ladies as the go-to person when they want to be baptized, but in fact, I am the middle person. I always redirect them to the pastor, which is what I did with this nice young lady. I told her, If you are at spirituality class tomorrow, the pastor will be there and you can talk to him about it...

She said OK, then added that one of the happiest memories in her life was being baptized in the ocean when she was a little girl. I replied very gently, So then you have already been baptized? "Yes, but I was so little I don't really remember it and I have sinned so much since then!" she exclaimed.

This is another conversation I have on a regular basis -- explaining that we are not Anabaptists in the United Methodist Church; we don't re-baptize. (We think God got it right the first time.) I'm not sure if she believes baptism is the solution to backsliding -- that's a whole other blog. What intrigues me is this woman's original statement ... that being baptized in the ocean was one of the happiest memories of her life. Whether she realizes it or not, she experienced something that has come to represent a powerful God encounter -- an intersection with the Divine.

One of the classes I am taking right now is called spiritual formation. Its focus is to teach you a variety of spiritual practices that you can employ to keep your container filled, as Richard Rohr would say. Another way of saying this is practicing the presence of God. One of the assignments for this class is to form our own spiritual formation group and teach some of these practices to individuals within your circle of influence. This concept of practicing the presence of God is something I talk about nearly every week in the spirituality class I teach to the rehab ladies. It seems it is a confusing or foreign concept to most people and in truth, I don't know at what point in my faith journey I latched onto this concept. I don't know at what point I "got it" and thus forgot that many people don't get it; or don't appreciate the importance of it.

Why are God encounters so foreign? Why do I see a sea of blank and confused faces when I use phrases like "mountain top experience." Why is it that many people do not have any idea what I am talking about? I was thinking about this post as I was washing the dinner dishes tongiht. I started ticking off in my mind various mountain top experiences in my faith journey; those God encounters; those moments when I was so certain that I could hear God whispering in my ear. We view them as paranormal, but should we? I don't want to suggest to anyone that they should try to manufacture or manipulate God encounters. The Holy Spirit is like the wind, as Jesus says, and it blows where it will and no one knows why. Certainly, though, we can long for God's presence; seek it and pursue it; and find it.

If you want to win the lottery, you have to buy a lottery ticket. If you want to be in God's presence, you have to practice attitudes and behaviors and even body postures that can transport you to those intersections that feed your hungry soul.

No one should have to look far back into their childhood for the memory of a God encounter. We should be able to look to yesterday or last week or the previous month, but certainly not years and years and years ago. God is all around us, beside us, in us, everywhere. Our task is to learn to take notice.

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