Word of the Week

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16

What does this practice look like in our modern context?

Last summer I spent a week of training for my spiritual director certificate at the Interfaith Institute in Berkeley, CA. Throughout the week, my cohort explored the practice of deeply listening to one another through a variety of different activities. We shared stories. We worked with images. And we even went on solitary walks. Now, eight months later, the memories of this experience are some I still treasure dearly.

And, there's one gem I gained from our Hindu instructor I've thought a lot about this Lent. She said, "If you want to listen to God, then you need to limit media you are taking in." Or in other words she offered: "If you want to be close to the Divine, ask yourself, why are you watching so much tv or listening to so much of the radio or watching movies on Netflix online?" Her words were practical and to the point.

I love media like most of you. Sometimes I think my computer is attached to my body. Sometimes I find myself sad when I don't have a day to catch up on the recorded shows on my DVR box and just veg out. Sometimes the silence of driving in the car with the radio is deafening. My generation loves noise.

But then there are moments when I truly turn it all off and I'm so glad I did.

On Sunday night, Kevin and I were cooking in our Oklahoma apartment's kitchen. The counter space is limited and we were side by side. He was chopping fruit. I was baking bread. We were preparing to host breakfast the next morning for the country directors from Feed The Children in town for the week.

We had both previously commented how excited we were about watching the Oscars. Being movie buffs, we couldn't wait to see who won what and how funny (or not) the jokes were. But then a strange thing happened. We came home from the grocery store and we didn't turn the tv on.

I don't know how, but we forgot about the Oscars.

We unloaded the car, cooked in silence for a while and then began to talk to each other-- sharing details about our weeks that we would have missed if we didn't take this time of pause. I learned more about some of Kevin's deep burdens and he learned more about mine.

I think that listening to God is like this. I think this is what Jesus was modeling for us when he went to the lonely places and prayed.

Sure, we all might have intentions about what we are "doing" this Lent to grow in our faith-- no sweets, no soda, exercising more or even drinking more water, but what good are these things if we don't allow the slower pace of life to help us listen?

Listening to what we are to do next in our daily rhythms . . .

Listening to what our primary relationships need most from us . . .

Listening to what we can only hear if we turn our tvs and computers off . . .

In reading through the gospels, it seems to me that as much as Jesus was "on" and busy, he was always looking for a retreat, quiet and silence. Thank goodness that it is this season, that reminds us every year that the most important thing we can all do is unplug and listen!

In the spirit of this season of reflection, I wanted to share my top twelve posts of 2012. These posts may or may not have gotten a lot of interest at the time I wrote them, but for me each of these blogs represent a shift in some way in my life or ministry. Thanks for reading. . . . and the happiest of New Year to you all!

1. January 2012- "God Calls You to See What Others Don't." This was a sermon I preached during our "spiritual gifts" series at WPBC. My dear friend, Beth came up from Chattanooga to lead this retreat for the church. I saw so many lightbulb moments go on in the congregation as a result. In our household, too we had so many important discussions after this such as about Kevin's spiritual gift of leadership and my prophetic spiritual gifts. I will be forever grateful for this special time for us all.

2. February 2012- "From the Preacher's Chair." I was asked to preach the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church. It was not only an honor to be asked to preach this service but to bring along WPBC congregation members with me too. It was diversity building at its best. And to be worshiping alongside my dear friends, the Rev. Caseys was a blessing.

3. March 2012- "I Know How You Feel." I went on a delegation to the White House with other Baptist leaders. Though it wasn't really at the White House itself, it was cool nonetheless especially to see all colleagues from around the country.

4. April 2012- "Letting Go." This was a post that really seemed to resonate with people for worry is something that we all seem to do, a lot. But what is God's other plan for our lives? Maybe it is surrender.

5. May 2012- "When We Met the Divide." This has been a year of boycotts over chicken sandwiches, votes that have divided our nation and shouting matches about everything under the sun as a Christian community. What is the solution? Some thoughts here.

6. June 2012- "Let's Feed the Children." Kevin begins his work at Feed The Children as CEO and President. Our lives are forever changed.

7. July 2012- "Hagans on the Hill." I was the Senate Chaplain for the day. Wow!

8. August 2012- "Who is Really Poor?" I traveled with Kevin to Malawi and Kenya to see first hand the sites of the work of Feed The Children. I reflected on the spiritual poverty came to see in my own life as I returned. The Africans are truly the rich ones!

9. September 2012- "I'm a Defect." This was one of my favorite sermons in my "Excuses" series of sermons. We all thing in some way or another that we are made with imperfections. This was my way to seek to dispell this belief about ourselves that holds us back.

10. October 2012- "Why Do You Pray?" Some honest thoughts about my own prayer life that took some courage to admit.

11. November 2012- "A Life That Counts." My sermon reflection in response to our 10 days spent in the Philippines. I wrestled with poverty here at a level I'd never had before.

12. December 2012- "One Last Love Letter." My parting words to my beloved congregation of Washington Plaza. I will always love you.