Students during Orientation Week
David with students
A Surprise Party
TENDING A VINEYARD
If you remember, at the end of last June Joyce and I dove into the process of preparing a course for a new online Masters of Theology program for Latin America offered by Palmer Seminary. The course we were invited to teach was Spiritual Formation and is the first course in the program.
We had no idea what we were getting into! Designing this course, teaching the first two cohorts, and 35 students have dominated our lives for the past 6 months. At some point we each began to think, “This is not what I signed up for!” Neither of us imagined that offering an online course built on an active learning model would become so encompassing. It became like tending a vineyard. Each student an individual cultivation and the group as a whole a flourishing entity. With our time and hearts bent on this very active tending neither one of us imagined the fruit. It was just too early to be ale to lift our gaze and take in the landscape.
Then, we began hearing from our students. Here is an excerpt from just one…
BECOMING EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY
“I think that silence, solitude, stillness and retreat go together. When I think of this, I imagine a pause in the chaos that invades us day by day and then the voice of God appears saying: "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) I like to imagine that scene and I have been able to apply it to my life in moments of doubt and fear. It has been liberating to be able to recognize those feelings that seem to be frowned upon if one is a Christian.
This brings me closer to an emotionally healthy spirituality. Author Peter Scazzero says: "To the extent that we can not express our emotions, we are still unable to love God, others and ourselves.” Anger, sadness and fear have been part of my walk and it has been a blessing to be able to recognize them, to then heal and continue on this beautiful path. My life has begun to feel that God is present and can speak from the depths of my being on a daily basis.”
What began for Joyce and I as an invitation that just “seemed to coincide” with a two year focus on training in Spiritual Direction has become an invitation to God’s Surprise Party. When we said “yes”, neither one of us imagined the creative, transformative power that rested in an online course but we are hearing it from students over and over again. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at at work within us, to him be glory…” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
What is equally exciting is that most of these students are pastors and or teachers. What is transforming them is transforming their communities. Richard Foster shares in the opening lines of Celebrating Discipline, “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for [spiritually] deep people.” These students are becoming those deeper people and I can only imagine how it will influence their communities. I thank God for using this course as “yeast” in the body. How cool is that!
What we have begun to see is a new borderless mission on God’s terms! Who knew God planned on using technology, a virtual learning community on the internet, to build his saints in a number of different places at the same time. We could not have simultaneously gathered these students or their communities all together for 8 weeks. Our physical location now matters less as God is using us in new ways.
This course has helped to deepen and broaden our preparation for cultivating new areas of mission. With the third cohort starting at the end of January, we can begin to look at providing workshops and retreats on Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction in places like Mexico, South America, and Cuba. I wonder what this surprise party will be like?!