Vocation and transformation

February 1, 2010

According to the Pew Forum,
49 percent of the U.S. public claims to have had a religious or
mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or
awakening.” This is good but challenging news to today’s spiritual
leaders and preachers, since a growing number of these “mystics” define
themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Many people, including
regular church attendees, believe that the last place they might
encounter the holy in a dramatic way is at church.

As a
theologian interested in healing and wholeness, spiritual practices and
spiritual formation, I’ve observed the insights of the Pew report
firsthand. Many church members find that yoga, energy work, Buddhist
meditation, stress reduction practices and creative visualization
exercises are more relevant to their daily spirituality than the
pastor's preaching or Bible studies.

This week’s readings provide
the preacher with an opportunity to reflect on her or his own spiritual
experiences, ponder Christian spiritual practices and open the door for
church members to share and honor one another’s experiences of the
divine. Perhaps the pastor or someone else from the congregation might
even offer a class on Christian meditation or mysticism to complement
the week’s lectionary themes.

Isaiah experiences the grandeur of
God. Peter encounters the surprises of revelation. Paul discovers that
God can transform us even when we are fleeing from Christ’s presence.
These mystical experiences became central to their understandings of God
and vocation.

If the scriptures are to be the source of a living
word for us today, and not just a bygone era piece irrelevant to
21st-century people, then there must be continuity between their
mysticism and what we might experience ourselves. The omnipresent and
omni-active God can show up anywhere in our lives, and when this happens
we are changed. (I try to present a theologically grounded and socially responsible path to transformation in Holy Adventure.)

This
week’s readings invite us to see the church as a laboratory of
spiritual experience where people come to expect transformation. Dare we
assert that the one who calls us to live justly also calls us to live
mystically? Dare we make contemplation, along with action, a priority in
the life of the church?