The Rest is Commentary

By: Rev. Whitney Wilkinson

Mission trips, whether they be working in someone’s yard in our own community or leaving the familiar for what is unknown, are powerful for me. My seminary professor Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi once quoted Emil IMG_0827Brunner saying, ‘Mission is to the church what combustion is to fire.’ The church can’t exist without it. I find that I can’t, either. And so I was so glad we were headed to Atlanta. And also, a bit tired, honestly.

I spent a lot of time thinking and praying for this to be a meaningful experience for everyone involved, a way for us to ‘see church’ in a radically new way, and discover Christ among those who fall through the cracks of our society. As to myself? Well, I just sort of wanted to be fully engaged, and facilitate that experience. Of course, I wanted to discover Christ in a new way, too. I just wasn’t sure I had the energy for it.

But as I entered Mercy Community Church in Atlanta, and saw my dear friend Maggie blossom into a caring and no-nonsense pastor before my very eyes, I was inspired. When a dear woman named Barbara slept on my shoulder during worship, placing great trust in me in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel Christ. He was sitting right next to me, leaning on me. (Or she, as it were.)

Eating delicious soup made by one of their own on the streets next to people whose stories I’d begun to learn was amazing. And the one thing I took away from it all was quite surprising.

It wasn’t the overpowering need to rally against and/or navigate the systems that make it extraordinarily difficult for a person to get in, so they can have the tools to build a life so many of us take for granted, though that was learned.

It wasn’t that Christ really is present with those on the margins in a different and obvious way, though that was learned.

It wasn’t that every person affected by homelessness has a story, just like I do, and that if I wanted to recognize their dignity as a human being and a child of God, I better listen, though that was learned.

Quite simply, the lesson I learned was this: Life is extraordinarily simple, in the end. God created it to be simple. And ever since then, we human beings have been about the business of complicating it.

So these days, this morning when I allow myself the grace to work from a comfortable abode graciously provided for me, I am choosing to live my life with simplicity. Yes, this might mean de-cluttering my space, and giving away what I don’t need. But even more than that, it means de-cluttering my heart, my tired soul, my overly-analytical mind. God is good, and can be trusted. We are all children of God made in God’s image. We need to treat each other that way.

I’m reminded of a story of Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud, a sacred text in Judaism. Rabbi Hillel was around about the same time Jesus was, and legend has it, that a man came to him one day promising that he would become Jewish if the Rabbi could explain the whole of the Torah in the time it took him to stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do your fellow human. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

Sounds quite a bit like something that Jesus fellow said as well. So, here’s to a simplified life, seeking grace in every moment and seeking to share it with others in every moment as well. The rest is commentary. Beautiful, raw, healing, reconciling, hopeful commentary.

Yoga=Peace

By: Derek Sean Turner

When I was a kid, about thirteen years old, I remember my mother taking yoga classes—this was at the height of the Farrah Fawcett inspired exercise craze. I would constantly harass my mom about how silly yoga looked. Fast IMG_20150901_160843forward to 2015, I am stuck in Atlanta, Georgia, and someone—I do not remember who—sent me to Highland and Ponce de Leon to ‘Mercy Church.’ I appreciate Mercy for the activities it offers—Bible study, art class, and music, especially—but above all else I like the yoga classes. Pastor Maggie leads a yoga class on Fridays, in partnership with Centering Youth—a local non-profit that offers free yoga classes to at-risk youth and marginalized populations. I really enjoy the way it relaxes me and helps me find inner peace.

My favorite yoga positions are Locust pose, when you lie on your belly and use your back strength to lift you arms and legs off the floor; Warrior pose, where you stand in a lunge with both arms raised and reaching for opposite walls—this one really works my muscles; and Tree pose, where my balance is challenged—this one helps me find a deeper connection with God. Come join us!

Communion Office Table

By: Maggie Leonard

At Mercy, our communion table is a rickety four-legged square, made of rough wood—a regular splinter-hazard, with paint and candle wax splattered upon it. It is what might be called ‘well-loved’ or ‘shabby chic’ or ‘better off in the dumpster.’ When it is bumped, it gently sways for a breath, but verily reorients itself more or less squarely on its DSC_3014wobbly legs. It is the centerpiece of our humble church space, the basement sanctuary in which we spend most of our time together as a community.

On Sunday mornings it is usually covered with cloth, hand-picked flowers, a plate of bread, a cup, and a pitcher. During the week, we decorate it for our hour of prayer with more simple cloth, a candle or two, and sometimes a cross. Really, though, our table is used so much more than just during those few hours of official worship. In a very concrete way, this sacred space is crucial to the daily rhythms of our lives—and not just spatially. It cradles un-plated bagels that are too hot to hold. Coffee cups, Bibles, and magazines are artfully strewn across it’s top. Backpacks are unpacked and repacked on its surface. Folks gather around it as we make sign-up lists for food or clothes. It is the heart of our space.

It is also the spot were we do administrative work for the community—like renewing food stamp certifications, finding directions to a social service agency, searching the online directory of inmates at the local jail for one of our own, writing a letter which will allow someone to receive healthcare, or editing our latest publication. Surrounded by the vitality of the community—the laughing, musing, chopping, and snoring of congregants—and looked upon by Jesus himself, who hangs from our wall on the cross, work gets done.

Our sanctuary is just that—a sanctuary, a safe place, a shelter from the cold and from accusing eyes, a space in which we can practice living fully and together, a haven of comfort, a place where needs are met. Our table is at the center of it all.

FORGIVE ME

By: Maggie Leonard

THE PROBLEM

I think I might be too churched. Not in a I’m-too-institutionalized kind of way, but rather in the well-duh-of-course-God-and-Jesus-forgive-us kind of way. In Matthew 9, the legal experts are offended by Jesus’ IMG_20150831_171826forgiveness, and somehow I am completely unimpressed by Jesus ability to forgive sins. It is odd how blasé we can view the amazing things God is at work doing. These are the two responses—indifference or offense—I have seen time and again in different Bible passages about Jesus forgiving sins, and physically healing someone in the process. Every time I read them, I remain unimpressed.

For the first time ever, I have realized that there is a third response to Jesus—one different than indifference or offense, it is the response of the crowd. After the man leaves, the witnesses ‘were afraid and praised God who had given such authority to human beings.’ Not authority given to the Human One—the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah.—God’s authority of forgiveness was given to human beings, to us. The crowd saw the implications of Jesus’ authority, and it terrified them. They saw that they were called to follow and do likewise, to forgive others.

What would it look like to live in a world in which only God forgives? I shudder to think of it.

What is truly offensive is not that Jesus forgave the man, but that God has the audacity to call us into a life that includes the hard work of forgiveness as well. Jesus does not just forgive sins because he is God and can do nearly impossible things, but because he is forging the path we are so resistant to take.

Writing this article has been challenging for me, and so absolutely necessary. As is true of many of us, I have had a lot of experience in my still young life with forgiveness—sometimes more successfully than other times. Probably like you, I have been the one who needs to be forgiven, the one who forgives, and sometimes the one doing the work all alone. In all its complexity, I think that forgiveness is one of the most important things that we can learn to do—and one of the things that as a society we often quip proverbs about doing but rarely engage in reality.

In preparation for this article I was curious, so I googled, ‘how to forgive’ just to see what would come up. I found most of them lacking. Almost all of the hits involved lists of reasons that pointed to the philosophy of why we should forgive, as if we needed to be convinced that forgiveness is ultimately a good thing.

I hope all of us can agree forgiveness is good.

If the advice went any deeper than ‘this is why you should forgive,’ it was entirely based on self-work. Now self-work is incredibly important for forgiveness, and sometimes our only option. Sometimes, however, we need to forgive people with whom we would like to maintain connection. This is even trickier and something very few articles try to tackle. None of the articles I found tried to take on forgiveness as a joint effort, in large part, I suppose, because it is work that is half-way out of our control.

With God, forgiveness is always there, so it gives the illusion of being something that only we, as the offender, need to engage. Jesus is so good; he lets go of things so quickly. I wish it were so easy for me.

I have started to think of forgiveness as the work we do in our hearts—both the inward look of self-reflection, as well as the outward look of understanding the other person with whom our relationship is broken. True reconciliation—the work of forgiveness between humans—requires inner work and outer conversation. To bring about reconciliation much work and willingness to sit with discomfort is required, but with two willing parties, reconciliation can be truly incredible.

WHERE WE MESS IT UP

Below I have outlined some of the pitfalls of forgiveness and reconciliation that we fall into, both as the forgivers and the offenders. It is not an exhaustive list by any means, but a working list that I am sure I’ll be updating all my life. I hope you will explore the different dimensions of forgiveness with me and in your own life. I will warn you, reading this list is a bit of a bummer and is a little dry. Hopefully, it will help us all become more aware how we might hope to engage forgiveness and reconciliation differently the next time around.

We hide behind God’s power

We are comfortable with God forgiving us, but if someone else hurts my feelings, you’ll be lucky to be forgiven—and I’m surely not going to forget! We often add that last part just for good measure.

By telling ourselves only God can forgive sins, we excuse ourselves as participants from God’s work of reconciliation in the world. We philosophize ‘sin’ to the point that we no longer see sin as the real ways in which we actually hurt one another. As we hear the call in Matthew 9, we are called to give others the same gifts God gives us.

We doubt forgiveness or think it is something to be earned

We really do doubt forgiveness when it is given—either because we do not believe it is truly a gift or we do not see ourselves (or others) as worthy of it. Perhaps this is why Jesus had to visibly demonstrate the healing that had occurred. We put so much more stock in truths that we see—proof, data, and pie charts are crucial to our buying into a vision. Forgiveness is something earned, or so it seems sometimes. It comes with strings—real or perceived. For many of us, forgiveness is something that someone else has held as a carrot in front of us, always out of reach. Other times in our guilt we feel that we must make amends but don’t believe that we have made up for what we did in the first place. We do not believe that a gift can be freely given or that we can freely accept it. When we are unforgiven, we are downcast with hurt or guilt, turning our eyes away from hope. Maybe this is why Jesus told the man, ‘be encouraged’ or ‘take heart.’

Forgiveness is a gift. It is freely given by the person who has been hurt. It is not a tool for manipulation nor is it something we can earn. There may be other consequences for our actions, but the gift of forgiveness is free.

We define ourselves by our hurt, believe we are a martyr, are lonely, or wear our hurt like a badge

Sometimes we tell the story of how we were hurt again and again to our friends, remaining angry about the nerve of the other person. We cling to the hurt. We ban together with others who have also experienced our hurt. We push it in the face of others. We want others to know how hurt we are.

When we feel hurt and lonely, we wish to have company where we are—which is most easily done if someone Cody, Arnold, Genaroelse also feels lonely or even just lowly. We dwell on the negative and tear down the other person in or conflict—or even lash out at unsuspecting passersby. In a way, we are comforted by someone else feeling what we feel.

Too often we are so focused upon our pain that we forget that the person who hurt us may already feel hurt too. In fact, some of their prior hurt is probably at the root of their action.

Finding solidarity with others who have been hurt is not a bad thing. However, eventually, the healing process takes us outside of our hurt. We have to do the hard work of letting go that Jesus makes look so effortless. We liberate both ourselves and others when we forgive. This work takes time. It is hard. But it is also good to be defined by something other than hurt.

We say it is too hard, avoid it, or believe others should just ‘get over it’

The truth is that forgiveness is hard, so we frequently gloss over it or avoid it entirely. True Christians forgive, we say to the person we hurt. Or we decide it’s really their problem if they don’t like what we did, they should just get over whatever ails them.

Sometimes we even engage the process of forgiveness for a little while, then stop and abandon the relationship entirely—it really was not working out anyway and I don’t have the energy for this.

Some of us believe conflict is to be avoided at all costs, and so we avoid the elephant in the room or even the person if we think that they will make us talk about our difference of opinions. Or perhaps, we tell ourselves, if we turn a blind eye to a problem, it will cease to exist. Even when the other person is eager to put in the work, we step away and make excuses like, ‘I am stable, my life is stable, and those who rock my placid stability do not maintain a lifestyle that I wish to further engage.’

Talking about hurt feelings is always hard and uncomfortable, but it has to happen. Never will we find someone else who agrees with us all of the time. We will find ourselves lonely or without real, intimate relationships if we always run away when conflict arises.

Yes, there are times when the healthiest thing we can do is take time away from a relationship. But at the very least, we should directly name our intention to stop the conversation for a time and express our hope for the health and well-being of all involved.

We get defensive

Defensiveness is not an emotion or a tactic that we are taught early on to identify, like happy or sad or angry. I literally had no idea what the term meant for years. When we are defensive, we all make excuses for ourselves and our bad behavior based on what we intended. When we hear that we have hurt someone, we defend what we did—after all, ‘I am a good person’ or ‘I didn’t mean that.’ Even if we can admit fault, or that we should have done things differently, we forget the simple power of two words: ‘I’m sorry.’

Without blaming the victim, it is important to see how both parties always play a part. Learning happens for both the offender and the offendee—perhaps I need to learn to control how I express my anger, perhaps I need to leave an abusive conversation more quickly, perhaps I acted without consulting someone. Not only will humility be your friend in this process of self-reflection, but it will also help you hear and honor the experience of the other person.

When we stand alone

And when one of us cannot, for whatever reason, engage the process, we still have to separate out what we contributed to the situation from what the other person contributed. Sometimes we will have to learn to forgive someone without conversation. Other times we will have to forgive ourselves for our poor choices in engaging another.

It is such a relief when we offer forgiveness to one another, but we should never remain ensnared in guilt or shame or hurt or anger because someone continues to try and punish us. In every painful situation, there is much more there than is ours alone.

OUR HOPE

I am grateful to say that I have some truly remarkable colleagues, friends, and family members with whom I have the privilege of sharing the gift of life. Things are not always easy, but they have helped teach me how to live in love and work through both my hurt and their hurt.

We need to have the courage to say ‘I’m sorry.’ We need to have the courage to say, ‘I forgive you.’ So often we say everything else.

Some things are a big deal. Some things are a small deal. But all the things need to be dealt with. To journey through difficult times together, we must be dedicated to our relationships and trust that what is said is said in love. We will both have work to do along the way. When we are healthy, we can allow ourselves to feel the full spectrum of emotions—grief, anger, hurt, kindness, and compassion—toward a person with whom we are in 64681_865416436388_2703986_47956248_1169912_nconflict. In forgiveness and reconciliation, we acknowledge our hurt and anger, but more than that, we learn to respond to our feelings from a place of kindness rather than rage. Working through hurt requires both parties to be vulnerable—vulnerable about weakness (I was hurt) and vulnerable about fault (that happened as a result of what I did). We will both feel exposed.

We have to learn to name what we need after a conflict—not to hold another person for ransom, but to help speed the process of reconciliation. Naming needs can help us establish new boundaries or regain trust. Sometimes we just need to sit in silence, to take a break from anger and sadness, or to return to the situation later. Eventually, we are called to learn from our mistakes, to move forward, and to make memories.

Thanks be to God that God offers us the gift of forgiveness and empowers us to forgive each other.

Ten Years at Mercy

By: Johnathan Wells

The past ten years have been a pleasure to watch and experience. Mercy has undergone many changes, and I have been there to witness all of them. We at Mercy are blessed to be fed and clothed with good, orderly IMG_6571direction. For many of us, we are aiming for a more disciplined life, though each member is given freedom of choice in all their affairs. Pastors Chad Hyatt and Maggie Leonard have been wonderful in their contributions to growing Mercy Church. We are also blessed that other churches mingle with us and serve along side of us as volunteers. I personally like participating in the youth development with church groups from across the country—experiences with groups from North and South Carolina have been particularly meaningful for me. Pastor Maggie is a wonderful yoga instructor and does well with crisis management. It is my hope that the members of Mercy Church will encourage their leadership team to broaden the church programs to emphasize self-dependency. May God grant and give us at Mercy God’s wonderful grace to better our choices and to serve each other for many years to come.

Celebrating Ten Years: We Are Mercy

By: Chad Hyatt

It catches folks by surprise when they first hear us use it. Frequently they even ask us about it. If they stick around long enough, they use it too. Theologians sometimes debate what constitutes the ‘marks’ of the church—IMG_2038those essential characteristics that make a church really church, in the big-C sense. One of the distinctive marks of Mercy is the way we use a pronoun.

It is not unusual for us to talk about a wide variety of community struggles using the first person plural. Our surprising use of the language of ‘we’ may be as good a way as any to describe the essence of what God has done in this little community over the last ten years.

We are homeless, even if some of us live in houses. We are alcoholics in need of recovery, even if some of us have never sipped more than the wine of communion. We are in danger of deportation, even if some of us were born here. We are prisoners, even if some of us have never been convicted of any crime. ‘We’ is the natural pronoun when something more powerful than difference defines who we are.

When people ask me to describe Mercy, I just say, ‘We are a church.’ Many people do not immediately think of us as a church. They may see us as an expression of church—like an outreach, or a mission, or a ministry. And, yes, we do incorporate all those aspects in one way or another. But none of those things alone get to the core, the absolute essence, of who we are. Church does. We are a church, a congregation, a visible community of the much larger, much older, much more ‘catholic’ body of Christ. We are part of that—a particular, tangible expression of that—the mystery that is church.

Metaphorically and in reality, Jesus Christ is at the center of our community, calling us from many scattered places to gather together around himself. Every Sunday, like an old-fashioned revival, we form a meandering circle of sisters and brothers holding hands around our communion table, where Jesus himself holds out open arms of invitation to all. To me, that’s a powerful image of what it means to be church.

But at Mercy, we believe there is more to the call to be church. Imagine you are operating a camera in a movie, and what we have just described is a close-up, focused on Jesus and then slowly moving out to see the crowd that is coming from every direction to gather around him. Now imagine the script directions are for the same camera to pan outward, moving away from Jesus so that we can now see where he and the group around him is situated in the broader landscape. Jesus and the people who stand with him are seemingly at the edge of this bigger picture.

Jesus goes to the margins—what Pope Francis calls the ‘peripheries’ or we just called the ‘edge’—in order to show he is the center of all things. And unless we go there, following him where he chooses to be in our world, we cannot be held together. We certainly cannot be held together as church in any real sense, and perhaps not even as any kind of authentic expression of human togetherness at all. I honestly believe any other way of forming human community will eventually disintegrate into little more than a barely disguised defense against our deepest fears of chaos.

Our use of the language of ‘we’ at Mercy surprises others. But I don’t think it is because a group of people feel a shared sense of community. That’s unexceptional, in and of itself. I believe it is because this particular group of people have the audacity feel it. We have crossed long-held lines to get to where Jesus has called us. These are the lines that separate folks who live under a roof from those who live on the streets. These are the lines that continue to segregate children of God on the basis of the color of their skin, or their nation of origin, or degree of education, or gender—or any of a thousand different lines of division we have devised for ourselves. But the lines that once divided us have now been redrawn into the sign of the cross, binding us all together. The world believes we are too different to ever become one community. But the truth is we have grown into a very non-traditional family, freely talking of one another as sisters and brothers—with an all-inclusive and liberating ‘we.’

Am I papering over the very real and sometimes exceedingly painful differences we still experience? Am I trying to force our rich and beautiful diversity into a bland, tasteless ‘melting pot’? I don’t think so. We are gloriously and dangerously diverse. Such is the true nature of the call of Jesus. But once gathered around him and led into genuine relationship with one another, we discover we are one. We are one in our brokenness and one in our beloved-ness, one as ‘sinners’ and one in our ‘call to be saints.’

This is the hard-earned grace of making a commitment to ten years of community. You might glimpse it, but you probably will not take it fully to heart on a week-long mission trip or in a summer ‘urban immersion.’ These are baptismal waters into which we are being plunged, and they require at least a lifetime to live out.

I don’t think there is anything new here. But there is something to see. Just flip through any Lives of the Saints. You will read, more often than not, the story of someone who discovers anew the life-changing love of God, and quite completely undone by it all, sets out in humble but very tangible ways to share in and perhaps in some small way to relieve the suffering of our sisters and brothers. The result is that often a small community is formed and the truly radical and revolutionary heart of the gospel is rediscovered once more.

At Mercy, we do not believe that we are the answer to every problem the church or the world faces. We are not so foolish as to think our way is new and novel or best or that history has been waiting on us. We are just following Jesus to where we sense that he is and trying to be church as he would want us to be. And, quite frankly, that is something to see.

Helping us to see is what this particular, special issue does best: it is packed with photos, pulled from across our ten years together. We have included a few favorite articles from previous issues. And there are new reflections, too—just to show that this celebration isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, no matter how wonderful the past has been. We are still moving ever onward, following the path down which Jesus is leading—in ways always new to us, always hopeful, always overflowing with mercy.

Tubs, Suds, and Glory

By: Alan Mackie

Last month I was having breakfast with Chad and my pastor, George Tatro of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. Over the grits, Chad reminded us of a conversation that we had had some months previously about Memorial Drive washing the clothes for the members of Mercy. IMG_2514

As the need had become quite urgent, the solution was seemingly straightforward. I rather boldly committed Memorial Drive to doing the washing twice a month, starting within the week.

And so our laundry ministry was born. Chad delivered nine large bags of dirty laundry to Memorial Drive.  In committing our new endeavour to God, a bag of the dirty laundry was brought into the sanctuary and dedicated as a part of our weekly offering in our Sunday service. By Wednesday, I had three other volunteers to join me at the Medlock coin wash to sort, wash, dry, and fold.  We had fun and fellowship with each other, so much so that some of the other patrons became curious to know what we were up to.

At the end of the first evening, before leaving the laundry, we stood, held hands and said the grace together. Then one of our number pointed to the ceiling and said, “To God be the Glory”. It made me think: can the simple and practical task of washing dirty clothes be described as “glorious?” I don’t know for sure, but I believe that in God’s hands it can. And God will be glorified, if doing the laundry softens our hearts and makes us more loving towards those who live on the hard edges of society. As the laundry ministry gets underway, I believe God has much to teach us amidst the  “tubs and suds.”

The other week, we read together the late Lynda Baker’s homeless psalm and considered our own struggles and connivance with the ‘System’ that could not break Lynda.

We like to think of the laundry as a ministry, because it sets it apart from our routine chores and helps us to be mindful that we are doing the washing in simple obedience of Christ’s injunctions to love our neighbour and make sure that “the naked are clothed.” We even have a short reflection on Scripture, sitting there on the benches in the coin wash while the washing cycle is underway.

I am also delighted to say that friends from North Decatur Presbyterian Church are joining our laundry ministry and a local mosque is committed to donating clothes. We all believe, you see, that the God of Abraham is a God of promises and God is working through all God’s children.

Dante’s Baptism

By: Megan Hodges

Surrounded by all of God’s followers

Dante Evan Weaver was welcomed John, Magee, Dante

with open arms and open hearts.

Drop by drop,

water gently touched Dante’s head

as he was blessed in the name

of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is as if we saw God’s Word

in the pure water dripping

on Dante’s face:

grace,

forgiveness,

love.

The joyous  community gathered around the little table

and welcomed Dante into

the Mercy community.

Everyone was able to witness

God’s love at Mercy’s first baptism.

The 35-Year Layover

By: Vickie Headrick

My name is Vickie Headrick.  I came to Atlanta 35 years ago by way of a Greyhound bus in 1978.  I was coming from Montgomery, headed towards Knoxville—I had a two and a half hour layover here in Atlanta and have been here ever since.Vicki's Hands

Mercy was, and is, a safe haven for me.  It has been a good place for me to visit, especially when there is bad weather (our worst nightmare on the streets).  Before I started attending Mercy I had been homeless for about 15 years off and on.  I am glad to have a place where I am welcome during the day.  I spend a lot of time walking—sometimes all day and half the night— looking for a place where I am welcome to rest or lay my head.  Sometimes I can manage to find a friend to put me up for a few days, it’s nice to get a shower, a fresh change of clothes, and be able to rest peacefully.  Sometimes one of God’s angels comes along and puts me up in a hotel for a couple days.  Much of my day is spent trying to find refuge from the weather or find a spot where I would go unnoticed.

I like how Mercy built itself as community and how we help and nurture our friends, homeless or not.  Mercy has helped me to utilize my spare time.  Like the phrase goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”  I know that I will always have a place to come, not only to utilize the facilities, but to have a chance to mingle with my friends, and participate in Bible studies and recovery meetings.  I have learned a lot.

Recently, we at Mercy joined up with the good people of St. John’s Lutheran Church.  They put aside a part of their church property to have a garden with us.  I had a good time gathering with them at the church one Saturday to start the project.  We nailed boards together to create raised beds, which we then painted and filled with dirt.  There is one bed of tomatoes, another of squash, a third with melons, and the last is filled with strawberries!  It was well worth getting dirty for the project; we will be eating well this summer!

Listen, Picture, Pop

By: Lynda Baker

It’s Friday: time for good old Lectio Divina—my new favorite way of studying God’s word!  Lectio Divina is a way of praying and listening for what God has to say to us that has deep roots within the church.  At Mercy, we use it to help us study the Bible and get firmly rooted in a passage.

When we study this way, I do not know what passage has been chosen for the Bible study.  In part, this is done because many of us like to read along.  Instead, we are encouraged to listen, at least for the first two of the three times we read the passage.  When we listen to words, instead of reading them, we process the information IMG_4981differently, new ideas stand out to us.  I settle back and listen to God, pretending this is the first time I have heard it.

The first time we read the passage, we are invited to notice one word without any additional comments.  I am like a shallow swimmer, floating at the deep end of the pool.  Lectio helps me to dig—or swim—deeper, especially when I don’t know the context of the passage.  I like to picture the passage as it is read.  When it is “the word” for me, its picture takes me over, and it is all I see.  It just seems to pop out!

We read the passage again—or rather, it is read to us again.  After a brief silence, we again share, this time a phrase taken directly from the scriptures.  This time it is like I am bobbing on the surface of the pool, sometimes dunking underwater, fully wet.  I just listen, picture, and pop—again!

As we look at the board where our words and phrases are listed, as a community we start to see the movement of the larger picture.  Or if multiple people share the same word or phrase, we can see where God is directing the attention of the church.

Together we read, not just listen to, the passage one final time.  This time the book, chapter, and verses are announced.  We are encouraged to consider the “so what?” of the passage—our own questions and where we feel like our lives connect to the passage.  I share with the rest of the church what God has been speaking to me in the passage and have the opportunity to hear the experiences of my fellow community members.  I finally dive into the deep, cool waters of the swimming pool, surrounded by God’s word and grace.   That’s why we have come to love Lectio Divina in our community!