Blessing by proxy – Rethinking the Sacrament of Administration

I know.  Weird title.  But, bear with me.  I’m trying to talk about something like intercessory prayer…but in the spirit of community. 

I went to three reunions this summer.  (Community of Christers call family camp or church camp “reunion”.)  At them, I had several wonderful spiritual experiences. 

…such communicating with God still amazes me. 

During prayer service one morning, I sensed the Holy Spirit in a special way.  As I write this, I can still feel the mix of humility, inspiration, and love involved in what happened.  It is difficult to describe. 

At this prayer service, the presider led us into time of prayer requests.  A steady flow of prayer requests began to pour out of the people.  Each was unique and heart-felt.  Some, heart-breaking.   There were family members mortally ill, loved ones in prison, children with cancer.  Each prayer request was obviously carried close to the petitioner’s heart. 

Listening to the list of supplications, I added a couple myself.  I wanted to join the outpouring of trust in Jesus’ love that was evident in the flow of concern.   What was amazing, however, was the way the prayer concerns began to transform our worship space.  As people’s hearts began opening up, our worship became very real.  As some shared, their hearts slowly broke, almost in a spirit of sacrifice.  The vulnerability to God created a green cathedral beneath the canopy of oak and maple leaves. 

I can’t explain exactly how.  But, in the midst all this, I suddenly felt the Holy Spirit.  It came in a moment of vision seen only in my mind’s eye.  I felt lead into the heart of worship.   I cannot easily describe what I felt, but I recognized what it was. 

Administration by Jack Garnier

Administration by Jack Garnier

I saw a picture.  In it, I saw myself and other ministers administering to those offering their prayer requests.  (“Administration” is the name of a sacrament in which the sick or those seeking a special blessing are anointed with oil and prayed over.)  What was special about the administrations was what God was doing with them.  One the one hand, we were praying for the person making the prayer request.  But, in a way I can only see in my mind, I coudl also see that the individual that needed prayer was also being blessed.  Through these administrations, God could people in need that were not actually there.  It was as if I was seeing the sacrament of administration in the Holy Spirit of community.  Blessing by viritue of relationship.  Blessed to be a blessing.  Giving blessing by proxy.

What was most spiritual about the picture was the message that clarified it.  Through administering to the person making the prayer request, the one they carried upon their heart would also be blessed by the administration.

This is what is a little difficult to describe.  It was clear.  It was not about someone receiving administration in the stead of someone else.  The mother, father, sister, friend, who’s heart was heavy for a loved one was the recipient of the administration.  But, so was the actual person they were carrying upon their heart.  Like the friends who carried their paralytic friend up to the roof of the house Jesus was at and, after tearing away the thatch, lowered him in – the friends and the paralytic could be blessed.

It is a radical idea that an anointing and prayer of administration for the petitioner could also be an anointing and blessing of someone in need of healing or God’s presence.   In this way, we literally can reach out to others who are not physically there.  As people, we are not discrete individuals, but are connected.  Through the blessing of one, others can receive prayer and blessing by proxy: receiving blessing one through another.

It is a difficult differentiation to make.  But, the leading I felt that day was beautiful.

I continue to think about administrations and sacraments differently since that morning.  I think what I felt that day was a confirmation of our call to rethink the church in the name of community.   It is not only appropriate, but important that we administer to someone and do so mindful of their connection to another.  Sometimes, we carry many people within us upon our hearts.  Maybe, it is how Jesus uses us to carry one another (think Footprints in the Sand).  We are not just discrete individuals that are held up for God’s blessing in administration; it is everyone intimately connected to them – one to another.

Imagine:  Not getting administered to in place of someone you love and is suffering, but asking for God’s special blessing for their sake.  Such a hope puts us in the web of God’s goodness and interconnections.  It widens the spiritual circle of God’s blessing to others, in the name of community.  Relationships, themselves, are acknowledged as the carriers of blessing.   We are connected to each other…and those connections are sacramental, especially in times of spiritual need or healing.

I know.  I was there.

I will continue to think about administration in this way: sacraments of blessing, not just for the one seeking administration, but also for the sake of others.  Blessing is a communal affair.  We are ultimately connected.

It’s not such a strange idea, then, if you think aobut it.  Blessing by proxy.

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Happy Birthday, Kenzlee

Kenzlee,

My button.

It’s four days since your 5th birthday.  I would have posted on that day, but we are at Chicago reunion (Family Camp), and things are busy.   We are in an enchanted land, so unlike the city.  You play freely.  Outside and in.  Kids around…with every grown-up watching.  Parenting is shared, in community, the way God intended.  The safest richest yet.

Mom and I took you to ride a horse on Tuesday.  Tuesday was “your day.”  His name was Wizard.  A white quarter-horse with a gentle temper.  You held his reins in your little hands.  You followed the riding teacher with your signature focus and intent.  Left, Right.  Backward, Stop.  Wizard came to a rest.  To make him go, you had to give him a little kick.  When time was up, you almost cried.  Didn’t want to get off.

Five years ago you came into our world.  Bruised and bumped, but beautiful and new.  Your life had just woken up.  Your eyes, like today, chocolate chips.

Small and fastidious.  Good with your words.  Intent and determined.  You carry in you the spirit of hope.  You do your own thing….and don’t give up.

You’re a little person.  A whole person, who’s feelings come in concentrate: life-sized, but in smaller quantities. 

Not shy, but a slow warmer.  You loved to be picked-up or on my lap, but you know when you want to be alone.

I don’t have words for my love for you.  You truely are my heart running, playing, drawing, and dancing outside of me.

–  Love, dad

Nitty-Gritty Dirt God

The God I know and love, I know through dirt.

What is dirt? 

1.  Dirt = earth, ground, organic stuff.  This is the stuff of creation. The Nitty-Gritty Dirt God, who made life and makes life possible, made it all.  God is why the environment, sustainable agriculture, proper use of natural resources, and earth-stewardship are central to Christian faith.  

That’s dirt.  But, there is more.  Here’s the dirt on dirt.

2.  Dirt is also stuff of our lives – the stuff I bury deep down inside.  The stuff I don’t want to deal with.  The stuff I don’t want other people to see.  

“Do you know the dirt on, Matt?” 

God knows my dirt.  In fact, when I’m dealin’ with my dirt, I feel and understand the need for God the most.  The shame I carry around – often so deep, I don’t realize I have it – buried deep, but there in my thoughts and decisions.   But not just shame.  There’s the fear, embarrassment, hurt, and mistakes.   Think even of the freakin’ possiblity of making a mistake ~ big time.  Skrewing up a friendship, or a ministry opportunity, or job.  Saying the wrong thing.  Or, so fed up, you don’t care anymore.  Isn’t that what holds so many of us down – or makes us run away, escape, and pretend we’re too proud to care?   It’s a shame.

Who’s got the dirt on you?

Dirt is the stuff that rules our lives and relationships.  This dirt is spiritual.  Especially in white middle-class America-dom.  Appearence is everything, and its best not to have any dirt – or have so much it, no one takes you seriously.   That’s dirt on us.  We pretty people.

Either way, dealing with the dirt is nasty.  Makes you feel dirty.  (Now that word packs alot of different meanings!)

But, God knows my dirt.  God holds me accountable for it, but also calls me out of it – to freedom.  It’s not freedom from my dirt.  I know alot of people preach and believe that.  But, I just haven’t found that to be true.  The freedom I’ve found in Jesus is the freedom to live and love…in spite of my dirt.   And, others’.

Let me try to say it this way.  This is my testimony:  The dirt on God is that all that God loves about you and me – all that God put in you and asks of you – comes through the dirt.  In fact, the dirt makes you, YOU – and God, GOD.  And, there’s no shame in it.  In fact, this is true freedom.

God’s in the dirt.  God comes through it – not only the dirt of our lives, but also the literal dirt – the cosmic dust, the billion-year-old carbon (thanks Joni Mitchell, CSN) – that God put together and breathed life into. 

Everything is spiritual.  The Nitty-Gritty Dirt God is lord of all.

In the Kingdom, some angels wear robes of flesh

Last week, I was in a healing service at CCM Celebration, a week long family camp of the CCM.  (CCM is Contemporary Christian Ministries, a ministry affiliated with the Community of Christ.)  Many people were having healing experiences at this service: some emotional, some physical, some spiritual.  There was a lot of prayer, tears, laughter, and yearning.    I watched as ordinary people began to open up.

People have different views on healing and what healing really is.  Personally, I’m not interested in openning up this debate, here.  Suffice it to say, I’ve come to realize healing comes in many forms and in many ways.   In the end, broken or not, in some way God sees us whole.  The emotional, physical, and spiritual can’t be fully separated.  That’s why healing is almost always a process, not a one-dimensional miracle.   Any one aspect of our lives can be bruised, broken, absent or in need of healing.   It need not be supernatural, though it can be.

At this service, a young lady realized she was aching.  She had a lot of responsibilities at home, for younger siblings as well as for the adults in her life.   Like many her age, it wasn’t the right arrangement for a young life longing to be a kid. 

The worship environment was opening her up to feelings she didn’t usually feel, perhaps she didn’t realize she had.  She felt alone, hurt, and frustrated.  The service had unearthed buried needs. 

Friends close to her wrapped their arms around her as she just wept.  It had the signature of a kind of healing.  Her heart, mind, and self-understanding were slowly opening up.  As we sat together, just being present (because just being present is the most important aspect of finding healing), I watched as her friends and those who loved her listened, encouraged, prayed, and hurt with her.  Out of nowhere, words came out of my mouth as if they weren’t my own, “In the Kingdom, some angels wear robes of flesh.”   It was like revelation, describing exactly what I was witnessing.

When I was little, I used to be scared of the dark, ghosts, spirits, what have you.  Yet, through childhood I also developed a nagging pain inside because of the heavy feelings that often haunted our house.  My parents struggled valiantly for years, but finally divorced when I was about ten.  There was a lot of helpless silence and unvoiced pain between them – psychological pain and heart-felt anguish that overflowed onto my brother and I.  As a boy and first-born, I ached with my parents because my heart was wrapped up in them.  In my helplessness to do anything, over years I began to rage inside.  “If I ever get my hands on who’s causing this emptiness in my family…”   I was waiting for a spiritual target for all the hurt and anger and helplessness I learned to carry.  And, as I got older, it began mix with normal childhood fears.  When I was alone, I began imagining that if a ghost or spirit came in the dark of the night to try to frighten me, boy I would let them have it…

…because I, too, am a spiritual being.

It was in those childhood experiences that I began to realize, in baby steps, the truth that came out of my mouth that evening at the healing service.  “Some angels DO wear robes of flesh.”   We are all spiritual beings – no less than the angels or spirits some experience or see.  The difference is, we wear robes of flesh.  And, in the right Spirit, God can use us to do miraculous things.

I think the power of worship, devotion, meditation, and spiritual discipline – but ultimately the Grace of God – opens us up to these possibilities: to be God’s emissaries.  God’s healing hands, protectors, comforters, or voice of blessing. 

Sometimes, it comes in the everyday experiences of friendship, kindness, embrace, or extraordinary vulnerability.  And, other times, in the unique presence of the Holy Spirit, we are or become God’s own healing agents – fulfilling God’s deepest wishes.  Justice.  Love.  Mercy.  Healing.

The point is, everything is spiritual.  Including you and me.  There are times when I wonder if the arrival of God’s Kingdom on earth is simply a matter of perspective.   Perhaps, that’s one way to hear the invitation of the incarnate one.   Jesus was the presence of God’s reign among us.  He said, “Believe in me.”