Brief Statement of Faith: Broken and Fearful
This is the second in a series on the “Holy Spirit Section” of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith. If you missed the first entry you can find it here.
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing,”
I will try not to say too much… and probably fail. I broke down our section of the Brief Statement of Faith into more manageable thought-bites, but some of these selections stayed longer than others. This is a long one and I wish to break it down further:
“In a broken and fear world…”
Confessions in the Reformed Tradition are conditional statements. They speak as the community of the church, as we experience it now, articulated to a world, as we perceive it now, the truth of the gospel, as we hear it now. So while it must articulate what we believe, it is of equal importance to name the conditions of the world to which we speak. The Brief Statement of faith here names that our work is broken. It claims that our world is fearful.
There is a powerful testimony here. There is nothing to be gain by avoiding the elephants in the room. We do not avoid being open about hard realities. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are we must confront the wildness within and around us. We name it and look it straight in the eye in hope that doing so we can learn much about ourselves, and much about God. We speak God’s word to it, in sure and certain hope that such a word will prove transforming.
I resonant with the words the church chose here: broken and fearful. The angels and messengers of God again and again repeat the refrain: Do not be afraid. We are afraid of failing, we are afraid of not being good enough, we are afraid to be known, to be alone, sometimes we are even afraid to succeed. We fear the unknown, and we fear being lost in a crowd. There is much that we fear and this fear leads us to a kind of despair that Soren Kierkegaard likens, “a sickness unto death.” Scripture then reminds us again and again to allow the power of God as love to cast out such fear.
So it is that God comes to those who are broken. …broken shards of pottery… broken identities… broken lives… it is to those who are broken in body, spirit, and emotion that God comes to speak peace and good news. It is through such brokenness that God displays the only kind of power to which God aspires. If you read through scripture again and again you will find God’s vitality being lived out through broken people. Conniving Jacob, stuttering and hiding Moses, bloody David, Peter of little faith, Paul in his affliction, and Thomas in his questioning. The only figure that God ever led God’s people through that wasn’t broken was Jesus… and you know what? In order to fulfill himself he had to become broken. God comes to, and speaks through, our brokenness.
“…the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing.”
Praying is a strangely daunting task. I am amazed how often in a group of passionate and faithful people there will be no-one willing to lead us in prayer. Why? Perhaps we think too much of prayer. Perhaps we think too little. Prayer isn’t a magic spell and there is no way to say the words wrong. Beautiful prayers don’t get better hearing and results. Flat and fumbling prayers are not without meaning. Prayer is simply the process of speaking our thoughts, hurts, hopes, and cares to God. We may speak them in emotive silence, with water color paints, with mindless chores, and with poetic words. We may just say them in short clipped bits of rote prayers recalled from childhood. The form doesn’t matter, and God is quite clear that it isn’t meant to be a public performance.
I think prayer is really about the same task as confessions – speaking ourselves into a new reality. Just as a writer has to write as a creative discipline, practicing getting thoughts out on a page, I think that prayer is rehearsing the Kingdom of God. Not for God’s benefit, and not as petition for some action on the part of God. I think prayer is a thought experiment in reminding ourselves for what we aspire: mutual care, thanksgiving, good news for those in distress, the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams with regards to God’s creative enterprise. Prayer is a litany whereby we remind ourselves of the work we are meant to be about in the world, but also a cathartic expression of dashed hopes. Prayer is a speaking of the promises God has made to us and us to God where we essential rehearse the covenant in which we live together. And this is important work, and so in a world of broken people with much fear – fear even to speak our hopes and name our fears – it is daring work that the Spirit encourages us to pray, and to make our life a prayer – without ceasing.