Pentecost 95

Pentecost 95
My Psalm 95

I Look to You

I still remember the taste of fear when, having offered to teach church school, I was told I being given the kindergarten class. I’ve talked about some of the insights these little prophets gave me that year. However, one of the most truthful things ever said was when the lesson called for me to pass out pieces of paper and ask the kids to draw God. Suddenly the room got quiet and all I could hear was the scratching of crayons on the paper. Then I noticed the kids looking at each other. I gently admonished them to make their own drawings and told them none of us probably saw God the same. One precocious child asked if I could stop talking and be still. Since the others seemed unmoved by my comments, I did.

When my class was finished, I asked each one to share. The first little girl shyly held up her masterpiece and the kids clapped. The next one also got applause. The third, my precocious angel, said, “I didn’t draw my friend. I drew the teacher.” No one seemed surprised and it was then that I realized the rest of the class had indeed drawn a picture (or five-year-old facsimile) of their friends – all except this young man. Stunned I reminded him and the class that I was not God. The shyest of my charges raised her hand. “But we see the face of God in love and kindness, right?” As the buzzer sounded to end to end the class, the kids walked past me with patient smiles of sympathy. Being up the rear, my precocious artist stopped by my chair. “Don’t worry. Keep coming every Sunday and you’ll learn’” he encouraged.

Cicero first mentioned the advantages of friendship in saying there should be shared sympathy. Others have also noted the importance of it. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”

The confidence one gains from friends cannot be understated. It is the momentum that helps us survive life. How then do we view that Great Spirit or deity? Could it, he, she be a friend? In today’s vernacular, the term BFF is most popular. Many young people feel their sole purpose is to be someone’s’ Best Friend Forever. Can our faith be our BFF?
“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” Kahlil Gibran spoke not of Cicero’s sharing of sympathy but of the joy of friendship. Do we expect our spirituality, our faith to offer the same?

In his book “Stages of Faith”, James Fowler listed his six stages of faith. Later the same decade, author and psychologist M. Scott Peck offered a simplified version of four stages. Fowler’s first two stages were intuitive (preschool) and mythic (school age). Both involve acceptance of what we have been told, usually by our parents and traditions of our culture. Peck combined these stages into something he termed chaotic and antisocial, describing those in this stage as self-centered. The third stage for Fowler is termed synthetic or conventional and corresponds to Peck’s second stage or institutional or traditional. While the descriptive terms might not conflicting, both men recognize this stage as one in which the person takes their identity from the larger group which has their allegiance. While Fowler’s teenagers might see themselves as rebelling, they are aligning themselves to a tightly knit set of standards, the same as Peck’s. One example of this is the teenager who says they are rebelling against the traditional garb in order to express their own individuality but just ends up wearing exactly what everyone else their age is wearing. Both groups react negatively when their beliefs are challenged at this stage. Not surprising, the next stages for both charts involve development of an individual belief. Fowler calls this individuative-reflective while Peck simply refers to it as individual-skeptic. Both are characterized by thinking outside of the prior belief system, or as Fowler describes it, thinking outside of the box. This can be a scary stage because it involves challenging preconceived truths and venturing into development of personal beliefs. For Peck, this may be a time of abandoning religion and faith altogether.

Fowler’s last two stages are reached, he states, later in life and the last stage is seldom attained. His Conjunctive Faith stage is often a review of everything experienced before and realizing that much of faith will remain a mystery. The last stage for Fowler is Universalizing Faith, a period in which one has stopped worrying and simply lives for expressing love and service to others. Peck’s last stage also focuses on the community, being entitled Mystical-Communal. He also recognizes the inevitability of knowing that no one can ever fully explain faith and that some things remain a mystery. The best answers are found in placing emphasis on the community and not individual concerns.

My five-year class knew something most of us take forever to realize. When life’s storms come and the sunshine of our life goes dark, we need to look to our faith and our friends. For me, friendship is a hug I give myself. We find strength in our friends and there, we see the face of love and community.

My Psalm 95

Lord, in you is my heart.
In you is my confidence.
I can’t explain everything about you.
I cannot describe your smile except
I see it in the face of others.
It is in the words of my friends that I hear your voice.
Community and faith are my strength.
I will forever look to you, O God.
In you is my peace, my rest.

Importance of friend – seeing the face of God in them

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