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Flow. What images comes to mind when I say the word flow? A stream. Breath in and out of the body (slide). Blood coursing through veins and arteries (slide). Energy (slide) . Wind (slide). Waves in the ocean (slide).
There are so many just natural and normal everday occurances for us to discover flow. But Flow also talks about those intense moments in time where we join something beyond us. Something mysterious. Writers might think of the time when words naturally begin to take form and shape and bring life to an idea. Our greatest actors understand flow. These actors work incredibly hard to create a character and feel and move and dress and find similarities between themselves and the person and then they let go and they are that person.
You can see it happen with Robert Williams in Dead Poet Society. There is a scene where he is talking about how much he loved his wife who had passed away. At first it is an intense moment and then he cuts a joke about missing her farting in her sleep at night and he and matt Damon bust up laughing. You just know that his words were not a part of the script but in the moment he became that character and he knew this was what that character would have said. Richard Rohr says “any gifted person knows this to be true. They look like geniuses to the outsider and they often are, but there is method behind their holy madness. They have learned to wait for and fully expect what Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi brilliantly calls “Flow.”
Flow has movement and connection.
Flow is as ordinary as breath and as magical as art. Flow connects us deeply to the things of this earth but also allows us to stretch up towards the mystery of the heavens. For me, when I hear the word flow, I think of yoga. Last week in class, the focus on the class was this saying, “I am rooted and so I flow.” As I moved through the class I thought about how the strength of my legs allowed by upper body to bend and twist. I thought about how my mind was rooted or focused on my breath and that this breath flowing through me activated each and every pose. I feel this best in tree pose .
My strong leg sends energy down to all that is earthy and human and yet my arms reach with similar energy and strength towards the heavens. I feel energy coursing through my body as i activate every muscle but if I am open to it I also feel the energy of the earth and the heavens flowing through me. Now, in the church, we use this same flowing language to describe the mystery of the Spirit. Spirit as descending dove. Spirit as fire and wind and water. Spirit as here in the beginning of creation hovering over the deep and spirit as power descending on the people at Pentecost. John 3:8 says this “the wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The spirit flows wherever the spirit flows and when the power of the spirit comes, we flow… Let us hear the story of Pentecost this morning thinking about this idea of flow.
Let us read the Pentecost story together this morning.
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures and he said to them this it is written, that the messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. Then he led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Acts 2: 1-4
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the holy spirit and began to speak I other languages as the spirit gave them ability.
Acts 2: 42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need. Day by day as they spent much time together in the temple they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Today is the day in the life of the church that we celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost is really the culmination of our Easter Celebration. Jesus’ resurrection showed God’s power to act in human history and even God’s power over death. Resurrections power to bring Jesus back from the dead was poured out on all people of all nations. Now we celebrate that the power of resurrection was given to you and to me through the flow of the Holy Spirit. I think it is through step 6 of the 12 steps that we encounter this flow and I think Our Pentecost story gives us great insight into how this step works.
For those of you who are just joining us we are in a teaching series following Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Underwater. In this book, we are looking at the 12 steps to recovery that AA follows. We see the deep spiritual connections to the 12 steps and we can identify with the idea that we all have our own issues. Each of us has character defects, struggles and addictions. And so we entered the 12 steps with step 1 acknowledging that we all are addicted to something: shopping, the internet, approval, drama “I call these ambulance chasers!”, sex, pain medications, perfection….you name it and someone in here probably has a story. These addictions are blocking and even fighting the flow of God in our life. In steps 1-3, we decide to admit our powerlessness over these addictions and we acknowledge our great need for God’s holy power to work in our life. Then in steps 4-6, we are challenged to do the intense and hard work of looking deeply into our lives in order to discover areas that are blocking the flow of God in our life. Today we are looking at step 6 which states (slide) “were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character. Hear the flow as I state this step in a different way “We have to practice opening our heart, mind and body to God in order to be ready for what God is already doing.”
Let’s take the 1st part of that statement “entirely ready.”
Luke tells us both in his gospel and in Acts that after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples and opened their minds to the scriptures. Then Jesus ascends into heaven and we see the followers of Jesus continuing to practice their faith. We see them doing the very ordinary daily practices of spending time in the temple, worshipping, praying and spending time with each other. But while these ordinary acts were performed they were awaiting the power of the holy spirit to come. They were practicing with anticipation!
So, what does it mean to practice with anticipation? Photographer Ansel Adams who would wait days and hours for the perfect circumstances and ideal light to take his iconic photos said it like this, (slide)“Chance favors the prepared mind.” This idea that magical art the kind that takes our breaths away happens when the artist continues to practice their craft in the most ordinary sense but they do so awaiting a moment of divine inspiration or what Ansel Adams calls Chance!
Richard Rohr says it like this, “So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months and years of “fear and trembling.”
We see this in artists who practice their craft daily eagerly awaiting the spark of inspiration. We see this in lovers who practice loving deeply and in tender moments ignite the flame of passion and desire. Sparks and flames come from practicing an openness and a willingness, from anticipation and waiting and longing. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples eagerly awaited the coming of the spirit and continued practicing their faith which readied them for whatever God would do. Or you can say it readied them for what God was already doing! But the readying is not a step they skipped. They readied themselves through study and worship and prayer and through loving and serving each other. They did the work to be entirely ready!
Flow. Flow has ordinary but intentional work but Flow has a bit of magic!
The sixth step says “were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character”
The second part of this statement “to have God remove” is where the magic happens because we let go and await what God is going to do.
Here is a story that Brian McLaren shared in his book Finding our Way again. I think it speaks to the magic and mystery of step 6.
Imagine a great violinist who gives 200 concerts a year. Let’s say that 3 of her concerts were disastrous—she had the flu or her bridge broke in the middle of the evening, or a fire alarm buzzed five min into her first song. Let’s say that 190 of her concerts were good-some stronger than others, but the crowds were satisfied. And what were the remaining 7 concerts? They were exceptional, the reviewers might say: Inspired, transcendent, ecstatic. They might even use the term magical, but of course they don’t mean it in a literal sense. They mean that some inexplicable things converged that night and the music somehow unleashed latent power that was unknown the other 193 nights. The violinist herself can’t explain this. She feels on those nights that she has been taken up to a higher level, that on those 7 nights a glorious mystery has filled her and the audience and the sound waves that connect them….She knows that what happened those nights was not simply in her power; she was every bit as prepared, practiced, serious, committed and dedicated the other nights as well.
In Step 6 there is a divine flow moving us between ordinary practice and anticipating a God encounter.
Some of us may be really comfortable with the first part of step 6, the idea that we have to work on ourselves and scripture supports this idea that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling like it says in Philippians 2:12. We have to do the deep work!
Then there are others of us who know deep in our guts that God is so powerful that God will speak and it is done and scripture supports this by saying that salvation is a gift from God so that no one can boast. Thank God for Grace!
So is it all up to us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?
Is it all up to God so that no one can boast?
The answer is simply YES! Paul in Phillippians 3:12 puts it like this “I have not yet won, but I am still running to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me.” We run to get the prize which Jesus has already captured us to give to us freely! WHAT! We ready ourselves for Grace which is already happening. Sometimes this may feel like a relay race where you have run your leg of the race and then you hand the baton to God expecting God will do the rest but more than likely it is like partner ice skating where we don’t realize that God is the one holding onto me the whole time. God is the one empowering me to fly through the air and God is the one holding onto me as the motions of our body become as one.
The followers of Jesus practiced their faith in such a way that their hearts; minds and bodies were open and they waited expectantly for God to Flow. And God flowed through the power of the Holy Spirit. The power flowed through them causing all the people to be filled with awe. Power flowed through them and many signs and wonders took place. Flow.
So, Let us be people who work the steps. Let us be who we are….. a community of faith in practice.
May we be open to The God Flow.