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October 27, 2015, 9:47 AM

Telling Our Stories

Up until I attended my first contemplative retreat, I tended to keep my own spiritual explorations and insights to myself.  But at that first retreat, we were assigned things to contemplate as we went for silent walks and we were to bring back some object that symbolized an answer that we had received.  Back in the group, sharing what had come to you was optional; and that first day, I seldom did.  But, other people’s sharing often resonated so strongly with me, that it felt as though their insight had actually been intended as a divine message for me.   By the second day, I was feeling a responsibility to share my insights because I realized that they might be useful for others in the group as well.

The Christian faith practice of witness and testimony is based in the understanding that we are all companions on life’s journey and we can help one another by sharing our stories.  Witness and testimony is about telling about your own experiences for the purpose of raising awareness, empowering, or encouraging others.  Telling about our experiences in order to complain, criticize or gossip throws stumbling blocks onto the path.  But telling our story in order to encourage someone who is walking the same path we are walking helps us both make progress on the path.

This morning, a friend who is trying to make a regular habit of meditation called me.  I have practiced meditation since 1972 and find daily meditation essential to maintain equanimity and compassion in my work as a pastor.  So she was calling me for encouragement.  She told me that she had started her day with meditation three days in a row; but her mind felt like ping-pong balls bouncing everywhere.  I shared my experience that every session is different, and most mornings, there are plenty of ping pong balls bouncing around in my mind as well.  She had assumed that with all my experience, I must just immediately go into deep contemplative awareness and bliss out when I meditate.  I reassured her that when I was in college, with no responsibilities beyond my studies and summer job, my meditation was often deep and quiet and I had interesting spiritual experiences.  But, as my responsibilities have multiplied over the years, so have the monkeys that plague my “monkey mind.”  However, the beneficial physical, mental, and emotional effects of meditation are the same no matter how many times I have to gently redirect my mind to my breath.  My friend was relieved and encouraged to know that she hadn’t “failed” meditation.

I was encouraged recently by the testimony of the Reverend Sally Bingham, Episcopal Canon for the Environment and founder of the Interfaith Power and Light movement.  She spoke in our Meeting House and shared her story of how she went from housewife to environmental activist and priest.  Rather than just scare us all with statistics on global warming; she bore witness to the work that congregations all over the country are doing to cut their carbon emissions and educate their communities.  Her testimony impressed upon us all the moral responsibility we have to protect the poor and powerless of this world from the global effects of unchecked pollution and climate change caused by the rich and powerful of this world.  Her story encouraged and empowered her listeners to be part of the solution.

In worship recently, we heard testimony from three transgender individuals about their life journeys and their experience of welcome (or not) in Christian faith communities.  Their witness made us aware of the depth and breadth of the extravagant welcome that we are called by Christ’s example to offer to the marginalized people of our day.

On All Saints Day, we share our own stories of the people in our lives whose witness has been influential in our journeys of faith.  Sharing our own testimonies deepens our connection with one another and reminds us of the influence we can be in the faith lives of others. 

Who has encouraged or empowered you on your journey or embodied the love of God in your life?  And who have you encouraged with your testimony?


11-26-2015 at 9:59 PM
Sari Max-Fiss
You, Cheryl, have inspired me. My dear, departed (almost one year ago) spiritual director, Susan Jorgensen, embodied love of God in my life - and continues to do so.
I have encouraged many with my testimony. - students, friends, strangers. I put it out there all the time. It's where I "live".
Thank you for sharing your journey, Cheryl.
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