The Experience of Prayer

Clinging Book Cover

Our Wednesday night book study group (affectionately referred to as EHS because of the first book the group read together) has been reflecting on the book "Clinging." "Clinging" is a book on prayer written from a contemplative perspective. Expanding out from the traditional evangelical approach of vocal intercessory prayer, the first two chapters have emphasized the relational aspect of prayer with a firm understanding of all prayer begins as a response to God who loves us.

The first chapter's title is "Beginning." The chapter's opening words summarizes well the chapter's intention. Emilie Griffin writes:

"There is a moment between intending to prayer and actually praying that is dark ad silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about prayer and really praying."

Griffin invites us to begin right where we are, "returning to what is true and real," touching the "possibilities of God's love." 

The second chapter on "Yielding" pokes a little closer to those fortress places in our own souls that are closed--maybe even sealed stubbornly--from the God's love. Parsing out the lines between practices that open us to prayer and prayer itself, Griffin keeps the reader engaged from her words. But yielding is hard, especially when we feel hurt by God or God's people, causing us to self protect in our vulnerability and suffering. 

As I was prepping for our study last week, I had just watched the first two episodes of the HULU produced "The Handmaid's Tale" for Season Two. For those who have seen the First Season last year, you know how violent, sexually explicit and abusive this story line is. It is repulsive. I usually turn series with this caliber of darkness off, choosing to not partake even when they are given awards and accolades from others, but because streaming affords the power to fast forward, I have continued to watch because something of the "Tale" speaks truth to my soul. 

Handmaid's Tale Image

I have wondered how such atrocious things can happen in society, become the sanctioned and enforced, especially when they are religious ideals which meant for good, become in the end abusive and destructive, separating us from the real and true.

But that is not why I write now...

There was a scene, the last scene of Episode Two, that has captivated me. It haunts me. I can still feel inside as I write now. The main character June does something. It may not mean much if you haven't journeyed the whole way to this point with the handmaid formerly known as Offred and seen the religious abuse and the liturgical formulas that are so bizarrely applied, wrenching the goodness of God from ever ounce of life, so I don't want to spoil it for anyone. But it is beautiful: God awe-ful beautiful. You can actually experience one woman's interior journey from darkness to (a little glimpse of) light that is now portrayed in four stunning minutes of filmography. 

I don't think this moment would have been so soulfully impactful if I hadn't seen where June had been. It may not have meant much if I didn't know her story and the stories of the others whose suffering I have been bombarded with in Season One and now in the start of Season Two. But there it was and I was with her.

(Big breath)

All that to say, I do think our study on prayer is important. For ourselves. For our world.

In Christ's name I pray.

-Pastor Jan


Jesus Christ Superstar

As many await to see John Legend in Jesus Christ Superstar this Sunday, I have been reminded of the first time I saw the movie in theater when I was a middle school-er. Enwrapped in the familiar story line, I was taken back by the stark in your face rock opera’s rendition in its debut on the big screen.  It was raw. It was unexpected. But it communicated something real to me then as it does now.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's telling of the last week of Jesus’ life gets at a part of the story that I think is missed in most preaching and teaching. What is missing? The angst of actually walking the narrative of the life lived. The disciples--full of sexual confusion and violent tendencies, mistaken understandings and sorrowful disappointments, devastating betrayal and anxious reactions--navigate a passion filled week when the stakes of life and death are constantly being raised. The governmental and religious authorities are portrayed as wild and dark. Being human (and yet divine), Jesus is not depicted without feeling. Together this made for a completely new telling of the divine story which I shook me to the core as young adolescent.

Gone were the pictures from my head of a sanitized Jesus and a gang of dutiful disciples. Enter in the secularized realities of godless religious and power hungry leaders.

Fresh eyes seeing and new ears listening are helpful in the reading of the scripture text. They are especially helpful when our life in God has grown dry.  They are important when the story itself has lost its potency.

I am not sure what the new updated version of Jesus Christ Superstar will say to this generation who will see it for this first time on Easter Sunday. I am hopeful though that somehow--just as it had before to a desperately lost young girl--it will speak truth.

I can still touch those places in my soul as I listen to the soundtrack. It is amazing how lodged they are in my own story of faith. 


-Pastor Jan Bros, Holy Week 2018

Holy Week Begins Again

"Holy Week is beginning again, and here I am once more, feeling so unadjusted to it, so utterly inadequate. Not that 'heart of stone' feeling, simply the sense of being completely out of proportion—something momentous, like the Niagara Falls is thundering down, right beside me, and-there I stand, with a thimble in my hand, and I’m supposed to dip in and collect something, catch it up, assimilate it, reacting properly, goodness knows how. But if you hold a cup under a waterfall, it’s not only knocked out of your hand, but empty to boot: the rushing, tumbling water simply rebounds...I’m standing as near as I can get to the cataract...and I know very well that one step nearer and I'll be caught up and swept away. But maybe this helpless state of just standing aside, this overpowering sense of not being able to do anything about it is the only sort of adoration I’m allowed just now."

-Ida Gorres, Catholic Author

The Enneagram


A number of Abbey Way-ers have been reading "The Road Back to You" by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. The book choice seemed to be a good next study as we had completed studying "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality" last Spring and this seemed to build on what we had learned.  

The book is a well written introduction to the enneagram. For those who don't know much about the enneagram, it is a tool that describes nine basic personality types. Simply put it can assist in our understanding of self and others in both potential strength and growth areas. 

I heard the writers' podcast (with the same title) a year or so back and found their conversations insightful and entertaining. I was glad to have the chance to unpack their particular understanding with others at Abbey Way. One thing that I have noticed as we have gathered is that our dialogue has consistently included the question: "How best can I love the this personality type?" The compassionate space that has been created each time we meet is very encouraging to experience.

If you would like to learn more about the enneagram, I encourage you to listen to the podcast and/or read the book. You can also take an inventory to find out your type here. To talk together as a group has also been helpful, so if you are interested in joining a group discussion, let me know.

Psalm 126 Prayer Movement

On our last Sunday in Advent, we learned prayer movements to a song written by Sandra McCracken. Here is the song and the movements. Enjoy!

Psalm 126 Movement.jpg

Hope Abounds

It was a day infused with hope. On November 11th we gathered for an All Church Workshop, using the Compass Exercise to help guide our conversation and questions about where Abbey Way is at in this juncture of our life together. We took time to reflect and pray, to notice and name. We found ourselves predominately in the South East, with a couple affirming nods to the North. South is the “direction of sunny exposure where we find energy, imagination, spontaneity, and play.” East is “the direction of the rising sun. The direction of new beginnings.” We heard what felt like God’s word to us through Craig as he described a plant growing with buds appearing and the gentle reminder that there’s no need to touch it. Let it be. It’s doing its thing.

We took time to touch on the West as well—the place of the setting sun, the direction of endings. There are places in our hearts where grief remains. We continue to learn how to hold one another well with these vulnerable places and go to God with them. Ken shared that it’s natural and normal for the sun to set because it then rises for someone else. His words gleamed with grace as we considered the setting of the sun.

What’s the take away?

Be encouraged!

God is at work among us. As we look to the North, we are reminded that Jesus Christ is our guiding Light, and with our life centered in him we are becoming a people of welcome, safety, and encouragement for others. Praise be to God.

-Pastor Laura Van Norman

A Painter's Palette

Yesterday I flew back from Chicago after meeting for two days with the Evangelical Covenant Church's Commission on Biblical Gender Equality. I usually come back energized by many new thoughts and lively conversations. This time was no exception. Yet it was different because I came back with new appreciation for Abbey Way and all that God is doing in and with us through the years. I also came back with songs and prayers on my heart that seem to bubble from the unseen depths. 

Wanting to capture what seems like the Spirit's movement, I have been busy posting new songs on Abbey Way's Slack account that we use to communicate between staff on our every day to do lists, projects and ideas. As I posted possible new worship tunes, I scrolled our list and was blown away by the wealth of song ideas that are already present. Many of the songs we have sung but many are just there waiting for the right moment to be used. It is a beautiful reflection on the palette of color in our worship life at Abbey Way that is available to us each week when we gather.

Last night a bunch of Abbey Way-ers recorded background vocals for some of Abbey Way's original music. I am so excited to hear our first "produced" recordings of new songs. We have talked about this desire for many years and it is finally happening. When it is available, I will let you know!

So many new songs sprouting out all around. For this I am so very grateful.

+ Jan Bros 

Becoming Virtuous Persons

There are people in my life that have influenced who I am and what I think about God. One of them is a woman whose name is Leanne Payne. Leanne was an anointed woman who led healing ministry gatherings called PCMs (Pastoral Care Ministry Schools). Bob and I attended them for a number of years both in Minneapolis and in Chicago: learning and growing, receiving and giving. We served on their prayer teams with a number of other friends and ministry partners. These experiences deeply impacted me in the core of my being. 

Like with every human leader there were points that Leanne's teaching differed from my own including the call to lead as a pastor in the church. Never the less, my appreciation for her teaching and who God called her to be the world remained (and remains) unabated. Here is an (very) short article Leanne wrote for her newsletter back in 1996r. It includes a substantial quote from one my favorite modern theologians C.S. Lewis. Enjoy!

+ Pastor Jan

Becoming Virtuous Persons

By Leanne Payne from her newsletter archives, Fall 1996

Run your lives by the Spirit. Then you will not do what your old nature wants. Galatians 5:16, Jewish New Testament (JNT)

To be led by Christ is to walk in the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit has this ennobling corol­lary: its wondrous flipside, as it were, is ongoing death to the Old Man. 

For the old nature wants what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is contrary to the old nature. These oppose each other, so that you find yourselves unable to carry out your good intentions. But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism. Galatians 5:17, 18, JNT

When we walk in the Spirit, the Lord creates in us the fruits and gifts of His character - we become virtuous persons. What a wonderful word virtue is; what a wonderful epithet to have - that of being a virtuous person. And in union with Christ, we can all be that. The biblical texts above were penned by St. Paul, one who before his conversion put Christians to death; yet, he who considered himself to have been the "chiefest of sinners" became one of the greatest men in history. A man full of Christ, full of virtue.

Most moderns have to ask themselves what exactly is this thing called virtue. Well, first of all it is a quality and C. S. Lewis helps us understand this: 

A man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of "virtue." This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions we might encourage three wrong ideas:

1) We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it....But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a "virtue," and it is this quality or character that really matters.

2) We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort. [See St. Paul's words above about perverting Torah into legalism.]

3) We might think that the "virtues" were necessary only for this present life....The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them then no possible external conditions could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us.

Mere Christianity, Book III, Ch 2.

Copyright ©1999-2013 by Pastoral Care Ministries, Inc.

Eleven Years Old...Almost

Abbey Way began almost eleven years ago. As a church plant, our model of Christian faith community was adapted from a 1500 year old rule of life written by an Italian named Benedict of Nursia. We loosely applied what he and many others had lived, doing our best to honor the roots of the tradition that has given a structure of Gospel living for many.

Starting at a point that was very different than most other evangelical church plants, we have learned many things over the last eleven years. Some are normal part of the church planting process such as defining essential identity questions of who we are and who we are not. But most of our schooling came in the practice of community making itself. With a lack of an unified conceptual framework readily available, we encountered together distinct moments of stumbling ...sometimes coming very near to the possibility of experiencing a deadly blow to something precious and good among us. The monastic instruction encapsulated in the innate inevitably of "falling down and getting back up again" helped to sustain Abbey Way's willingness to journey on even when our corporate story's unfolding seemed hard or overwhelming. 

One of the surprising places of learning for me personally as the planting pastor was the application of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's wisdom from Life Together. Life Together always floated around as a resource in the background of Abbey Way for many of our people--myself included. When a significant time of hardship occurred among us, Bonhoeffer as a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor coupled with his respect for the monastic tradition and love for the church gave his words respectable weight as applied to Abbey Way's life together. The words that flashed in intensity for me were these:

"Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it's pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.... Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts."

Abbey Way begin with the working model of three essential elements working in tension with each other. They are: spiritual practices; corporate rhythms; and intentional relationships. With many people coming to Abbey Way from a large mega-church context with its inherent struggle to find deep relationship and friendship, people came hungry if not starving for something different. Quite quickly intentional relationship arose to the top of the reasons why people came and stayed at Abbey Way. For some, relationship was the only reason they remained at (or even left) Abbey Way. Ironically, the mega-church experience of disconnection became a small church experience of over connection. Pastorally, I struggled with how to lead and guide the dearly loved of God from a corporate self understanding of being a community of relational connections to church of Christ's own formation, confronting my own failures and weaknesses along the way.

At the eleven year mark, I feel more reflective than in years past. Some of it may be that there are more years to reflect upon. But I think that is not all. I need to acknowledge my years at Abbey Way are numbered. This is not because there is a plan a foot of my leaving Abbey Way--a place I truly love--that I am now announcing. No, that is not it. I see a dawn of new season ahead that has yet to be named. I want to write the goodness of what Abbey Way has been down so that we can all continue our learning of what God has done and is doing in us. In some tangible way, I would like to complete my cycle and in turn our cycle of faithfulness here by recording some it for others to see.

This is the first of hopefully many musings.

Peace of Christ to you,

Pastor Jan