One of the highlights of vacation for me is the increased opportunity to read. I finished two non-fiction books over the holidays. I am slogging my way through a 1,000+-page novel and have begun two other books. Of all the book-friends I have spent time with over break, my favorite was Journey Inward, Journey Outward by Elizabeth O’Connor. Written in the 1960’s, this book describes the formational philosophy of Church of the Savior in Washington, DC—a church that was and is way ahead of it’s time!
I want to write about what I read in this book during my first day of touching because it reminds me of a “tactile” spiritual discipline that I have practiced for the last year that involves praying the inward and outward journey using a finger labyrinth. I will share this exercise with you at the end of this post.
O’Connor writes, “While it is a crucial mistake to assume that churches can be on an outward journey without being on an inward one, it is equally disastrous to assume that one can make the journey inward without taking the journey outward.” She explains that these opposing movements must always be held in tension within our individual lives and within the church. Both are essential for wholeness and living into God’s purposes and are nurtured through three engagements:
- An engagement with oneself: “It is easy for the religious to become closed and unyielding when this dimension of the spiritual life is absent. These are the religious who never seem real.” “As people on an inward journey, we are committed to growing in consciousness, to becoming people in touch with our real selves, so that we know not only what flows at the surface, but what goes on in the depths of us.”
- An engagement with God: “The goal we have been speaking of here is the one of getting our lives rooted in God, so that they are not blown and tossed about by every wind. We need the engagement with self to find out that we have our houses resting on sand, but there is no possibility of getting them over on rock with out an engagement with God.
- An engagement with others: “Engagement with others in depth is always difficult within the church, which is probably why so few try it and why there is so little genuine Christian community in the world.” “As for those who irritate us and make us always want to get out of their way, they may be precisely the ones who have the most to tell us about ourselves.”
Last year, at the end of January, I wrote a prayer for the inward, outward/coming and going journey of our lives. I found an image of a finger labyrinth and printed it on paper with the prayer. (It was written for the congregation I had served in an interim role for 2 ½ years.) A labyrinth symbolizes the natural ebbing and flowing of life and the inward and outward motion of our spiritual journey.
For nearly a year, I have memorized, meditated on and prayed this prayer almost daily. It has become a very special, meaningful and rich experience as I “touch” the labyrinth, moving my finger inward with each phrase of the inward prayer and then outward with each phrase of the outward prayer. I encourage you to consider printing this prayer and a finger labyrinth (easily found on the internet) and begin a daily rhythm of “feeling your prayers.” I hope it will become a beautiful way for you to experience God as you reinforce the inward/outward motion of your life with him.
Blessings on your inward and outward journey!
Gracious God, the God who woos me,
Draw me by your Spirit into silence and stillness,
Help me find my way home.
Anchor me in your love and grace
As I come to you in my weakness
And learn from your gentle and humble heart.
Give rest to my soul.
Gracious God, the God who sends me,
Lead me by your Spirit with courage and strength,
Help me find my place in the world.
Fill me with joy from serving you
As I become your hands and feet
And learn to love as you have loved me.
Give vision to my soul.