However you’ve followed this journey, if you’ve reached this devotion you’re likely right at or just past the halfway point. If you just completed Presence, you could approach this one by imagining that your abiding with God’s absence hasn’t yet been met with God’s arrival. Try to stay in that space of waiting to see what possibilities for risk arise.
It’s more likely you’ve come here from the Fear devotion, though. And for me, at least, trying to transgress fear with risk is probably the hardest move God could ask me to make.
And there are certainly a lot of options in the theological traditions that can help me avoid making it.
For one, I could deny that God is terrifying at all. God is love. The perfect progressive prooftext: true love casts out fear. We’re smart enough to know we’ve moved past Calvin. Or, on the other side of the liberal/conservative divide: we can redistribute the fear — I can be less scared of God’s judgment if I direct it towards others. Or even romanticize it: becoming so enamoured with my fear that I block all the ways God might come to me as tender.
All these impulses have problems. By which I mean that all of them have the potential to keep us from encountering God. And encounter is what we’re looking for here.
I want to pick up Mary’s story that I talked about in the Fear devotion. Casting about for how to transgress her version of fear in the face of God, I initially thought about writing this devotion on consent. But that felt a little too on the nose for our current climate. And besides, I’ve written about Mary’s consent elsewhere.
So, then I got tempted to focus this one on trust – because trust just seems like a natural antidote to fear.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the willingness to risk happens prior to consent or to trust. I’m always risking some part of myself when I consent to another. Trust requires first risking the possibility that someone isn’t trustworthy at all.
Before Mary could consent to God or trust God, she had to take a risk. Before I can consent to God in prayer or trust that God won’t abandon me once we meet there, I have to take a risk as well.
What that risk looks like will be different for each of us.
For me, though…it’s all about praise and worship music. No really 🙂
Back when I was a charismatic Evangelical, worship was ecstatic. Contrary to popular belief about Evangelicals, it was even erotic. I’d lose myself in the build, the peak and the dénouement of a song that seemed to go on forever. Worship music opened out onto eternity. It was a profound act of consenting to and trusting in God’s wild presence.
Then I went to Divinity School and learned all the ways those songs are theological ‘problematic’. So I learned new songs. More inclusive songs. Songs that sung of a kinder, gentler God. Really great songs that I know move a lot of people’s hearts (though probably not their bodies). But that didn’t move mine.
Because, while those songs might not have been theological problematic, I did find them theologically lacking. Their God was less personal, less intimately intertwined with all I do and all I am. The songs didn’t contain a beat or drive that would stir my desire for the Divine. They contained my praise to deliver it to God, which is just fine. But they didn’t unleash my praise upon God. They didn’t undo me, pour me out and drench God with what flowed.
Of course debates around music in churches are dangerous territories to tread! And I’m not actually saying one style of music is better than another. More so, I’m saying that this one kind — evangelical praise and worship — requires me to risk being vulnerable more than traditional hymnody does. So that’s the kind that scares me.
That might sound silly to you – they’re just songs. But it feels really risky to me.
And precisely because they’re my site of risk, when I take that risk I see Jesus. When I let loose with my body and my voice and sing my desire into the rafters — no matter who sees me do it — when I take that risk, I see Jesus.
That’s my risk. I don’t know what yours is, but as the meditations and activities draw a circle for sacred risk in this devotion, I hope you’ll get some insight into what hovers at the edges of your own fear.
Once you’ve completed this devotion, you’re likely heading to the sacred spaces of Certainty or Doubt. Though of course perhaps somewhere else entirely… So maybe ask yourself what feels like the riskier move for you. Which one lures you towards something that frightens you but where God might be waiting.
Each of these audio tracks creates a sacred soundscape, interspersing Scripture readings with times for reflection. Feel free to choose whether to pray with the tracks with music or without.
With the Fear Devotion, you were asked to imagine you were Mary and to try to articulate what she was thinking in the moment the angel appeared. You were asked not to resolve the ambiguity of the moment but, rather, to let the power-dynamics stay messy. If you’ve already been to the Fear Devotion, you can pull up your journal entry about what this imaginative exercise taught you about your own prayer life, and now respond by writing what the risk is you’re being asked to take with it. If you haven’t completed the Fear Devotion yet, you can still do this. What are you afraid God will do in your life if you take the risk of listening? And then responding? Who is the God who appears to you when your risk turns to consent and trust?
Visualize a moment when you took a risk of connection and your heart got
broken. This can be in a romantic or sexual relationship, but it doesn’t have to be. Our hearts are broken by friends and family as well as lovers all the time. As much as you’re able, allow yourself to feel that brokenness for a moment —yours and the brokenness of the person or experience that hurt you. Now, before you move on to the second part of this activity, jot a few notes describing the contours of that hurt. What arose for you? Where do you still feel the pain and where do you experience healing?
Once you’ve jotted those notes, visualize a moment when you took a risk of connection and your heart felt joy. Again, you can explore any kind of relationship or experience here. Trust the first image or moment that comes to mind — or to heart. Don’t overthink it. And once you’ve allowed yourself to feel that joy for a minute or so (I mean, really, it’s joy; stay as long as you want!), jot a few notes describing its contours too.
When you look at the contours of your brokenness and joy side by side, what
do you learn about your own capacities for risk? Do you see any connection
between the kinds of risk God might be asking you to take? What in your heart keeps you from risking encounter with God? What might make that encounter possible?
You’ve been asked to do a lot of thinking and feeling about fear and risk across these devotions. Indeed, you’ve found ways of entering the sacred space of each. Here is a moment to take a pause and explore how these thoughts and feelings have settled in your body.
I invite you to lie down or find an alternate comfortable position, close your
eyes if you feel able, and take a few deep breaths. Once you feel your body has calmed, bring up one of your thoughts or feelings around risk. Really picture it, and then attend to where you feel it in your body. Then when you find that bodily sensation, stay with it. Breath into it. Relax that part of your body, and once you’ve managed to release any stress you found there you can move on to the next thought or feeling that arises. Take whatever comes up in turn, finding it in your body and the relaxing and releasing whatever is there. When the thoughts and feelings slow and even stop, take a few more moments to breath before you come back to full awareness.
Feel free to journal what you discovered if you want to. But also know that your body has done the work here and you can trust what you’ve learned is now contained in your flesh.