Transforming Acts: Spirit-Centered Faith (Bruce Epperly)
Transforming Acts: Spirit-Centered Faith
Acts of the Apostles is an invitation to spirit-centered faith. When many people think of God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit, their minds go to tongues of fire, mystical experiences, and other-worldly encounters. They see the Spirit as a supernatural intrusion on normal causal relationships, only occasionally occurring in human life. In contrast, I believe that the primary locus of the Holy Spirit is everyday life – manifest in making decisions, going to work, serving the community, caring for family and friends, and working for justice. As the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 8, God’s Spirit moves through all creation, human and non-human, and speaks in our hearts in “sighs too deep for words.” The holistic spirituality of Acts seamlessly blends the mystical and the ordinary, and reminds us that God is revealed in every moment of life. All moments are potential theophanies, where God can illuminate the most ordinary moments of life. The Spirit bursts forth through the unconscious in dreams and hunches and through the trans-rational mind in mystical visions and inspired words. In fact, these phenomena are manifestations of one and the same movement.
Chapter One presents three questions that are still relevant in our spiritual lives today: the timetable of cosmic fulfillment, the focus of spirituality, and spiritual decision-making. Over two thousand years after the Ascension of Jesus, many Christians still await the Second
Coming – they hope to rise to the heavens while others are left behind to suffer global tribulation. Some even invent elaborate timetables, predicting the exact time of Jesus’ return. Thus far, all such prognostication has proven inaccurate and possibly devastating to the mission of Jesus. To such Christian fortunetellers, Jesus says “it is not for you to know.” God’s power is with you and it is alive and well on this planet, moving with vitality right now. You don’t need to die or experience an otherworldly rapture to experience God’s transforming presence.
For Acts, the focus of spirituality is this-worldly in orientation. The angel tells the disciples: “Don’t look to the heavens to find fulfillment.” Your work is here: this is the place of healing and salvation. Our witness and mission are in this world, not in a heavenly place. If we are faithful as God’s partners in healing the earth in this lifetime, we can trust God’s fidelity at the moment of deaths. In the spirit of John’s Gospel, eternal life is a present reality: we are just unaware of it. Our faithful responses to God awaken us to everlasting life in the midst of daily living.
Finally, Acts concludes with a curious decision-making process. After the eleven remaining disciples pray for guidance to discern the twelfth apostle, they cast lots in order to make a decision. At first glance, such activities seem to be leaving the decision to chance rather than rationality; but the process was undergirded by prayer. The apostles trust that God moves in synchronous events and that random acts such as throwing dice or turning to a Bible passage by “accident” can reveal divine wisdom. Surely this is at the heart of the ancient Chinese spiritual practice of divination through the use of the I Ching: while throwing the I Ching is no substitute for serious reflection, the process of opening to intuitive wisdom gives us another perspective on our decision-making. Holistic decision-making includes analysis and intellectual reflection and problem solving processes, but it also involves listening for divine inspiration, trusting intuition and hunches, openness to the divine, and prayerful contemplation. Jung noted the importance of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, as revealing a deeper wisdom moving through everyday life, and when we are open to God’s leading, “coincidences” happen with more regularity.
Acts, Chapter One, invites us to frame our lives in prayer. Earth is where the action is: our day to day actions, political involvement, and long-range planning gain power and insight when they are seen in light of God’s moment to moment and ambient inspiration.
Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry , written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. His most recent book is From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church, written with Daryl Hollinger.