Charismatic and Progressive too?

The word, charismatic, has a somewhat dubious ring to it, at least in Mainline churches, but I want to claim it for progressive and moderate mainline communities of faith. I want to be able to say: I’m a charismatic and you are too! Of course, if you are going to accept this label, we’ll need to define the word.

Since the Greek word charis, from which we derive the words charisma and charismatic means grace, the simplest way of defining the word charismatic is to say that we are charismatics because we have tasted God’s favor or grace, which eventuates in wonderful gifts (charisms) that enable us to experience God’s love and in turn love our neighbors. We call these gifts “gifts of grace,” because they’re not something we’ve earned, but they simply come to us as a result of God’s abundant love for the world.

The greatest gift of God is life itself. In the opening chapters of Genesis, God fashions humanity from the dust of the earth and then breathes life into this creation (Gen. 2:7). The word for breath is the same as the word for Spirit, so in essence, God breathes into us the Spirit, which makes it possible for us to experience life. If life is the result of God’s breath, then in essence God is present within each of us. As a result, the seed of the Holy Spirit is within us, so that, as Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hanh writes, we “have the capacity of healing, transforming, and loving. When we touch that seed, we are able to touch God the Father and God the Son.”  [Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ. (New York:  Riverhead Books, 1995), 15.]   Having received the gifts, the charismata of the Spirit, we are prepared to share the life that God has invested in us. Thus, we are all charismatics.

As signs of grace, spiritual gifts are not personal acquisitions or even marks of personal holiness. Grace is the foundation of the church’s giftedness, and grace, as Philip Yancey writes, is the “last best word,” because no matter how the word is used in the English language it “retains some of the glory of the original.” [Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 12.]  Anne Lamott says that while she does not understand the mystery of grace, she knows “only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. It can be received gladly or grudgingly, in big gulps or in tiny tastes, like a deer at the salt.” [Annie Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, (New York: Anchor Books, 2000), 143.]  Grace gives us freedom to explore, to try, and to fail, and then to try again. It is forgiving and empowering love that heals the shame, which suggests that our lives don’t have value. Grace, according to Lewis Smedes, “stands for gift; it is the gift of being accepted before we become acceptable.” [Lewis Smedes, Shame and Grace, (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993), 108.]  That is, grace is a state of being for which we do not have sufficient words, but it is a state that allows God’s people to step boldly out into life and live lives of redeeming and healing relationships with their neighbors. Whatever it means to be spiritually gifted, because they are signs of grace it means that we are blessed, even if undeserving, recipients of God’s grace.

Excerpt from Gifts of Love (unpublished mss.)


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