Weekly Bible Devotional
“A Hidden Wholeness: Creating Circles of Trust”
May 28, 2023
Scripture: Matthew 18:15-20
15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Notes on the Text:
In church groups, we often quote Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them,” as if church groups or gatherings are always focused on Jesus and his loving presence. What we need to balance the picture for us are the verses before where Jesus talks about conflict and the need for creating safe spaces for gatherings.
Jesus knew the importance of safeguarding his community from the pitfalls of anger, hate, and hurt. He gave them guidance for responding with love to conflict to heal and to transform the way people deal with each other. Even his inner circle of friends had disagreements among them. Jesus gave instructions on how to deal with conflict through a step-by-step process. Jesus took conflict seriously and saw in it a potential for greater healing.
- First, you go and speak to the person directly. This is one of the hardest steps because it takes courage and vulnerability. We would have to own our own feelings without attacking or degrading the other person. It is much easier to complain, avoid, or gossip about the person who hurt us.
- The second step is taking another person with us not to attack the person or gang up on them, but to allow for a more neutral person to enter the scene.
- The third step is to have a gathering of the community to speak about the conflict. This is another hard step because people tend to take sides instead of creating soulful spaces where people can be honest and loving at the same time, where the norms provide respect and dignity for all.
One piece that is often misunderstood is the end of the process that Jesus provides is not getting rid of the offending party if they didn’t reform their behavior. When Jesus says that they are to be for us like a Gentile or a tax collector, we have to remember that Jesus treated those two groups very well. He did not hate them. Instead, he included them every chance he got. What I believe this piece helps us see is that if the person we have a conflict with, is not willing to work through the conflict to transform their behavior, then more work is needed for building bridges with them. Just like the disciples had to work on building bridges to Gentiles and tax collectors, when a person remains stuck in their hate, anger, or abusive behavior, our work with them requires more bridge building.
Our focus this week is on creating intentional communal spaces where our souls feel welcome. In her book The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker talks about the difference between etiquette and ground rules. Etiquette is often hidden, and one has to learn it ahead of time in order to fit in. That is why we find ourselves feeling out of place sometimes when we go to a setting where we don’t know the etiquette. Think even of going to a new church where you don’t know when people sit or stand or do any of the actions in the service. Instead of a hidden etiquette that often keeps some people out, Priya’s invitation is for our gatherings to have some common ground rules. This way, everyone in the gathering can participate equally. In a way, this is what we are invited to consider today to make our communities hospitable to the soul. In order to create spaces for our souls to be present, we have to be intentional about safety and space.
Parker Palmer offers a practical way to be intentional about creating communities that heal and transform us, and thus help us find our hidden wholeness. He calls such spaces “Circles of Trust.” Palmer writes, “A circle of trust has no agenda except to help people listen to their own souls and discern their own truths…Its singular purpose is to support the inner journey of each person in the group, to make each soul feel safe enough to show up and speak its truth, to help each person listen to his or her own inner teacher.
“In our society we make spaces for our intellect, our emotions, our will and our ego to show up, but we know very little about creating spaces that invite the soul to make itself known… Spaces designed to welcome the soul and support the inner journey are rare. But the principles and practices that shape such spaces are neither new nor untested. Some are embedded in monastic tradition…Some emerged over 400 years of Quaker faith and practice. Some are embedded in the processes of spiritual formation that can be found at the heart of most of the world’s great wisdom traditions.
“Like a wild animal,, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places…Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy…A circle of trust is a group of people who know how to sit quietly “in the woods” with each other and wait for the shy soul to show up. The relationships in such a group are not pushy but patient; they are not confrontational but compassionate; they are filled not with expectations and demands but with abiding faith in the reality of the inner teacher and in each person’s capacity to learn from it.”
Consider this week where you find space community spaces for your soul to show up. Reflect on where we might have that type of community which Jesus talks about, and Palmer tries to implement.
“It is not very easy to stay in solitude. In our solitude we hear so many voices and not only the voice of love. You hear voices that say, ‘Do this,’ or ‘Go there.’ ‘You forgot this. You forgot that.’ Sometimes in our solitude, we are so overwhelmed by those voices.”
“But if we dare to stay and persevere in our solitude, we will gradually hear more and more that voice of love underneath all our restlessness. As we listen to that voice that says to us, ‘I love you,’ we discover that it is the same voice, saying the same thing to all people.”
“In solitude, we discover a space that is so wide that there is enough room for everyone. Solitude becomes the place from which we can go to our friends and our brothers and sisters and greet them. Not out of loneliness, but out of solitude.”
“We can start forming community, because community means solitude greeting solitude. My solitude, in which I have discovered how much I am loved, greets your solitude in which you have discovered how much you are loved. When we come together as solitude greeting solitude, we form a new home, a new house. No longer are we living in the house of fear, but in the house of love. In that house, there is space to welcome others. There is space for the stranger to walk in and feel welcome. There is space for the poor and the broken to receive hospitality.” ~Henri Nouwen
Prayer by Kaitlin Curtis:
in a heavy world, we need to remember that we belong to each other,
And in that remembering, that we belong to you.
Teach us because the future depends on it.
Remind us, we pray.