photo by Valerie Everett on

            Is anyone here a pilot? When I ask commercial pilots about their jobs I am always impressed how much practice goes into flying. These pilots report that flying the modern commercial jet actually is not all that difficult when all systems work right and the weather is perfect. All the endless practice focuses on things going wrong or the weather turning bad. When Tiger Woods was young, his father would make him practice shots from all sorts of difficult positions and when Tiger was practicing from a flat, perfect position, he would create noise or other distractions to disrupt his shot. In many contexts of life we practice and practice to better respond to what is outside our control.

            Our egos, like pilots and golfers, hate uncontrolled space. Our egos want to control things to protect us. In today’s gospel, Jesus sets up a spiritual practice session for his disciples that is intended to create uncontrolled space. If you are like me and like the safety of agendas, concepts and opinions, the message to practice uncontrolled space beckons me to a deeper, more sacred place in my life.

The Disciples’ Service Project

            In Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel Jesus and the disciples have been together for awhile and Jesus calls for a service committee meeting – it is time to put all this good information Jesus has been sharing into practice. You can imagine the disciples at a preparation meeting to be thinking through what it will take to have a successful service experience. We can imagine someone saying they need a website to refer people to, but Jesus says no website. “How about a power point about the Kingdom?” another asks. No power point for this project says Jesus. Another raises her hand and asks when the iPhones will be distributed so they can check in with Jesus. No phones this time, says Jesus. One anxious disciple asks, “well at least we get credit cards, right?” No money says Jesus.

            You see, the disciples were sent to “be with” people and forced to accept hospitality. They did not have a preconceived idea about what their work would be. They were not professional healers but they would heal if that was needed. They were not in the exorcist business but they would deal with a demon on occasion. Some folks they are with might need a meal or a hand around the house. In effect, Jesus said go be with people and see what happens! The Kingdom is at hand and abundant.

Finding Sacred Space

            The mystics tell us to seek out uncontrolled space because this is where conversion tends to happen. Who felt “in control” when they fell in love or held a new born? Most of the time we are thrust into this space involuntarily – sometimes through grace and others through a type of loss, an accident or an illness. We sometimes come out different on the other side. Years ago I was on a business trip to New York and I was having a drink with a local lawyer at the airport. I must have said something that indicated I was open to spiritual things, because he told me a story about a heart attack he suffered a year earlier. He was not particularly spiritual at the time but while in the hospital with an uncertain diagnosis, fearing that he was about to lose everything, he felt what he called an embrace from God, and he heard “I love you” from a place deep inside that he swears was almost audible. His uncontrolled moment led to a gifted awareness and conversion.

            But who wants to wait for life to bring us uncontrolled space? Let’s be intentional about it! The “three legged stool” of spiritual practice (spirituality, community, service) we talk about a lot around here is all about accessing uncontrolled or sacred space. At our best we practice the leg of prayer and liturgy not to check a box of accomplishment or obligation, but to find a posture receptive to someone who cannot be controlled. At our best we know that community is created not by saying a creed together, but by going through sacred space together. We know we need to practice and practice skills of being in a safe place for folks to tell the sacred truth about their experience. At our best we understand service and ministry to first be about “being with” another, never sure what will happen.

            There are dozens of ways to access sacred space. Today’s text gives us a great lesson about what most of these practices have in common – go empty handed. Let’s practice going to prayer without agenda or a need to accomplish something. Let’s go to our small groups without our concepts, opinions and solutions and listen to stories of conversion and encounter. Let’s go to service without a need to perform or persuade and simply “be with” another who may be very different than we are.

            If you are like me, the awareness of sacred space is fleeting. I still need lots of practice. May this liturgy be such a practice for us. Let’s all pray together tonight to rekindle that specific practice in our lives that prepares us for sacred space.


George von Stamwitz
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, July 6, 2013
Focus text: Luke 10:1-9 (the disciples practice ministry)