Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
By Rev. Scott Clark
In the SFTS spirituality program, we teach/learn a prayer practice that engages us as human beings who live in systems and structures. The prayer practice — the Social Discernment Cycle — recognizes that we live our lives embedded and participating in multiple and often-overlapping systems and structures — families, churches, governments, nations, economies, workplaces, schools, and so on. Those systems and structures can feel overwhelming — bigger than us — and we can often feel blocked, trapped, held back, held down. And so, the Social Discernment Cycle invites us to take a long, loving look at the system/structure — to name where we stand within it, to name our co-participants, to assess the power relationships and the history, and to discern (with the help of the Spirit) one move that we can make — one thing that we can do — to move ourselves and the whole system toward freedom. And then, we make the move, see how the system responds, re-assess, and look for the next one move toward freedom.
The whole point of the prayer is the steady, prayerful movement toward freedom — step by step — each of us able and empowered to help create more freedom in the world.
And so, even before we venture into the prayer process that I’ve just described, we begin with a simple invitation: Remember a time when you have experienced freedom. Remember it fully and deeply — walk around in it again. Carry the memory of that moment into and through the prayer, as a touchstone: This is what freedom feels like. Remember. This is what we are moving toward. More of this. For the whole world.
In the prayer, we remember the freedom we have known so that we can discover the freedom that yet lies ahead — God’s steady and constant will that all people may live free and whole.
In today’s Psalm, the people remember a moment of freedom. They have endured hard times — slavery, oppression, and exile — and they remember what freedom feels like: “When God restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed dreams. Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy.” Perhaps they are again standing in hard times, because they then pray for God’s help: “Restore our fortunes, O God, like streams in the desert. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves of harvest.”
Standing in hard times, they remember the freedom they have known so that they might discover the freedom that God is yet to open up to them — and in them.
Standing with them, wherever you are in your life, here is an invitation to you for today:
Remember a time when you have experienced freedom. Walk around in that remembrance. What did it feel like? Cherish it and give thanks.
Then, holding that memory of freedom, where do you feel stuck in your world right now? Where do you see a need for freedom?
Remember the freedom you have known. What next one move can you make toward more freedom like that — for yourself and for the whole world?
This devotion is written and offered in honor of Dr. Elizabeth Liebert, my teacher, friend, and partner in ministry. She continues to teach me things like this.
Rev. Scott Clark is a chaplain and the associate dean of student life at San Francisco Theological Seminary.