By Scott Wagoner
A term that has significant meaning for me is that of spiritual life as a “growing edge.” I was introduced to the concept of “growing edge” through the writings of Howard Thurman. In his book, Growing Edge, he invites readers to, “Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born…Look well to the growing edge.” These words give good advice. Often members of the Religious Society of Friends get trapped in a vortex of negativity and despair about its future. Friends often times resonate with the fact that, “All around us worlds are dying…” and even think this means, “All around us Quakerism is dying…” However, Friends should be encouraged for Thurman’s words do not end with death. “New worlds are being born” and all around us “life is being born.” Death creates the space for the new that must be born.
We have often heard the phrase, “All politics is local.” I would also claim that all Quakerism is local. In other words, the lifeblood of the Religious Society of Friends is that of the local meeting, and the lifeblood of the local meeting is that of the individual person who is on a faithful journey in relationship with the Living Christ, seeking to live in faithful community with others. It would seem, then, that a key to renewal among Friends is creating ways to put people on a spiritual growing edge. Spiritually alive people create spiritually alive local meetings. Spiritually alive local meetings become the source of spiritually alive yearly meetings.
Entering my 12th year as pastor of Deep River Friends, I find myself reflecting upon moments and experiences within the meeting that have helped put folks on a growing edge. I have concluded a life that is on a growing edge includes:
Study of the Scriptures
It may seem like an obvious statement, but regular study of the Scriptures and the biblical story within a local meeting will serve to put folks on a spiritual growing edge.
Deep River offers the Disciple Bible Study, a 34 week study of covering both the Old and New Testaments. It is geared towards formation of the person rather than just providing a lot of information. The most helpful component is participation in the daily readings, which helps develop positive habits of daily study.
I have seen those willing to participate in this class experience — or any other Bible study experience — tend to be the ones that begin to experience a “growing edge” in their spiritual journey.
Spiritual Formation Groups
Spiritual formation groups can often be a great source of Living Water for those that are thirsty for more. This experience, along with Scripture study, is both a productive and profound foundation for growing edge spirituality.
Last year, Deep River Friends offered a year-long experience called Pilgrims of the Heart, a spiritual formation group based on the Song of Solomon 5:2: “I slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking.” Its focus was to provide an avenue in which the participants could come to know what it was like to be spiritually awake as well as live in to their identity as the beloved of God.
In our first meeting, the scope of the group was introduced. From there the format and topics were discerned. The group met at least twice a month for nine months because that period of time is a strong reminder that conception to birth usually takes nine months. New spiritual birth was our hope.
Those that participated in both the Bible study and the spiritual formation group want to do it again, as they had experienced significant growth in their lives. They continue to hunger for a deeper experience of the Living Christ.
Service to the Community
A growing edge spiritual life includes serving others. When individuals are hearing and responding to God’s personal call in their lives to serve in various ways, a significant growing edge is experienced. Engaging folks in service and ministry with the marginalized and suffering always puts people on a growing edge. Self-absorption is challenged. Being exposed to the needs of others has a way of tapping the compassion of Jesus within souls; so often buried beneath busy schedules, misguided pursuits of the American Dream and apathetic religiosity.
On the first Saturday of every month members of Deep River Friends provide service to the community. Once a month, our meeting prepares and serves lunch at a local homeless shelter for 125 people. Not everyone in the meeting participates in this ministry but having it as part of our congregational culture serves to remind us of the importance of serving.
The meeting also provides a monthly dinner for 25 at a women’s homeless shelter in High Point. Individuals and families within the meeting have taken it upon themselves to provide the meal at other times. The call to ministry is felt among individuals who are willing to obey it.
To be sure, living on a spiritual growing edge is not about programs. Rather, they are a means toward facilitating spiritual growth of meeting members. Programs act as trellises in developing a growing edge. A trellis is a simple framework of light wooden bars often used as a support for fruit trees or other climbing plants. The trellis is not the ultimate goal: rather, the trellis serves the purpose of providing a framework and supportive structure for growth and eventual fruit.
In the same way, having a spiritual formation program is not the ultimate goal. The program is the framework and supportive structure, which provides an opportunity for folks to discover a place where they can position themselves to manifest spiritual fruit and to discover the growing edge. As John 15:5 reminds, “Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.” Apart from the connection, we can do nothing. What meetings/churches can do, though, is provide the right environment, framework and structure that will give folks the opportunity to nurture and cultivate the life of the Spirit within.
Howard Thurman reminds us that there exists in life an inherent call to grow and live on a growing edge. When meetings and congregations fail to recognize this inherent desire to grow, it misses opportunities of nurturing new life and energy within its own walls. Living on a growing edge takes discernment. Sometimes it takes hard work and planning. But just like the hard work of turning over the soil and sowing new seeds in a garden, the effort always brings the possibility of new growth and fruit. Look well to the growing edge!
Scott Wagoner is presently in his 12th year as Pastoral Minister of Deep River Friends Meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). Scott is a graduate of Taylor University and the Earlham School of Religion. He is married to Lynda Wagoner. They have two grown children, Chad and Erin. You can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is available for Congregational Coaching, retreats and special speaking engagements.