Words of power

In I Corinthians 2:4, we read:

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…

When was the last time I spoke words in demonstration of the Spirit and of power?   And I don’t mean emotional excitement, skillful public speaking, or religious manipulation, as those are pretty clearly in the category of “enticing words of human wisdom.”

The inheritance of the independent sacramental movement may help us with understanding the potential of Paul’s words.  In the early 20th century, the Polish National Catholic Church decided that the proclamation of the Gospel was a sacrament.   While this may seem a fairly radical innovation, it is perhaps a natural development of intuitions long present in the tradition.  For example, in many versions of the rite for ordaining a deacon, the new deacon is told that she is to “read the gospel for the living and the dead,” which implies some sort of grace-filled power carrying the Word, even through the gate of death.   The voice of the reader becomes a chalice filled with the power of the Logos, flowing out to us like a life-giving river from a long-forgotten Eden.  The Word not only challenges us to transform our lives, but actually enables us to do so.  This is no performance, and may involve no dramatic skill, but only an opening to God, who can use our foolishness and stumbling as vehicles of the Christ.

Absolution is also a time when our words carry the transforming power of the Spirit.  Independent churches founded by Rudolf Steiner and Mario Schoenmaker expanded traditional confession/absolution into “sacramental consultation” or “the sacrament of grace” – sometimes even “sacramental conversation.”  In this new setting, we can speak not only about sins and failings, but about all of our lives, our worries and struggles and triumphs and joys.  The priest receives our words, and lifts them – and us – to Christ.   Mario said the sacrament of grace was the sacrament of the free priest, the stealth priest moving as an undercover agent of grace in the world.   This is the case because any conversation can become such a sacrament, even if no religious words are spoken.  How can all of our conversations (with the store clerk, the next door neighbor) carry sacramental grace, hidden under the ordinariness of life?  How can they demonstrate the power of Christ, a paradoxical, sacrificial sort of power shown through the weakness of the cross?

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