Archive by Author

Notes from the Silence

17 Jun

In early May the Confluence volunteers ventured down to the Abbey at Gethsemani in Bardstown, KY for a weekend of silent retreat. The following reflections are the collected journals, essays, and prayers of the Confluence volunteers following the retreat.


Unfinished Thoughts: Melanie Williams

Not too long ago, I was asked in a watercolor session to think of a name for God and write it in the center of a page. I wrote “Silent One,” kind of in spite. This year as been a long stretch of believing (with what I thought to be great integrity) that I was listening for God, pleading with God, waiting for God and God was ignoring me, completely indifferent. I heard silence and felt absence.

I met a man recently who describes his conversion experience as physical – his body filling up with the Holy Spirit and feeling like his ribs were going to burst open. He still feels motions of the Holy Spirit within him, directing him. I envy this, and when I interact with people like this I often wonder if I’m missing something. I totter back and forth between wanting to believe in this physically experiential God who is utterly foreign and intrudes on it’s creation (hopefully in positive ways) and wanting to believe in a God who just is, all the time, within existence, who we know when we know our neighbor. I think perhaps God could be both. Both transcendent, outside and entirely within everything even in unnoticeable, silent ways.

It’s hard to explain what being in silence and solitude for three days does to me. It felt transformative at the time, but did little to change the daily grind. On the retreat, I was attracted to the discipline of the monks and the idea of setting aside times in the day for prayer. I don’t often do this, I think because I’m more pulled by the idea of knowing God when we know our neighbor. So I allow others to interrupt, to distract, and I seek out those interruptions and distractions. On the retreat, I practiced knowing God by attempting transcendence from distraction. Seeking God in silence made me realize that perhaps God is most silent when I’m not. In a city, I don’t have much opportunity for true solitude, stillness, and silence – perhaps that’s why I’ve been attempting to seek God in other ways. But I think without stillness and silence, I’m missing a way that God reveals Godself (himself, herself, or whatever other hopeless pronoun you want to use).

If God is to some extent utterly foreign, there are things to be discovered about God by removing oneself from what is familiar. In the U.S. today, distraction is probably one of the most familiar things. Stillness without any productive agenda is probably one of the least familiar. But stillness, solitude, and silence seem crucial for being open to the Holy Spirit, regaining belief, and being capable of seeing God when I see my neighbor.

Unfolding Creation: Nora Anderson

I was hiking, finding tall pine trees, abandoned orchards, and ethereal statues. I felt slightly weird while in the woods, almost as if I wasn’t entirely on earth anymore. I wasn’t afraid, but hyper-aware of my surroundings. I hiked up a small hill to the statues representing the night before Christ’s passion at the garden of gethsemane. First, there came a statue of two figures sleeping, when they should have been keeping watch. Then, further into the forest, a second statue of Christ praying. I took a seat on the crumbling wooden chair and listened.

I could hear the crackling of the leaves behind me as the earth grew and decayed at the same time. The forest was creating new parts of itself while simultaneously destroying existing spaces to make room for the new growth. I could hear squirrels and chipmunks running, then resting, then running again, watching for predators. The sound of birds was constant and changing. I could feel the sun on the back of my neck despite the thick canopy of leaves overhead. As I heard all these things, I read a compilation of quotes from Thomas Merton on the importance of introspection and contemplation.

Merton recognized that sitting alone and turning inside oneself is, inherently, difficult. Not only are we usually surrounded by things to do and people to talk with, but those activities allow us to ignore or gloss over our actions. As someone who’s not always lived the most Christian of lives, I understood what he was saying. My purpose of meditating in the forest that morning was to, as I have heard every Street Church, identify the things you’ve done that separate you from God and your neighbor, name that as sin, and give it up to God.

As I was thinking, I noticed that the sounds of the forest had almost completely stopped. The birds were no longer shrilling. The small creatures had stopped running. The forest still crackled, but a soft dragging sound accompanied it. I turned around in my chair to see a long, black snake raise its head above the leaves covering the floor. It looked around, then returned to the ground and left the clearing.

Et in Arcadia, ego. God knows that I haven’t yet found everything.


Collected Prayers: Carolyn May

God of beauty, God of creation–
Thank you for your love and the gift of the earth. Help me move slowly through this weekend. Give me courage to go deeper into myself in search of you. Give me courage to venture into the woods and the fields. Give me courage, God.

Enter into the dark parts of me and be light.

May your creation inspire my creativity.

As the sun sets here in Kentucky, those on the other side of the world are looking to begin a new day. Dead flowers drop their seeds and new ones bud. This insect eats that insect and the world continues rotating.

Help me to embrace the process of becoming. Give me courage to use the voice and the body you have given me. Remind me when I get anxious about growing up that getting older does not mean that the world is less new. Remind me that resurrection is the heartbeat of the world. “Unmaking makes the world.”

I am tattered and frayed and I am afraid that that is all I am

But i want to be more. I want to be yours, God. I want to love recklessly and seek truth boldly. I long for resurrection. And I see and I hear and I feel new life pulsing in the world your hands molded. I want to be yours and to let my life also fall into that rhythm.

“Unmaking makes the world.” I pray, God, that that might be true in Baltimore amidst these riots. I pray that that might be true throughout the U.S. and in all places where violence and destruction are prevailing. May this unmaking pave the way for new life.

Come quickly, God. Have mercy on us. Make us new.

Where the Cross is Found

2 Apr

I’m struck by the pictures painted in the scripture of two gardens. The Garden of Eden, an idyllic garden, certainly not without temptation, but a space filled with connection to God, each other, and the Earth. We have our moments in the Garden of Eden; creekside sunset strolls, sharing a birthday lunch at the diner with three generations of family, late nights dancing and laughing with loved ones, an unexpected encounter with the voice of God, and celebrations with the table overflowing with good food and drink.

However, this week as we journey with Jesus towards the cross, we find ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemane, a space laden with fear, trembling, sweat, blood, and tears. A moment where Jesus has the choice to either face his enemies with violent revolt or quietly retreat, and instead, he chooses a third way, entering into the suffering of the world, identifying with all who are oppressed, marginalized, betrayed, and forgotten, by taking on the cross.

In 2010, I walked down from my house to St. John’s Franklinton to participate in Stations of the Cross, a practice that I had experienced a few times in my evangelical past, but that was never a regular part of my religious experience. Instead of heading into the church, we loaded up into cars and left, driving to places of suffering in the neighborhood, reading and praying a Station of the Cross at each stop. This has since grounded the story of Jesus’s death in our neighborhood. It has become a reenactment of Jesus wrestling with God in the Garden of Gethsemane. A choice to not turn away from the suffering faced by our neighbors, but a moment to enter into it, to face it, to cry out to God, and to gather the strength to echo Jesus’ words as a community, ” Not my will but yours be done,” as we attempt to live in the way of Jesus.

All are invited to join St. John’s Franklinton this Friday, April 3rd at 6pm at 1003 W. Town St. Columbus, Ohio as we journey throughout the neighborhood to pray the “Stations of the Cross.” The Stations are followed by a traditional Good Friday service at 7:15 for those interested in participating.


25 Mar

By: Melanie Williams

Reposted from the Episcopal Service Corps Lenten Series:

My senior year of college, a well-loved professor asked me what I felt I must do. Not what I felt obligated to do because of forces outside of myself, but what I felt I must do because it was something that claimed me. Because it was an unavoidable part of myself, which when denied, cried out to be recognized and acted upon. Because it was as necessary to me as breathing. I had to think about it for some time.  I’m not always sure if I have a thing like this. But after a while I answered, “I must be with those who suffer.” And after another moment, “Also, I must dance.”

Something we talked about often that year was a practice of holding grief and joy in the same breath. I see this practiced every week within the various congregations of St. John’s in Franklinton where we sing praises to God after gathering prayer requests about loved ones who have cancer, are imprisoned, suffer hunger, are homeless, have died. I see it in my work place when I hear the stories of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, violence, and persecution. They tell me about how they lost a spouse, a limb, a child, and follow it by their gratitude for being alive.

It’s far easier for me to doubt God in the midst of suffering. To critique God for God’s seeming indifference and silence. If justice is meant to come, why not now? Why the delay? This year has been characterized by this kind of wrestling with God. But when I do this, I think I am forgetting who God is and where God resides. Our God is the one who came to earth and died.

Isaiah says Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Jesus was consistently among the suffering and suffered himself. I love the picture of Jesus we see in John when he says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” A similar scenario happens when Jesus is hanging on the cross. One of the criminals being crucified with him cries out to him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and save us!” But instead, Jesus remains in suffering until death. And in this, God’s glorification is complete and the saving act accomplished.

What brings me hope, what pulls me back into faith, what moves me to dance and know joy in the midst of suffering is this strange comfort that God remained in suffering and died. That God continues to be with us in our suffering, that God is also still suffering, and that we too are somehow “filling up what is missing in the sufferings of Jesus” as we suffer with Jesus in our world. And though I am terrified to say it, I think this is the heart of Christian discipleship, that we “fall into the earth and die.” That we live and work and love in the midst of those who suffer, and suffer ourselves because we love. And in the same breath, we remain in hope and joy because we have faith that God is with us, still suffering, until God is “lifted up from the earth, and draws all people to Godself,” lifting up all who suffer with God.

How Street Church Changed My Mind About Sundays

2 Mar

Street Church

By Nora Anderson

For most of my teen and adult life, I can’t say I’ve been a huge fan of church services. If there’s one thing I believe about the Catholic school system, it’s that most will leave it not wanting to be involved in organized religion for a long time after. Throughout college, I regularly stayed up late and slept in on Sunday mornings. Although I respected and understood my friends and relatives who made it a point to head to some sort of service once a week, I thought it wasn’t for me.

When serving at a community meal at St. John’s in Franklinton last spring and I was told about Confluence Year, I thought it would be a great opportunity to put my sociology degree to use, get myself involved in service and generally put the year off between undergraduate and law school to good use by serving my community. I guessed the religious aspect was going to be a side part and I could get through it and everything would be cool.

So when I learned one of the requirements was going to St. John’s traditional service twice a month and its Street Church service three times a month, I knew I had guessed wrong. I imagined I could tolerate waking up before 10 a.m. a few times and heading to a traditional service that would be familiar to me, but a whole new, SECOND service after that? Have mercy. So in August, I headed to my first Street Church. To my surprise, I loved it.

There are zero pretenses in Street Church. No shoes, no shirt, there will still be service – and there often is, in the summer. When people come as they are to an event, it strips away all assumptions we might make about someone. The church service I knew had been stripped of the fancier language and a lot of the ritual, and the true meanings emerged. The abandoned lot where St. John’s holds Street Church is a place of truth.

I’ve been going to Street Church for about six months now, and to tell the truth, I get a bit disappointed when I have to miss it for one reason or another. Although the free lunch afterwards brought me in, it’s the community that keeps me coming back. I recognize the regulars and I wonder where they may be when I don’t see them one week. I think they might do the same for me. That space of realness is something I was missing in my life, and I’m glad I had to question myself to get there.

Nora Anderson is an Episcopal Service Corps volunteer and lives in intentional community with the other young adults of Confluence in a home in Franklinton.

Are you a young adult interested in a year of spiritual formation and vocational discernment while living out a life of social justice in intentional community? The Confluence Episcopal Service Corps program is excited to announce that applications for the 2015-16 year are now being accepted at

Windows to Heaven

25 Feb

Windows to Heaven

Henri Nouwen writes of spiritual disciplines that, “they are the effort to create some space for God to act.”

Over the course of Lent, the Confluence volunteers will be reading A Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life by Tony Jones. Each chapter explains the history of a specific spiritual practice, it’s theology, and how to incorporate that practice into one’s personal or communal pursuit of God. Each week the volunteers will read up on one spiritual discipline, and then practice it together following the community meal.

This week we read and discussed chapter 9: Praying with Icons. It was a rich conversation as we considered how God acts and moves through the material, and where the line is between icon and idol.

Each volunteer received their own unique icon to incorporate into their prayer life, and we took some time together in stillness and silence to ponder our icon, be present with the image of Jesus, Saint, or Scripture, and carve out the space to peer through these windows to heaven in an effort to create some space for God to act.

For more resources on icons, I encourage you to checkout…


Podcasts (Icons Part 1: Feb 3rd, 2009 & Icons Part 2: Feb 10th, 2009) (Episode 51-Icons: Aug 17, 2014)



sacred way

We can never be sure of God again

14 Jan

This December the Confluence Volunteers developed and led the liturgy for St. John’s Wednesday night His Place Service. The liturgy was built around Luke Chapter 2. During the service Melanie Williams asked the congregation to write down on paper hearts the places they had experienced good news or were hopeful for good news. This post features reflections from the Confluence Volunteers, and moments of good news experienced or hoped for from the congregation.

PART 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:1-7

When I read this part of the Christmas story I am reminded that I often forget who God is. I think our society and even the church, tends to talk about a powerful god. A god who sits in the clouds and grants us wishes if only we pray hard enough, or long enough, or believe enough. I think those verses show that there is a lot wrong with that image of God. I think the Christmas story is beautiful because it turns things upside down it surprises us.

Our God is not a powerful God at least not powerful in the way we understand power to be. God is a baby. God is displaced – displaced from heaven to earth, Nazareth to Bethlehem, the inn to the manger. God is vulnerable – needing to be wrapped in bands of cloth by his mother. God is homeless.

This changes everything. God is no longer distant. God is no longer one with power to fear. God surprises us by showing up in a baby, by showing up in a stable, and now we can never know where God will appear. In coming in this humble way, God gives up God’s power and hands that power over to us. A theologian wrote that the Christmas story means that “God is never safe from us!” God comes and makes Godself able to be abandoned and even killed by human beings.

As I reflect on this part of the Christmas story I’m struck by the truth and beauty of what this all means. Because of this story, we can never be sure of God again.

As we continue to prepare for Christmas, I’d encourage all of us to let go of the image of a powerful God so that we can look to the manger – to the places we wouldn’t expect God to be – and be surprised by the power of love, humility and vulnerability.

PART 2 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:7-14

One of the things I love about reading the Bible are the little notes at the bottom of each page that tell you things you might not have known about the story you’re reading. That’s my favorite part of the Bible, because I’m familiar with pretty much all the good stories in there. And some of the weird ones, too.

And so when I was going through my Bible I began to understand that this part, with the angels, really shows who the message is for. You see, God sends angels to deliver the greatest message, and who do they talk to? Shepherds. Those little notes at the bottom of my Bible page tell me that a shepherd at this time was considered the worst job. People thought they were unclean and they weren’t even allowed to testify in court. But they were the first people to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. This announcement shows that at whatever place you might feel like in life, whether or not you feel good or smart or strong, our status never gets in the way of God’s good news to us. – Nora Anderson

PART 3 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:15-20

What I notice in this story is that the shepherds and all who hear them are amazed and glorify God for what they have seen and heard, but Mary responds differently. She treasures these events and ponders them in her heart. I don’t know what Mary was thinking at this time, but I can imagine she may have returned to a question she asked earlier in the Christmas story when the angel Gabriel came to her to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. She asked, “How can this be?”

How can it be that God has come to us in this way – by becoming a baby, fully dependent on his mother. Could this really be God? Has God really come? Why does it seem that nothing has changed? There is still no room in the inn. We are still homeless. We are still suffering. We are still persecuted. What kind of savior is this? He is just a baby!

Jesus was not the savior that people expected. God did not swoop in and wipe out the wicked or make everything fair and just. Instead, God came and suffered with us, endured injustice with us, took on all our same pains, all our same experiences, all our same doubts, but also our same hopes. Even when we are unsure, like Mary pondering in her heart – how can this be? – the beauty of this Christmas story is that God has come and shares fully in our lives.

We do not often stop to look for God, especially not in the unexpected places, and we miss the good news that God has come. We’re going to do an activity now where we reflect on our lives and remember where we have seen God with us or among us. You have paper hearts and colored pencils, and as we sing the next couple songs, please take the time to reflect on where you have seen God among you, or what good news you have heard, or even what good news you wish to hear. You can then write on the heart a sentence or a word or even draw a picture as you ponder this in your heart. Afterwards, we will collect them and tape them to the walls downstairs so they can continue to remind us of the hope of God is with us. – Melanie Williams

A Reflection from Nora Anderson about COHHIO.

12 Jan


Nora and her supervisor, Douglas Argue.

Working at COHHIO has been a great experience so far. Because of the range of projects that COHHIO has a hand in, I can be working on designing an advocacy webpage one day and calling to get out the vote the next. I’ve also been able to travel around Columbus to help with trainings and charity fairs, so I’m able to share the work that COHHIO is doing with others, and hopefully they’ll support our efforts. Mostly, I use my skills in design to help COHHIO visually communicate its message.

Nora Anderson and her supervisor at COHHIO (and Deacon in the Episcopal church), Douglas Argue, encourage you to support the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio in one of the following three ways.

1. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, and spread our social media messages as much as possible.

2. Become a member of COHHIO for as little as $35, which entitles you to a generous discount to our annual conference. The conference is a great place to attend workshops on all kinds of housing related issues like veteran and youth homelessness, permanent supportive housing, housing for victims of domestic violence, and many others.

3. Finally, You can donate to COHHIO. These funds are used to fund our our advocacy work on issues like fighting payday lending, fighting threats to fair housing laws, and increasing the availability of affordable housing in the state.