Evolving My Faith

This piece was originally published on ESR’s Blog
Learning and Leading“.

The highlight of experience of the 2012 Spirituality Gathering started when Professor Carole Spencer asked if a few of us who had taken Carrie Newcomer’s songwriting class might read Phil Gulley’s talk prior to the event and respond with a creative piece to be used in the closing. I received the talk just before getting on an airplane, where I gobbled up the whole piece, staring and circling phrases and jotting down ideas. As I read I observed reading on two leve
ls, I was reading looking for a song, highlighting phrases and themes as they emerged, and I was reading as a theologian and a human, fascinated by his approach to the topic of The Evolution of Faith.Over the next week I read through the talk a number of times, jotting down themes and images, choice phrases and turns of speech. I kept reading words that connected to places inside me that are questioning, wondering, searching and looking for articulation. Gulley’s talk is excerpted from his new book “The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christian Community.” He gives an overview of his theology and theory on how faith can move forward or diminish and posits the idea that in order thrive in our current spiritual environments, a continual evolution is necessary. Gulley points to the recurring theme in theological education to “teach us what others thought about God in the past… but often fails to teach us what we must know now—how we can evolve in order to thrive in our current spiritual environment” (Philip Gulley, “Evolution of Faith”, ESR Spirituality Gathering 2012).

As a current seminary student, soaking up layers of church history, history of theological thought, and the wisdom of ancient mystics, my ears caught this with a question mark. As an entrepreneurial spirit, an emergent/progressive oriented Christian and someone with a calling to church planting and new models of spiritual community, I knew I needed to engage in the questions posed. It supported themes that I have been noticing as I sift through church and spiritual histories: theology needs to be questioned, examined, prayerfully sought and applied to our current contexts. In my experience this is not necessarily a call to abandon the study of what has come before, rather a call to learn what the questions are that need to be asked. It is a call to learn from the processes our ancestors have worked through over the centuries, to look back over history not with the intention to find the authoritative answers, rather to spur on our current questions. It is a call to have the courage to open up space for theological discourse of how God is speaking in this time and context.

The call to listen and seek God’s call for each of us in this time and for the church in our current contexts is the message that kept ringing out in me each time I read through the talk. I began to hear the clues about the questions that are bubbling up and urging to be asked and signposts pointing to the practices of attentiveness and presence that are being called out to do this work. These messages rang through words like:

“What if every person received a full measure of our attention?”


“One of the most compelling traits of Jesus was his attentiveness.”


“For what is prayer, but our attentiveness to the Divine Presence…”


“Holy observance.”


“…root of prayer is attentiveness to the Creator and Created.”


“Faith and theology—our understanding of God—is always in process, is always changing, is always being affected and influenced by our culture.”


“…truth is never solely in the past. Truth is also ahead of us, in front of us.”


“We reach truth by evolving toward it.”

It is these threads that came together in me and through me as the words and ideas continued to flow. And it was these threads that the Spirit moved in and through to create a prayer for this day, a creative expression of the evolutionary process of faith.

“This is Our Prayer”

Music and lyrics by Anna Woofenden and H. Wayne Williams © 2012

What if every person received
all we have to offer,
our maximum attention,
and freedom unceasingly?

What if we could listen deeply
without expectations,
seeing Light in one another,
with gracious humility?

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart
to hear each other.

What if Truth would grow and proceed,
questioning and doubting,
moving remnants forward,
and set the Gospel free?

What if we could just let God be
open and evolving,
above us and before us,
and in us creatively?

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart to hold each other.

What if prayer was living in peace,
in love with our Creator,
observing not dividing,
that grace would be increased?

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart
to heal each other.

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart
of gold!

Inspired by Philip Gulley’s message: “The Evolution of Faith” Earlham School of Religion 3.3.2012

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