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Week 6 Day 5: Declaring What We Have Seen and Heard

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the world of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…”
I John 1:1,2

Declaring What We Have Seen and Heard
I remember leading a retreat once for students, and one of them saying to me, “Tell me what you know.” There was a real hunger, not just for theories, or doctrines, or explanations, but for a real experience of God. And that’s what the world is hungering for.

-Br. David Vryhof



Transcript:

I’ve always been impressed by the very tangible and concrete language that the author of the First Letter of John uses to describe the experience of the Christian community and their relationship with Jesus. He says, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. This life was revealed, and we have seen it and testified to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father, and was revealed to us.”

Now, recall that this letter is written in the early part of the second century, some 80 years after the death of Jesus, so the author, and the people of whom he’s writing, could not have been physically present when Jesus was on the earth. They could not have seen him and touched him with their hands, literally, but they used this very tangible and concrete language because their experience of him is still so real and so authentic that this language seems to fit their experience.

We say in the Creed that the Church is “holy, catholic, and apostolic.” And in the Catechism, in the Book of Common Prayer, the question is asked, “Why is the Church described as apostolic?” And we say the church is ‘apostolic’ because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, and is sent to carry Christ’s mission to all people.

So there’s a sense in which our witness is a passing on of a tradition that we’ve received from others, that goes back all the way to the time of the apostles, and we receive this tradition and pass it on to the next generation. That’s part of our charge, and part of what we need to protect and to nurture.

But the faith also has to be rooted in our own experience. Our witness cannot be simply to a tradition that we’ve received, to teaching that we’ve received, but it has to be something authentic and real, that’s based and rooted in our lives. We would never call a witness to the stand who hadn’t been actually present during the situation, who came onto the stand and said, “Well, I wasn’t there, but I heard that this is what happened.” That’s not an authentic witness. We want someone who has actually seen something, who knows something, who’s heard something, who was there, for whom the experience was real and tangible.

So our witness also has to have that first-hand quality. I remember leading a retreat once for Harvard University students at the monastery, and one of the students saying to me, “Tell me what you know.” There was a real hunger, not just for theories, or doctrines, or explanations, but for a real experience of God. And that’s what the world is hungering for from us, “Tell us, not only the tradition you’ve received, but tell us how relating to Jesus, living with Jesus, has made a tangible difference in your own life.”

And so, I invite you today to consider that. What is your witness? What is your testimony? What is your first-hand experience? How has being in relationship with Jesus changed your life, and what do you have to declare to others?

We invite you to share your answer in the comments below or using #MeetingJesus

20 Comments

  1. Mary on March 27, 2018 at 19:42

    Good important questions. ” Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. ” 1 Peter 3:15
    I apologize in advance for the length of this. I have been intimately aware of Jesus in my life for 37 years (I’m 62). I had a “born again” experience in grad school that started our relationship. It planted in me a desire to really know Jesus and was just the beginning of the journey. Then about 4 years later, my life was turned upside down with a cancer diagnosis. Facing death from cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to realize the only place to turn – to find meaning in life – was to God. By sheer discipline, I spent time reading, studying, praying daily for answers. The discipline paid off, and Jesus made himself known and alive to me. I began it hear his voice and see him more clearly in my daily life. I learned nothing is too small or insignificant to bring to him. One of the first times I attempted to meditate, it was on The Providence of God. Now, I see clearly all the ways God’s been there, providing what I needed when I needed it. When I take the time to acknowledge it, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
    It seems like the only way to fully explain my first-hand experience is with examples.
    The examples I most commonly think of are from moments of crisis in my life. Being diagnosed with cancer, being unable to have children, adopting 2 sons, one exposed to cocaine in utero, having 2 troubled teens self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and getting arrested, causing a car accident where someone else was hurt. But the amazing part is, God gave me a very strong and stable and loyal husband as a partner. God gave me a brilliant oncologist. God provided me with health insurance I didn’t even know I had so I could get a life-saving experimental bone marrow transplant. God led us to birth moms who weren’t able to raise their children. God led us to therapists and boarding schools which straightened out our sons so they are not addicts or felons, but productive members of society. God provided excellent insurance so that when we were sued for the car accident, we didn’t lose anything. God was and always is there for me when I need him. He loves me and accepts me in spite of all my flaws.
    When I used to go on customer visits to demonstrate equipment, I prayed before each one, and went in knowing God was with me, whether the demo worked or not. Likewise whenever I made a presentation. When I wanted to serve at church, he put a passion for people who were lost on my heart – people who weren’t familiar with God’s promises in the bible. He enriched my life with the opportunity to lead a bible study. He showed me leadership abilities I didn’t know I had when he made me Senior Warden -and our rector left. He was with me in every decision I made, and by faith I know he will continue to be.

  2. David John Drew on March 24, 2018 at 18:07

    Testimony

    In 2012, I returned home to visit my family in Northumberland, in the north-east of England. I had decided beforehand to make a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne – which isn’t far from where my family lived, about 50 miles, but without a car it became frustratingly impossible – which, in combination with the times and tides forced me to reconsider my intention. So, I decided instead to make a journey to the Monkwearmouth, the monastery of the Venerable Bede in Jarrow. Actually, it is only across the River Tyne from the place where I was born and raised – in the shipbuilding community of Wallsend (so named because Hadrian’s Roman Wall came to an end there, also called ‘Segedunum’).

    The monastery of Bede sits in a hidden enclave in the bend of the river Don, a tributary of the Tyne, camouflaged by many trees, and surrounded by an unlikely perimeter of various factories. So, it is difficult to locate. As I walked across the old stone bridge it seemed as if I was going back in time. I wandered around the remnants of the ancient building. Though it was January, usually a cold month – the day was brightly sunlit and warm. For some reason, I was drawn mysteriously to a particular spot, near an outer wall. From there emerged from the earth a marvelous and beautiful sound that touched my heart – and called me home. It was an indescribable moment in which my faith was wholly and completely realized, a sensation of complete joy that lifted my spirit up to God.

    Since then, I have come to realize true faith comes not just from intellectual understanding, but is sensual – one in which, as John claims, we hear, see, and touch… a living, breathing faith that cannot be denied. This calls us all to be attentive, alert, receptive and aware of the way in which the Divine communicates to us through the ordinary circumstances of our lives, in the objects around us. We should be cognizant of the fact that Christ is not merely a title, like Messiah, but is an active, embodied principle in creation. Thus we see, touch, feel and smell the Divine in even the simplest of things – like a burning candle, in the metallic glint of a chalice, in the taste of the wine and bread of communion, in the songs of birds… throughout history we, humans have expressed that in amazing and creative endeavors – music, art and poetry, in many innumerable ways and dimensions. A few years later I did a course with Prof. Brent Plate of Hamilton University called ‘Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life’ – that explored and confirmed this very subject. It is enough to say that our faith is informed and made far richer by all our senses rather than the mind alone. It emerges from centuries of tradition, a tapestry of life into which we ourselves are interwoven – and which we ourselves add to as we continue to pray, express our understanding of faith and live, giving our own testimony and narrative.

    O Lord,

    May you always be a constant presence and source of inspiration in our lives, and guide us all ever-onward to an eternal life in you.

    + Amen

    Pax Christi – David

  3. Ruth West on March 24, 2018 at 10:19

    Br. David, what a great and significant message this is! Thank you.
    I so enjoyed reading all the comments. What personal good testimonies they contain!
    Christ has come to me in so many different ways. He lives in me, and I in Him, so often by way of hymns and spiritual songs. Of course, He speaks to me through the scriptures. I know I do not seek His holy presence as much as I should; distractions pull my attention away to petty and unimportant things. But I know Him by actual experience. I remember the account of the blind man who was asked to describe Jesus, who he was, etc. He replied, “I only know that once I was blind, now I can see.” That is my experience. I have no words to perfectly describe Him, but I know that wherein I was once blind, now I can see. Praise His name!

  4. Jaan Sass on March 24, 2018 at 07:01

    Looking back, I can see where Christ carried me. I had a conversation with an atheist friend of mine. It was not preachy nor covered any particular doctrine of faith. He was hurting, and in many ways, I was too. After the conversation, he said something to me that has stuck with me over the last couple of years. He said he had never met Christian that was authentic, and honest before. I don’t remember what I said, and he honestly had a lot of angst but maybe being more authentic and honest is more important than preaching or witnessing to people.

    • Suzanne Crawford on March 29, 2018 at 15:51

      I too enjoy reading testimonies of others like me who have had profound experiences with Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. My first experience was when I was twelve and I am now almost 66…..I grew up in a town where everyone was highly educated and had many educational, social, and stimulating experiences. I was sitting in the school dining room with six or seven of my galpals. We had been in school together since kindergarten and our parents had also known each other since are parents were young. My gal pals were all in the accelerated section of seventh grade. I was not. We are all still pretty good friends and have reunions. Anyway on this particular day the topic of discussion was God. Who believed and why. Each girl gave their view. Most were scientific explanations as why they did not believe. As an aside the gals at the table were quite varied on their religious backgrounds. We had Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians, and Presbyterian . When it was my turn to speak, I expressed myself by saying, I definitely believed and someone asked, but how do you know. I answered with I have faith, and I believe. The discussion then ended. Throughout my life there has been one experience after another where Christ has revealed Himself to me in profound ways and in very everyday experiences. To this day my galpals refer to me as their safe harbor. They always give me time for my meditations and early morning prayers. Only once have I been laughed at and I quickly reminded this person not to laugh at me in my home when I am blessing our food. I just can not imagine not having Christ in my daily life all day and all,night. Peace and love be with you all!

  5. Damon D. Hickey on March 23, 2018 at 04:59

    Maybe the best way to think about this is that we—“John,” his followers, and I—are participating in a single experience that unites us, maybe even in the only experience capable of uniting us. Indeed, “John” seems to have difficulty understanding how true Christians could be disunited! In Johannine terms, I can certainly retell John’s story and claim it as my own. Or I could try to describe my own experience of unity with Jesus and the Father. Or to describe my experience of unity with my fellow-Christians and John and Jesus and the Father. The point is that experiential sameness, for “John,” doesn’t necessitate temporal and spatial coincidence. Nor, for this tradition, is doctrinal uniformity a necessary condition for sameness (although it’s not entirely clear where the boundaries would be). This is a mystical tradition, in which union is more important than uniformity. So, Lord, I pray for that unity for which you prayed for your disciples: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (17:20-23).

  6. marta engdahl on March 22, 2018 at 21:38

    When, at age 76, I look back, I KNOW that God/Jesus/Spirit has tangibly been with me in the world. I have heard words of my deceased brother apologizing through the setting sun, I have picked up a book that lead me into a deeper faith, etc., and I have ended up here, with all of you recounting our many experiences of the Living Water! Thanks be to God!

    • Bishop Hollywood on March 23, 2018 at 01:15

      My testimony is that God has opened my eyes to see that He is good. Not some of the time but all the time.

  7. James D on March 22, 2018 at 20:43

    Whenever I evoke the name of Jesus to help me with a concern, I have always been amazed at the way He responds. There is no way I could ever had guessed the way He answers my prayers. I could go through a hundred scenarios in my mind and still never even come close to the solution Jesus provides. That is why I now just lay down my problems at the foot of the cross. And when I do I hear Jesus say “I got this”. Amen.

  8. Delores on March 22, 2018 at 19:22

    I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church as an infant, received the sacraments as I grew up and lived within a family of believers. Christianity is embedded in me and I found the Anglican Church as a young adult. And I believe I can witness to God, personally. I was a 34-year old widow struggling to provide for my three children and myself and manage my grief and theirs. One Saturday night when I was on my hands and knees washing the floor while they were asleep in their beds, I was overcome by anguish, loneliness and despair. Silent tears were flowing down my face and I cried out into the silence, “Father, comfort your child.” In that instant, all pain ceased, tears stopped. It didn’t happen slowly. I didn’t forget why I was so upset. There was just an instant absence of pain. I know the mind is powerful and can block what we cannot endure in order to protect itself. But I believe God reached out to me, personally. I believe He walks beside me and there are two sets of footsteps in the sand and, at times, only one set, His, when He carries me. I trust that He will be with me until my last breath.

  9. John G. on March 22, 2018 at 19:19

    I must be one of the fortunate people. I have seen Jesus. I have seen him in the face of my Rector who came to visit me in the hospital. I have seen and heard him in the presence of a dear friend and mentor. I have seen him with my mother as she knelt and prayed in church. I have seen and heard him in the Word, the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. I see him in the loving works of devoted fellow church members. I hear him in the harmonies of our parish choir. I once saw him in person as I was celebrating Holy Communion. Am I crazy? Lock me up, then, and I will see him in my friend, the chaplain at the state hospital. Because truly, Jesus is with us and will remain so always.

    • Delores on March 22, 2018 at 21:14

      YES! Thank you, John!

    • April Baily on March 24, 2018 at 21:09

      Thank you. Yes, you speak for me, too. Thank you for your eloquence in saying what I need to say.

  10. James Rowland on March 22, 2018 at 19:11

    To me, my experience, my witness—it’s all in the relationship–with Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit and with myself and others. I experience it with the homeless families we all work together with to find a permanent home. With the elderly and/or disabled at the food pantry. With the guests from the overwhelmed shelter on the cold nights we have had this winter. Relationship with the people I have the great honor to work with. This is where I have found Jesus.

  11. Bryan Cook on March 22, 2018 at 18:33

    I still have not witnessed Jesus. I see him as the greatest teacher and martyr of all time. I see him and learn from his teachings in the context of his time. I am firmly commited to God who manifests himself as a Father, a Son and a Holy Spririt. “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost”. Does it make me a “lesser person” even a “deist”? I think not because I believe that, with or even without prayer, God works miracles in my life and all around me. So I feel in a sort of limbo when it comes to being a verbal witness of Jesus and perhaps a hypocrite when I participate in Holy Communion, though I see that as a sacrifice by God to redeem my sin followed by a Ressurection to give gifts love, peace, faith, hope and charity which I do my best to espouse in my own life and promote where God calls me to do so.

  12. Rhode on March 22, 2018 at 17:51

    In the wonderful church I am part people speak about their personal relationship with Jesus in a bible study or workshop. This is New England where most of need permission and an acceptable time. LOL. Yet, anytime, anywhere someone has opened their heart and poured out their story to me about their encounter with God or Jesus or how their lives are being moved by the Spirit I have been touched deeply by their words. Their words have become part of my story as Jesus moves in my heart to draw me closer. Rare times but they happen and when they happen I feel it as a sacred moment because I realize Jesus is speaking. Sometimes our words are all we have and when they reveal the love of Christ those words will be water to a thirsty person.

  13. Susan on March 22, 2018 at 17:43

    Experience of Jesus is so important. I find that if I am too busy sometimes I don’t recognize it. Also I am reminded of an old hymn: Let others see Jesus in Me, should be our constant prayer.

  14. Bev Cone on March 22, 2018 at 16:34

    I just had to request help from others to help my reading student, who is not responding to our lessons. That is hard, but my prayer is that through me, and/or others, we will be able to move forward. I cannot do it alone, I am not in charge……………God is. Please help me listen to His Word.

  15. John David Spangler on March 22, 2018 at 15:56

    Brother David offers a real challenge. How does one respond? In my own case, the first thought that came to mind was quotation that came to mind was to remember the admonition of St. Francis that when proclaiming the gospel one should speak if necessary. My relationship was implanted by my parents in such a way that the relationship was simply a part of life, dramatised by baptism and confirmation and sustainded by Holy Communion. The relationship is confirmed in many ways among them: seeing the lilies of the field in all their glory; receiving the support of my fellow men, both believers and non-believers; and finding a lost object. How do I declare the relationship? I do not know. My prayer is to do so as St. Francis so wisely guided us to do.

  16. Agatha Nolen on March 22, 2018 at 15:47

    Br. David Vryhof tells us that faith is rooted in tradition with added teachings that we have received, but it has to be authentic and real, based and rooted in our lives. We need to share how living with Jesus has made a tangible difference in our lives. Br. David talks about calling a witness to the stand and only allowing those to testify who had actually seen something, who know something, who have heard something, or who was there for whom the experience was real and tangible.

    How appropriate for today’s meditation as I’ve been on jury duty all this week! As I reflect, it is true that the evidence is overwhelming when someone speaks of being at the event rather than on hearsay from others.

    I wrote a memoir a few years ago that chronicles when I realized that I had seen Christ. I’d like to learn how to give a verbal witness of Christ so that people know that I have seen Him and know Him with the authenticity of one who was there.

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