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The year 2011 ended in Houston with a visit by GYC (Generation of Youth for Christ). Thousands of enthusiastic young Adventists converged on the George R. Brown Convention Center (One of the 10 largest in the U.S.) for several days of teaching and fellowship, ending on New Years’ Day, 2012.
Advent is a season that Adventists should love—it is part of our name, after all! It is a season of four weeks preceding the celebration of the birth of Jesus; it prepares us to welcome him at his first advent, while also anticipating his second advent. The scripture readings used in churches of many denominations have this dual focus, as do the hymns. We hear the promises of the Old Testament, and the call of John the Baptist to prepare, and the angelic messages to Mary and to Joseph. Hymns urge “Sleepers, wake!” and “Prepare the royal highway, the King of kings is near!”
Pilgrimage is a nearly universal element of religion. Christians and Jews go to the Holy Land, or to other places associated with sacred events or individuals in history. Devotees of many religions go to sites associated with sacred geography—mountains or rivers or wells. Seventh-day Adventists go on pilgrimage, too, to those shrines we call, “Adventist Heritage sites,” and to sacred convocations such as camp-meetings and General Conference sessions.
As a young monk, Martin Luther received a thorough formation in the spirituality of his community at the hands of his directors. He was introduced to ascetical and mystical theologies. He chanted the liturgy of the hours in choir. He spent long hours in private prayer and spiritual reading. He went to confession, celebrated mass, participated in Eucharistic devotions, went on pilgrimages, and prayed the rosary. He did everything that a good monk was supposed to do.
“Spiritual formation” is a controversial topic in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventist Review editor Bill Knott recently interviewed three seminary faculty members about criticism the seminary has received for programs on spiritual formation. The seminary chose to drop the term, opting instead for “Biblical spirituality.”
Much of this series on spirituality focuses on what we do when we are alone with God. But what about when we are with other Christians? What of our common life of prayer?
For Adventists, times for corporate prayer include the Sabbath worship service, the prayer meeting, weeks of prayer, camp meeting, and the like. In most of these, the dominant activity is not prayer, but preaching or teaching. Besides the sermon or sermons, there are the other exhortations, like the one before the offertory. There are announcements, greetings, and explanations. But we do pray.