Keeping in Step with Jesus

May 4 / Alyssa Bell

Walking into the pristine 1950s sanctuary in the church building where I serve as a pastor last Sunday, I see a wall of windows to my left revealing the courtyard garden, bursting with flowers and plants donated by church members over the years. New tulips of yellow and orange highlight the courtyard landscape, which is tall but still closed. When our service concluded a few hours later, those same tulips were open wide, showing their beauty and praising their Creator.

As the hour for service approaches, a small but dedicated group occupies pews they have sat in for decades, leaning across an aisle to check in on a friend while the choir rehearses in the loft. A coffee pot percolates in the fellowship hall, and there is the foot activity and murmured voices of people accomplishing their morning tasks. Each of us is readying for worship in embodied, practical ways.

Our worship is predictable and grounded, following a routine order that allows for the freedom of each element to express glory to God: introits, hymns, confession, prayers, anthems, and communion. Oh, and of course, a sermon. Some might say we are too ordered or too traditional. However, I see in my congregants a longing for this Sunday morning space that grounds them in their faith and community.

In a religious climate where innovation and relevance are front and center as keys to keeping church doors open, I wonder about the power of the quiet, longstanding rhythms of faith people.

As a spiritual director in the contemplative space, I bear witness to so many stories from a diverse set of people. It is an honor, and it is in these stories, I listen to the rhythms that ground and center a person. It could be a weekly hymn, like at my church, or time in a garden feeling the earth fall through their fingers. Rhythms of embodied movement, creative projects, and time with friends are only a glimpse of the myriad of ways in which people experience the Spirit, reminding them of who they are and to whom they belong.

Rhythms exist in the background of our lives. And yet, when rooted in Jesus they quietly power our resilience, perspective, and vocations.

In Luke 24, the risen Jesus greets his disciples, who are reeling from the dramatic crucifixion and resurrection that has just taken place. Even considering the enormous, earth-shaking news that Jesus is alive, they are thrown off balance. Jesus offers them some rhythms to calm their nervous systems so that they can see and act clearly. First, he speaks calmly over them: “Peace be with you.” In doing so, Jesus establishes a goal—to ground them in his presence. Second, he shows them his scars in response to their fear and doubt, assuring them of his identity. “Touch me and see…” Finally, Jesus asks for food, engaging with them in the basic acts of nourishment and hospitality. Peace, reminders of Jesus, and tangible met needs. These rhythms are smooth and easy to achieve. They are simple, grounding, and deeply impactful, strengthening the disciples for the task ahead of sharing Jesus with the world.

Spiritual formation and rhythms have always accompanied and been integrated with our faith. New programs and ideas can come and go, some admittedly compelling and inspiring! But, we are grounded by Jesus and the presence and power of his Holy Spirit—every act of faith and worship springs from this foundation.

Rhythms without Jesus are simply habits; habits do not have the power to calm our fears and remind us that we belong to and are loved by God. But rhythms do not have to look religious. From the rhythm of a liturgy to the rhythm of a weekly lap swim at the YMCA, and including all of the basic needs and creative expressions in between, these are the things that can, with the Spirit’s invitation, steadily keep us in step with Jesus.

Alyssa Bell
Alyssa Bell is a bi-vocational pastor at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA where she lives with her husband Matthew and daughters, Theresa and Susie. While serving the church, which she loves, she pursues complimentary vocational avenues like teaching and spiritual direction. Alyssa completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation (Portland Seminary) in 2021 and her Spiritual Direction Training Certificate through the Companioning Center in 2022.
She is the author of Calm and Quiet My Soul: A Holistic Approach to Spiritual Care for the Mothering Pastor.
For fun Alyssa enjoys walking, making music, reading mystery novels, and completing puzzles.