Re-imagining mission - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Members of the small community of Marungu in the Taita Hills near Voi, Kenya (Photo by Jerry Fleury)


Imagine a world where war is no more,
Nonviolence will break through at last.
Beyond the resentment and grudges we hold,
And the war-games so brutally cast.
Imagine a planet where all feel at home,
The blessing of God’s recreation.
I make all things new – forever proclaim:
Imagine … Imagine … Imagine!


These words from the poem “Disciples with Imagination” by Irish theologian Diarmuid O’Murchu seem to capture the spirit of the long-awaited, much needed mission assembly at Maryknoll Lay Missioners. (The poem in its entirety is placed at the end of this reflection.)

The mission assembly is akin to a strategic visioning process but mirrors the assemblies of religious orders, taking Maryknoll Lay Missioners deeper into reflecting upon the very why of our existence and what that means for us at this moment in our history. It was the first such process in over 12 years for Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

I still remember the February evening when our two-year process came to a close. Like many of our delegates and observers, I was exhausted. Exhausted but gratified by and surprised at the spiritual and collective imagination that seemed to catapult us into envisioning new possibilities for a dynamic future.

Christ is ever inviting us into spiritual imagining, in which our imaginations can help us share in the divine creative power. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12: 30). Jesus calls us to use the full range of our imagination — thinking, desiring, doing — to not only envision a better world, but also to go about creating it. It seems to follow, the more we engage God’s liberating nature in our lives, the more we can imagine nothing less than proclaiming the good news with how we go about living our lives.

Our mission assembly helped us to comprehend God in all God’s grandeur through what has been. Maryknoll Lay Missioners has a 47-year rich history of sending men, women, couples and families into mission. To be a mission organization is to carry the legacy of centuries — of well-intentioned actions that served humanity, and equally well-intentioned actions that sometimes did not. We live with this tension, recognizing what has been gift and when we missed the mark, while also remaining open to how God’s Spirit is inviting us to re-imagine mission in this day and age.

Our mission assembly invited us into this process of holy imagining, breaking through reason’s limited boundaries to the possibilities of God. New and unexpected questions emerged. Could we engage in new levels of community? Is there some new liberation that could be discovered through a spirit of joy and humility imbued in our commitment to mission? Should our current structures define our approach to mission or might we allow mission to aptly guide us to new structures that support a vision that is inclusive and wholly welcoming? Might we open our lives to the miracle of healing bodies and souls through nonviolence, peacemaking and compassion?

Like many mission and volunteer-oriented communities, Maryknoll Lay Missioners is struggling to define its path in the changing landscape within the church and wider society. Rather than trying to recreate what was familiar about the “good old days,” those who gathered for nearly a year sought opportunities to encounter and share the radical liberating grace of God to create an openness for the Spirit to work.

In doing so, a new vision, mission statement and set of values was adopted for Maryknoll Lay Missioners, attesting to our continued and renewed determination to become an anti-racist organization and striving for inclusion and mutuality in relationships and structures, both within Maryknoll Lay Missioners and in the work we do in the world. The language of these statements is also reflective of a transition from a ‘sending’ model, to a model of mission more reflective of both a global church and church as a co-creator of the Kingdom of God.

We affirmed a call to move our locus of mission closer to the margins. Justice, inclusion and kinship are key expressions of mission, but primarily from the margins of society. As we make this move, we affirm the agency of those who are marginalized, commit to accompanying them in the day-to-day while sharing in their struggles and hopes, and strive to change the systems that perpetuate any form of marginalization and exclusion.

Finally, we adopted nonviolence as a cross-cutting focus in all that we do. We commit to a process of pastoral theological reflection (see-judge-act) to reimagine our approach to mission as well as the lifestyle and ministries of Maryknoll lay missioners in light of this focus.

So many seem to be crying out for a place of peace, security, beauty and solace. Only when we join together in supportive, loving community can we share the dreams and yearnings of our hearts. The creative imagination of nonviolence transforms perception, thought, will, compassion, speech and action through which we are compelled to not only envision but work for this new creation God has promised.

We invite you to sift through what is evolving at Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Pray with our new vision, mission and values and pay attention to what might be stirring within you. As we reflect on what it means to go to the margins or deepen our commitment to a journey of nonviolence, take time to imagine what these callings might look like for you. As we expand our membership, how might the Spirit be inviting you to a more hospitable and inclusive life?

In her book God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, Catherine Mowry LaCugna describes our relationship with the Trinity as a “divine dance”! “There are neither leaders nor followers in the divine dance, only an eternal movement of reciprocal giving and receiving, giving again and receiving again.” That sounds a lot like mission today. God’s choosing us as God’s partner in this divine dance is evident at every moment in creation and moves us to mutual kinship with God. Might we then use our imagination to allow this dance to define our loving participation in God’s mission and with each other?

I got a glimpse of what that might look like in Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ mission assembly. There is more to come. This is an exciting and hopeful time for us! We hope you will walk with us as we continue this journey anew! Let us, together, allow God’s imagination to seize us and move us into a new vision of mission for the 21st century.


Disciples with Imagination

There’s no looking back when you’re faced with a task
To imagine the lure of the future.
The structures of old, ruling God from on high,
Bless our time with another departure.
We need to imagine a future so new,
Transcending the laws of religion.
The Spirit now echoes another refrain:
Imagine … Imagine … Imagine!

Imagine a farmer with seeds that can sprout
A harvest of God’s liberation.
Imagine a wedding with much wine afloat
Athirst for a new celebration.
Imagine a woman a birthing the bread
In a world of rife malnutrition.
Betray not the call of the Gospel refrain:
Imagine … Imagine … Imagine!

Imagine the crippled, the blind and the lame,
Set free from the bondage of guilt.
Imagine dispelling demonic disease,
The anguish that millions have felt.
Imagine the vineyard where justice prevails
With dignified work once again.
Oppression derailed by a diff’rent refrain:
Imagine … Imagine …Imagine!

Imagine a Kingdom with no king at all,
Co-dependent relations undone.
Imagine empowerment embraced mutually,
The grace and the freedom we’ve won.
Imagine the hope that baffles despair,
Uplifting the millions condemned.
More joy on the earth to sing the refrain:
Imagine … Imagine … Imagine!

Imagine a world where war is no more,
Nonviolence will break through at last.
Beyond the resentment and grudges we hold,
And the war-games so brutally cast.
Imagine a planet where all feel at home,
The blessing of God’s recreation.
I make all things new – forever proclaim:
Imagine … Imagine … Imagine!

By Diarmuid O’Murchu


Ted Miles
Ted Miles is the former executive director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners.