Readings

Readings on Pilgrimage

photoThese past months many of the books I’ve opened have provided new views into pilgrimage – refining and rekindling my own vision of this type of journey. If you are looking for some ways into pilgrimage – whether a journey to a foreign land or a journey through life. Here are a few suggested readings.

In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, Jim Belcher

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look,and ask for the ancient paths,where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

After finishing the narrative of this pilgrimage to articulate faith, to rest, and to build a foundation for a family, I wanted even more to head out on such a journey. Quickly I was thinking about who to invite, where we would go, the focus of the time, and more. However, the journey that Belcher lays out is not only about going to lands away from home, but into the faith lives before us today. So this is where I left this book. Exploring my own search for faith – and in the back of my mind planning the next pilgrimage.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber

This is not a head-in-the-sand, idealized view of vocation, but one of taking an honest look at the world around us – where God has placed us, with whom he has placed us, and who we are. Garber references Walker Percy’s concept of “pilgrim in the ruins.” In our lives we are on a sacred journey, but it’s not paved in gold with step-by-step directions laid out for us. Instead it’s through the reality of the brokenness of this world, including ourselves, that we find the grace of vocation.

Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life, Phileena Heuretz

“It’s a story of awakening, darkness and transformation. It’s a story of being born. It’s a story of striving to be free. As a Christian it is a story of ongoing transformation in the image of Christ.”

Phileena Heuertz’ contemplation of her sabbatical takes readers through the journey walked and the struggles and transformations that she entered along the way – through God’s grace. Don’t think you have time or need to take time for contemplation? Heuretz story shows how this seemingly quiet practice is essential, especially for those of us in the midst of an active life.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, Alan Jacobs

“I love the essay primarily because it is the genre par excellence of wayfaring.”  This book is an excellent example of wayfaring through writing and literature as Jacobs’ readings and musings open up new avenues of thought and adventure.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior

“I have carried this book and many, many others, all these years. And they have made me who I am.” It was wonderful to journey with Prior through her life with books – Charlotte’s Web, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Madame Bovary, and more. So many people have been made by books and all the worlds they contain. This is a great way to get to know someone, even ourselves, and to set out on a journey.

Holy is the Day, Carolyn Weber

Carolyn Weber takes readers through a journey of living in the present, not because everything was going so well that she wanted to capture the unambiguous happiness of life, but because even in the pain – which she details through several physical and emotional struggles – there is something to realize as a gift beyond ourselves. I was drawn to her story – that of an English professor in the throes of tenure, sabbatical, publishing, raising a family, and seeking to follow God. Into this story she weaves poetry and prose – Chesterton, Lewis, Donne, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Sayers – along with scripture – Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary – providing a rich context for living.

 

So pilgrimages – journeys of transformation through stories of meaning. The paths can be through literature, our vocations, life challenges and more. Above all, God’s grace guides us as we are open and aware to see the steps before us. What readings have encouraged your thoughts on pilgrimage?

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Review – Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present

UnknownCarolyn Weber takes readers through a journey of living in the present.  Not because everything was going so well that she wanted to capture the unambiguous happiness of life, but because even in the pain – which she details through several physical and emotional struggles – there is something to realize as a gift beyond ourselves. 

I was drawn to her story – that of an English professor in the throes of tenure, sabbatical, publishing, raising a family, and seeking to follow God.  Into this story she weaves poetry and prose – Chesterton, Lewis, Donne, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Sayers –  along with scripture – Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary.  These layers provide a rich context for living in the present.

Here is a woman who unknowingly ruined an interview because she stated that her motivation for teaching was “To love my students into understanding” (49).  The interviewers neither understood what she meant, nor wanted to understand.  Still she continued to live out this mission not only in the classroom, but within her family and through her writing.

Here are just a few snippets of Weber’s voice that guides readers through the narrative.

  • “I couldn’t afford therapy so I started writing.” (39)
  • “When it comes to our worries and gifts and talents and abilities, we give what we can in him [Christ], through him, and to him” (56)
  • “Irreverence begins in not paying attention.  And yet, I think, it can also stem from counting too often and too closely.” (61)
  • “Because we serve such an extraordinary God, we are called to live in difference.” (123)
  • “Liminal space – living on the threshold where the present meets eternity” (130)
  • “I didn’t see that it wasn’t about wrapping my head around anything, but about having the Holy Spirit wrap around me.” (162)
  • “reading is a trinitarian act” (164)

In this marvelous narrative journey, she also speaks of the extraordinary u-turn friends who drop everything in the moment to be present in the difficult times of life.  Of God’s relentless work of refining us until we see that he is the answer instead of anything else in our lives.  And of changing the ubiquitous phrase carpe diem (seize the day) to carpe Deum (seize God).  The first focuses on our presence in the present, while the other recognizes the source of the present.  As we grasp God we can fully live in the moment no matter what is happening around us.

In later chapters Weber reveals a new challenge in her life and the struggles she faces seeking to see the gifts of the present.  The book ends not with a resolution to this struggle – but with a grasping of God no matter the outcome.  Into this unfinished story readers aren’t able to rest in a resolved ending, but, more importantly are able to hold onto God, the real hope for their present.

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The Writing Life – A Reflection

What does a writing life look like?  Most of the time a person of my ilk wants to be handed a list of 10 things to do to be a writer – knowing that doing these things will lead to a published book.  In school if I followed the teacher’s instructions I would receive an A and eventually I would graduate.  At work I could list goals, work towards them, and get a raise.  Success came via pretty clear roads.  However, with writing, as with most things, I’m beginning to see that this isn’t reality.

Annie Dillard expresses this very idea in her book, The Writing Life, by providing a view into her life of writing. Several reviews I read on Amazon were critical of the book because it did not contain that step-by-step guide.  As if by reading enough books on writing one can actually write.  Even though I may find a sense of comfort from those type of books, a sense that I’m doing something to further my writing project, I’m actually just putting off the real work.

Instead of providing a fool-proof system, Dillard pulls her readers out of their comfortable pictures of writing – just as she pulled her readers out of a romantic image of nature in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Within these pages we are accosted not with images of writing at a desk overlooking a scenic lake – but of needing to find a place in a library where no outside experiences will intrude. Or, a cabin or tool shed where only the essential items are present – and sometimes absent, like heat.  For Dillard, “Appealing work places are to be avoided.”  She closes herself off from potential distractions in order to practice a great discipline of focused composing.  Yet, this is an element of her writing story, not something she claims is necessary for everyone.

Most importantly she shows that a writing life is a life first.  It’s not about being holed away and creating an alternative world – that can come later.  Instead it’s about living in this world and writing out of that living.  She emphasizes that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.  A schedule defends from chaos and whim” (32).  A writer does not wait for something to happen, but lives into the story.  I’m reminded of Donald Miller’s book A Thousand Miles in a Million Years later that explores what it is to live a better story.  As far as a road map to living a better story – it’s basically doing it, not following a list of instructions.

Dillard even pulls apart the tried and true method of planning to write – working towards a well conceived vision.  The vision of a piece of work is not what the final work will be or even an outline to complete.  It is a way to start, though, through the very act of writing, the vision itself may never fully be realized.   The material elements of paper, pen, screen and keyboard serve to limit, or change,that vision.  Words elicit other words.  Sentences, paragraphs, and pages evolve.

I’m not sure if I go along with Dillard’s spartan view of writing space.  Though, for me, maybe a seat belt may be in order to keep me sitting long enough to write deeply.  However, I’m with her in her call to living.  This book does not provide a path to writing success – go and find a spartan room and write.  Instead what the life in this book provides is a call to a waking life because “we still and always want waking”.

“There is no shortage of good days.  It is good lives that are hard to come by.”

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The book I should have read 20 years ago

As an undergraduate I had heard about the book Ordering Your Private World (1985) by Gordon MacDonald when a friend who knew my overtaxed schedule suggested I read it.  Yet, the book did not make it into my task list.  I knew how to organize and order things just fine, thank you.  Still, several years later I picked up the book at a discount store and it has sat on my shelf ever since.

Just last month this book actually made it on my schedule as the first book in a year-long reading list I’m starting.  It was time to take it off the shelf.  I could have just assumed that I knew what it would say, along with the related articles about use of time in today’s world, but I decided to open it.

In one respect it met my expectations – a self-help book that breaks down a problem (in this case disordered internal lives that lead to external chaos) and seeks to provide answers.  There are even pie charts and pithy sayings, ‘memos’, at the end of each chapter.  Often I just gloss over these insets and wonder if they are trying to redirect the focus of the reader from the shallow content on the rest of the pages.  But once I started reading I found that there is wisdom between these charts.

I was particularly struck with the distinction between living a driven or a called life.  In other words, what motivates a person?  As I was reading these passages I definitely put myself in the driven category.  MacDonald’s description of a “public world, where things can be measured, admired, and used” meshes with the world I know.  Often I choose my goals, at least those on which I focus, by looking to the expectations of others – teachers, friends, family, the church.  I want to measure up to their standards.  Or maybe I want to prove I can do something – whether that’s make a relationship work, organize more ministry projects, or plan the best trips.  My physical body also reveals evidence of this drivenness.  Not long into a day’s work my shoulders are raised, my breathing is shallow, and I’m racing to keep focused on where I’m going instead of where I am.  When I take the time to slow down and think, I know that this life is tiring me out.

At the same time I was reading MacDonald’s book I was also working through Jeremiah and read the following verses.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.  – Jeremiah 2:12-13

Immediately I recognized this image.  Driven to hew out that cistern in spite of internal calls to drink from a living fountain already available, I yearn to prove that I can do it (whatever “it” is) myself.  Not surprisingly, I come up dry.  No wonder, I’ve been drinking from an empty cistern.  Consumed with meeting these external expectations, I put on hold the callings from the living waters. Once I figure out this new job, then I can spend time on retreat.  Once I finish this book, then I can work on relationships.

MacDonald refers to the same image when he describes the church, “Many churches are fountains gone dry.  Rather than being springs of life-giving energy that cause people to grow and delight in God’s way, they become sources of stress.”   Even in the places where we should find this life-giving fountain, we are driven to compare our spiritual practices with that of others – and we often don’t add up – so we pile more on.  The latest Christian book, the latest prayer method.  I know this is true of me.

It’s easy to describe a driven life, but what is a called life?  This book and words from Jeremiah point to this other way. In a called life that quiet voice of God’s rises above the expectations of the world.  The push and pull from outside no longer wears down the person.  Even though some of the external drives may parallel the call, the person’s action will come from the quiet listening and conversation with God and trusted friends, not the frantic pace of the world.  A called person is calm within. She can say yes and no to external events because her motivation comes from a centered place – God.

So, what will I do?  One book isn’t going to change my life no matter how much I agree with it or even desire to implement its suggestions.  Ironically, if I seek to be the one to order my world, I’m again being driven.  But I can make space, and more importantly, pray for space for this to happen, allowing the Holy Spirit to work and to open my understanding to what God calls me.  What might this look like?  More in-depth and honest time in the morning with God.  Quality time to write and study.  Less and more productive time on administrative tasks.  Furthermore, there is no need to wait, this life is available now.  If only I can just stop building that cistern.

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The Homemaking God

“The home is creation redeemed and transfigured, a place of grace that is inhabited by an indwelling God of unfathomable love.”  Beyond Homelessness

What is it to see the Bible through the lens of home?  Not some sanitized view of a 21st century suburban two-story house, but a compassionate view of God’s deep yearning for a place for his creation, his people.  This is the essence of Steven Bouma-Prediger’s and Brian J. Walsh’s book, Beyond Homeless: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement.

Though the authors do speak to the most familiar definition of homelessness – not having a physical, stable shelter in which to live – they also expand what it means to be homeless.  Someone who has lived in a house, or series of houses, their entire life, but without a sense of place or connection to these spaces, can be described as being without a home.  Furthermore, destruction and abuse of the earth’s environment is another type of home breaking.  In their discussion of this larger view of homelessness the authors explore a variety of socio-economic, ecological, and postmodern issues.  Brokenness surrounds and infuses each of these perspectives and we see so many ways in which people and creation are displaced from that which God desires for us.

However, this book is not merely one more honest look at how our world is broken.  No, this book also explores God’s story through the eyes of homelessness.  Throughout the observations and arguments about homelessness, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh weave God’s story.  Starting with God’s creation of the ultimate home – to the brokenness that arises from people tearing this home apart – to God’s seeking to bring people back to a flourishing understanding of home – and ultimately to the new home that will be created when Christ returns, we are led into a dialogue between God’s Word (that living, acting word) and the world today.

This dialogue begins with the exuberant creation of the earth – exploding Genesis 1 and 2 into a symphony of joyous creation.

“It all began with joy.

In the beginning was joy,

pure, holy, ecstatic, life-giving, celebrator joy!

. . .

In the extravagance of love,

in an unspeakable generosity.

God had created a home,

a world of homemaking,

a world of care and affection.”

but then

“this world of blessed homemaking fell into a cursed homebreaking”

As I was drawn into this conversation I saw more intimately the connection of God’s story with this ever present social issue.  More importantly, it became more than another issue to address.  Assumptions and stereotypes that I held were made starkly clear to me.  Homelessness is not something we can just fix with enough money, education, and buildings. Neither is it a problem limited to certain groups of people or geographic locations. A deep reality of displacement – from one another, creation, and, ultimately God – is a fundamental consequence of sin.

Caught up in the text, I also became aware of the safe, comfort of home to which I cling.  A comfort that ignores the homelessness of others – and also of myself.  It’s quite easy to wrap myself up in the security that a physical structure and close family provides.  Furniture, insurance, IRA, family gatherings, all speak of a home, a safe place for the rest of my life. Yet, if I look deeply, its very safety provides a sense of displacement from the community around, and often even within, its walls.

Into this conversation the authors don’t bring a modern, multi-step answer to the problem. Do this and people will no longer be homeless.  Instead they explore hope in juxtaposition to the brokenness.  The hope that God promises.  Through the practice of Jubilee, the experience of Exodus, the very act of Creation and the rest of Sabbath, we have sign posts to the home that God desires for us.  These are home-looking celebrations and memories that are focused on the true meaning of home, not a mere buildings.

Furthermore, they bring us into Jesus’ mission to draw people out of homelessness.  “Much depends on dinner” as Jesus enters homes to share in the meals of ‘sinners’ and feeds thousands of people by simply thanking the Father.  He tells stories of feasts where the invited guests don’t arrive and others must be invited.  Who comes to the meals, who is invited, who is excluded, what is served?  All these questions provide a view into Jesus’ way.  A way that is open to all people now.  A way not popular with those in power, who already think they have homes and need to protect them.  This new feast  breaks into the lives of people to show that the homes they have created are only a poor substitute for what God desires.

These stories bear witness to the hope God provides and that we can then share with others.  Responding to this book is difficult.  There is so much to be done.  Yet, the authors remind us that “artists do not create hope; rather, they bear witness to hope” (317).  As sojourners on this planet we can share this hope – bringing others into the yearning for the true home and seeking to live in the shalom that God provides even now.

What does your home look like?  Where are you heading – towards a narrow definition of the 21st century good, safe life – or the fullness of the the homemaking God?

 

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Wearing the Right Shoes for the Journey

510tVOHvy0LWhat a great read – Sensible Shoes: A Story About the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown.  In this novel I met  four women who attend a course at a local retreat center – a three month spiritual exploration of spiritual disciplines.  As you might expect, they all come for different reasons and from different backgrounds.  Woven into their lives over these months are new spiritual practices that the guide of this sacred journey, Katherine, shares and encourages them to experience as a way to draw closer to God.

  • Walking a labyrinth
  • Practicing lectio divina
  • Praying imaginatively
  • Working through the examen
  • Entering spiritual direction
  • Creating a rule of life

None of these women find it easy to slip into these new practices.  In fact they each fight some of disciplines as they encounter pain and discomfort.  Slowly they begin the process of clearing away brambles and roadblocks – both sin and circumstances – as they gain a greater awareness of God and walk along the transformed paths before them.  Over the months this group of women form an unlikely community that encourages one another through the pain of meeting hidden sins and the joy of removing years of masks.

I was drawn to enter the lives of these women – a pastor, mother, graduate student,  widow – caring for them as they address their grief and guilt together.  Though I have read about and practice many of these disciplines,  it was compelling to see these disciplines not in the abstract, but in the mess of life. Over the years I have wanted to practice being more attentive to God through these tools, but they have so easily become one more thing to check off my daily or weekly task list.  Seeing them in action in community provided a new perspective in relation to my own spiritual practices and writing.

With regard to spiritual practices I want to dive back into some of these disciplines, but this time with others.  If I’m honest, my lone wolf MO really doesn’t work very often.  It leads to one-sided views of the world and a smaller self as I attempt to perfectly practice these disciplines.  I want to ‘get it’ and go on.  As I entered this narrative, I entered the lives of women who were also trying to go it alone, and failing.  Hannah and Charissa, who are so eager to be perfect and hide behind masks of spirituality, reflected part of myself back to me.  Yet, they didn’t stay stuck.  New people in their lives and time away from their normal ways of working helped God to break through – Charissa with her scholarly perfection and Hannah with her productive ministry.

Oh, to be in a group that encourages and challenges me in a new way.  A group that helps be fall into the arms of the Beloved – Jesus Christ.  It wouldn’t be bad, either, if a single, male professor came on the scene to sweep me away – or for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to be the next step.  But also the simple practices of sharing coffee and spending time with others is something for which I yearn.  I would love to step into or even gather a group like this. But I’m not sure how to get it started this when I myself am fearful of breaking down.  This is when ideas from pilgrimages meet the road of practice.  In these places and times when we are between known places and times (liminality), relationships take on new and deeper meaning (communitas).

Also, this book opens up some new ways of thinking about my writing – especially this book on literary pilgrimage.  Narrative already surrounds the draft of an exploration into the writings and places of three authors.  But the practices of pilgrimage and spiritual disciplines are not always clear or present in the work.  As I was reading Sensible Shoes, I wondered what about this writing on journey, place, literature, and faith can become more personal, can draw people into a practice, can reflect on Christ?  The pieces are there, but it’s time to open up more.  Now doubt it will require some blood-letting on my part.  I’ve been trying to be so safe.  But, maybe that’s the problem.

Fears, like the fears each of the women in this novel face, and that I again see that I face, keep us away from the life God has in store. Yet, into this fear God speaks his words of comfort to not be afraid and that he is with us.  Garlough Brown’s adventure, along which she invites readers to journey, provides a view into how God speaks into our lives, especially in their brokenness.  Now it’s time to put on the sensible shoes of life, listening to God more closely and walking along his way.

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The Way of Literature

“Language does change our world.  It does make possible what we think and how we think it.  This is one vital reason to read and study literature, rather than merely to apply its strategies.” Marjorie Garber, The Use and Abuse of Literature

Much hand-wringing has been going on for years about the future of humanities, including literature, in the academy.  As a person on the outside looking in, I sense this frustration and would love to enter the fray, not because of the academic intrigue, but because the essence of literature may be a way to break through some of the staid thinking on college campuses. Instead of the ubiquitous bullet points and business models that can obscure the soul of the university, literature, with the complexity inherent in both narrative and poetic forms, can bring a new perspective to a student’s understanding of education.  Or, in other words, literature can bring a renewed process of critical thinking outside of the usual methods that employ models – since models don’t always pick up the nuances of life.

Marjorie Garber in her book The Use and Abuse of Literature ventures into the why of studying literature and examines reasons that it should return to the center of the academy instead of remaining on the margins (so says the jacket cover).  Her arguments focus on literature as a tool not to define meaning or settle a question, but in showing a way through questions and research.

“Literary interpretation, like literature, does not seek answers or closure.  A multiplicity of persuasive and well-argued “meanings” does not mean the death or loss of meaning, but rather the living presence of the literary work in culture, society, and the individual creative imagination.  To say that closure is impossible is to acknowledge the richness and fecundity of both the reading and the writing process.

The use of literature begins here.” (283)

Even though Garber speaks of the possibilities of literature, she also is attuned to the ways it as been abused.  Like so many things in our world of efficiency worship, literature has been reduced so that it’s often ineffective and useless.  In studying it we tear it apart, remove it from general education requirements, or ride on the wave of popular movies to draw students to classes.  In this process literature is debased, seen as something less than it is, and rightly marginalized.

However, even as universities seem to be moving toward efficient and practical means to prepare students to be productive elements of an economic system, there is also a growing desire to address some of the larger questions of life within a student’s career.   What is the importance of learning?  What are the meta narratives that drive our lives?  Why do I need to earn money (or why do I need the stuff I will buy with the money)?  What are the questions in society’s margins?   The tools of literature can provide a path into these questions.  Though it may be risky.

Maybe this is what draws me and others to literature – its attempt to ask and respond to the large questions of life, and not reducing them to a bulleted list.  A plot does not a story – or literature – make.  There is so much more within the language, the meaning, the reading.   Literary study looks at the way of meaning, how do the words, the images, the style, the structure draw readers through a way, not only at the what and they why.

Still, it is easy to want to derive a meaning for a given piece of literature and be done with it.  To show an answer.  To distill it into something that one can easily hold.   But if I look back at my experiences, it was the process of reading and encountering the work that made the difference.  Not knowing the ending of the book, but being part of the narrative.

Literature’s essence is in the experience of reader and words of an author coming together at a specific place and time.  Just like we can’t often neatly break down our lives, we can’t neatly break down a narrative without losing something in the process.   Even though students may want to compartmentalize their lives and find the most efficient way to land a job through a linear path of college course, the complexity of narrative analysis can help them see and interact with the other questions that frame decisions about a future career.

I’m eager to see how literature, and other fields in humanities, can change the world as they seek not to fit into the scientific and business models, but to engage them in conversation and more fully explore the narratives alive on college campuses todays.

[Just an aside – exploring the way things mean, at least expressed in this manner, is something that is so vital in biblical criticism as well.  Meaning is not merely a set of beliefs to hold – it’s a way of living.  God  brings us along this way – the Way – through the narrative set out in scripture and in our lives.]

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Ministry of Prayer, Poetry, and Parable

Plans.  Posters.  Phone calls.   At this time of the school year in campus ministry it seems that I’m merely working to get things done and reach finals week along with the students.  So, these days I’m trying to get people to events and laying foundations for the next academic year.  Days are full, but at the end I look back and wonder what I have been doing.

What’s the point of it all?  Get a few people to a dinner.  Add to the list of students I’ve seen.  And then when things don’t work out I seek to plan my way to a better outcome.  After a while it seems empty, though this was a job that was supposed to be fulfilling.  You know, connecting with students, providing opportunities for them to connect with God’s Word, and helping local congregations to do the same.

In the effort to get a campus ministry up and running I’ve spent more time coordinating plans than working with people – clearly focusing on the area where I am naturally more comfortable.  Any creativity is pushed aside until another day when I have time.  But will I ever have time?  There are so many ways to schedule in this job with no set schedule.  What will appease funders and churches?  Numbers of activities and people.  But this can’t be all?

poetry magnetic piecesNot long ago a few new words broke into my broken ministry paradigm – Prayer, Poetry, Parable.  Eugene Peterson in his book The Contemplative Pastor seeks to redefine the 21st century job description of a pastor.  To return it to a practice of presence, of being, of breaking from the societal norms.  He does this not only through a set of beliefs, but also in a way of living.

 

  • “Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women.”
  • “Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets.”

These words were like the opening of a new world.  What if I focused more on prayer – that of my own and of students. To take time to listen to God and walk more closely with him in ministry.  Also, as I think of sharing with students it is easy to get into a rut of trying to explain a set of creedal beliefs.  A few get it, but many look back with blank stares.  So learning from the use of parables and poetry is a way to engage students in God’s story.  But it’s more than that, they are practices of creativity that mirror how God interacts with us fully.

From personal experience, I resonate with Peterson’s observation that “People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves).”  Because of this he talks about helping people see the God’s “grace operating in their live” while paying “attention to the Word of God right here in this locale”.   In addition to being creative, this is a very peopled and placed and view of ministry – centered on God’s Word.

Though I may not be an ordained pastor, working as a campus minister requires similar break in the ordinary routine.  It can be tempting to step onto campus and fall into step.  To rack up activities, market programs, and speak the language of competition.  But is that what campus needs?  Another voice defending their turf – even if that turf is biblical truth.

Maybe what is needed is another type of voice – one that slows down and speaks differently in prayer, poetry, and parable.   This voice would invite others in to pray, engage them in the practice of poetry, and tell and listen to stories in a new way. Most importantly, it would interact with people in their place now – just as God interacts with us – not expecting them to come to one more event, but walking with them in their journey and drawing these individual pilgrims together naturally.

 

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Reading The Silver Chalice

Basil, a slave in first-century Antioch, follows a path from poverty to artisan (with many steps in between) in Thomas B. Costain’s novel, The Silver Chalice.  Along the way we see the nascence of Christianity as readers meet Luke, Joseph of Arimathea, Peter, Paul, and many fictional characters who are following this new faith based on the life, teachings, and death/resurrection this rabbi now called the Christ.  Followers risk their lives, seek to define their beliefs, argue with one another, and encourage.  There is great work being done. The preaching of John, the service of Peter, and the gathering of stories by Luke.  

However, a simple, silver cup becomes the means by which Basil, and the readers, are drawn into this community that was first named Christian at Antioch (Acts 11: 26).  Leaders of this young church wanted to create a chalice in which to keep their most precious relic, the cup Jesus used at his last Passover with the disciples.  Luke is drawn to this young young silversmith for the job after seeing his extraordinary work. With his freedom purchased, Basil is taken to the home of Joseph of Arimathea and begins the task of recreating the faces of those who had been present at that last supper.  Since the disciples are aging and in danger of death from persecution, time is short for Basil to see those still alive so he can reveal the lives behind the faces.

He puts extreme effort into designing and creating this object. In order to gain a deeper sense of the meaning of the chalice, he attends hidden worship services, travels to Ephesus and Rome, learns the network of Christians, runs from Roman soldiers, and hides in cramped spaces.  The work itself draws people to be involved.  Christians in this growing community know the importance of the cup from which the disciples first drank Jesus‘ ‘blood shed for them’.  It’s a physical remembrance of faith to which they can hold.

Once the chalice is complete, and Basil is at home with his wife Deborra, the word goes out and Christians come to see it.  Then, one night, it’s stolen.  Will this be the end of the faith for those involve?  Of Basil whose work is now gone?  Of Deborra whose grandfather, Joseph of Arimathea, is no longer around?  What more do they have left that builds a bridge to Jesus? 

Yet, it’s through the process of creating this chalice that Basil’s faith grows and flourishes, not in worshipping the final object. In fact, the theft emphasizes that Christianity can not be contained in any one, man-made item. The work of honoring this new faith doesn’t point to the workers.  Instead the work is a means of God to draw people to him.  Similarly the teaching of Paul, the writing of Luke, and the service of Peter are also not ends in themselves, but means to draw others into relationship with God through the forgiveness Jesus offers.

Throughout this narrative we meet many people who have given up their world or had it taken from them because of these new and threatening beliefs.  No longer are they clasping to this life, but letting go. Ultimately, the story is not about the chalice, but the One who had held it.  

 

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Reading Marilynne Robinson

Reading Marilynne Robinson’s book of essays When I Was a Child I Read Books, I’m met by someone who is thinking deeply about society and attempting to bridge the chasm between society/science/materialism and faith.  She is not pushing ideologies that must be believed, but is rather creating pathways into conversation, raising questions that people aren’t asking, and populating a renewed community.

Here are some tidbits of her writing. Enjoy.

  • We inhabit, we are part of, a reality for which explanation is much too poor and small. (7)
  • There is at present a dearth of humane imagination for the integrity and mystery of other lives. (45)
  • I think of the acts of comfort offered and received within a household as precisely sacramental.  (93)
  • In these two narratives (Christmas, Easter) narrative fractures the continuity of history. . . . At the same time they have created a profound continuity.  (127)
  • There is . . . the urge, driven by righteousness and indignation, to conform reality to theory.  (152)
  • . . . we should cease and desist from reductionist, in effect invidious, characterizations of humankind.  (158)
  • . . . moment by moment, every one of us experiences, along with the whole of the cosmos this great mystery of being, this great unfolding of ineluctable, irreversible time.  (185)
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