Coming to God: First Days
Lord, what shall I do that I can’t quiet myself?
Here is the bread, and here is the cup,
and I can’t quiet myself.
To enter the language of transformation!
To learn the importance of stillness,
with one’s hands folded!
When will my eyes of rejoicing turn peaceful?
When will my joyful feet grow still?
When will my heart stop its prancing
as over the summer grass?
Lord, I would run for you, loving the miles for your sake.
I would climb the highest tree
to be that much closer.
Lord, I will learn also to kneel down
into the world of the invisible,
the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
on a day of no wind,
bathed in light,
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things;
every motion; even words.
Mary Oliver, Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, 23.
Michael Leunig, The Curly Pyjama Letters, Ringwood: Viking (Penguin), 2001.
Just two months ago the book No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place was launched. The work of Canadian scholar of Christian mission and formation Leonard Hjalmarson, it’s a book worth commending.
Though I have never met the author in person, I have long admired Len’s voice in significant conversations on the nature of Christian mission and the role of the local church. His early books — including Missional Spirituality and An Emerging Dictionary of Gospel and Culture — have been thoughtful contributions to my own thinking, so when asked to add some words of endorsement to this one, it was an easy ‘yes’.
Here’s what I said:
‘There are many of us in places far and wide, practitioners seeking to live God’s call to the neighbourhood. We are committed to the most local expressions of discipleship because we have a gut sense that place matters to God and to the nature of Christian mission. What Len provides in this book a wonderful resource to those of us committed to the neighbourhood, a cogent, carefully researched and sensitively written theology of place that will sustain and strengthen our commitments.’
There are many more notable responses to the book, some of which you can find here. I can only assure you that for those committed to deepening the church’s most local commitments to mission, this is a book worth reading.
‘ … there is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life: the pastor’s emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in the actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives — these people just as they are, in this place. No copying. No trying to be successful. The ways in which the vocation of pastor is conceived, develops, and comes to birth is unique to each one.’
‘I am a pastor. My work has to do with God and souls — immense mysteries that no one has ever seen at any time. But I carry out this work in conditions — place and time — that I see and measure wherever I find myself, whatever time it is. There is no avoiding the conditions. I want to be mindful of the conditions. I want to be as mindful of the conditions as I am of the holy mysteries.’
Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, New York: Harper Collins, 2011, 5-7.
‘How do we preach the good news to those who, because they pass the time indoors, have rarely wondered at the stars or been terrified before storms; to those who, because of human congregating and its attendant psychological effects, are inclined to think of themselves of little worth; to those who, because of technological advances, are predisposed to associate salvation with self-help and science? Those who preach while unaware of these questions can only wonder why many in their audience grow ever more suspicious. Christians may claim that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. But the rest of us are not.’
Dale C. Allison, Jr. The Silence of Angels, Trinity Press, 1995, 14-15.
At Collins Street, our 5pm community is currently exploring the practices of faith. In a series we’ve called Finding Our Way, we’re taking another look at some of the ‘disciplines’ Christians have come to value — routine practices that have proved effective pathways to maturity in faith and life. Last night we discussed the practices of sabbath and rest.
Though I hate beginning a conversation with a confession of failure — appearances of virtue are always so much more attractive — last night I had no choice. The last couple of months, my personal commitments to rest have gone out the window. A weariness has taken hold that bears no lasting good for me, my family or the community I lead. I know myself well enough to understand this. Acting on that understanding is less than easy, but I also know I am never without choice. There is a reason we describe sabbath-keeping as a discipline. In a society driven by the values of productivity, rest will never come easily. It requires a level of intentionality and choice …. over and over again.
In preparing for last night, I went back and read a little article I wrote more than a decade ago. Though a bit dated now, it was good for me to be rebuked by my own words. Perhaps it’s time for less talk and more practice.
To read the article, you can click on the image below.
‘Modern discourse is not really comfortable with the word “soul,” and in my opinion the loss of the word has been disabling, not only to religion but to literature and political thought and to every humane pursuit. In contemporary religious circles, souls, if they are mentioned at all, tend to be spoken of as saved or lost, having answered some set of divine expectations or failed to answer them, having arrived at some crucial realization or failed to arrive at it. So the soul, the masterpiece of creation, is more or less reduced to a token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with the miraculous thing, the felt experience of life, except insofar as life offers distractions or temptations.’
Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books, London: Virago, 2013, 8.
‘For me, at least, writing consists very largely of exploring intuition.’
Marilynne Robinson, ‘Freedom of Thought’ in When I Was a Child I Read Books, London: Virago, 2012, 6.
Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise, I burst out with hot conviction. Only a few years ago, I enjoyed my tranquility; now I am so disturbed by my outer world and by human quality in general that I want to put things right, as though I still owed a debt to life. I must calm down now. I am far too frail to indulge in moral fervour.
Florida Scott-Maxwell, playwright, author and psychologist, wrote these words at age 85
We say that we cannot be human all by ourselves; we need each other. I have arthritis and I have failing vision and the two conditions complicate my life. I say to people: ‘Help me, may I take your hand up this step or down this kerb.’ I have learnt not to feel diminished by asking for help. Instead I feel a new kind of reward from human love: I touch your arm and something happens, something that is warming and affirming.
Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers
Those who urge us to fight ageing are, in effect, inviting us to stop growing and developing. In so doing, they’re depriving us of the opportunity to carry out and successfully complete the task of being alive and human. Individually and collectively we’re being infantalized: we should insist on the right to grow up.
Anne Karpf, How to Age, Macmillan, 2014.
‘Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through.’
Garrison Keillor, We are Still Married: Stories and Letters, Viking Books, 1989.