Yearly Meeting superintendent Colin Saxton's address on Monday evening was one of the high points for me. Instead of a premature rush for more and better, his hope for us this year is that we will go deeper. Not that we shouldn't aim high, but we need to be rooted and directed correctly.
Anthony Bloom, in a book that I gave away so I can't quote it directly, gave a wonderful BBC talk on the Jesus prayer. I'll never forget his comment on the petition, "Have mercy on me, a sinner." He pointed out that many of us are not in fact guilty of dramatically terrible sins. The sin that we may commit the most is the sin of losing contact with the deepest level of ourselves--the level at which we meet God.
Preferring depth over more and better is something that many of us would find difficult. If our meeting or church waited for action until everyone had been in that deep place where we meet God, we may find ourselves immobilized a long time. As Fred Boots used to say, some of us bring our buckets to the River, others bring teaspoons. The teaspoon bearers might even say that their portion is more than adequate; they may not be aware of scale at all.
That's where elders and more experienced people need to provide accompaniment. A mutually respectful gift-based divisions of labor in the church recognizes that we won't all be at the same level of maturity simultaneously, and we won't all have the same capacities. Some will have a devotional temperament, others won't. When I am tired or burned out, another person might be in a better position than I am to follow Colin's advice to go deeper. In turn, I may be better able to organize or communicate to the wider world or somehow synchronize my spiritual gifts and leadings with that other person.
But even the least devotional temperaments among us can benefit from Colin's advice. To go deeper, any of us can think about some or all of these disciplines:
- In Brother Lawrence's phrase, practice the presence of God. Acknowledge God's presence, God's sovereignty; give God ownership of whatever place you're standing in. Such prayer doesn't depend on conventional piety or formulas, and definitely doesn't depend on supernatural gratifications. Simple and quiet acknowledgement is enough.
- Go deeper in Bible study. For any particular Bible text, there are going to be difficulties in learning about the ancient, often agrarian cultural context in which the Scriptural message was written. With the Bible, it's always possible to go deeper--if for no other reason than to ask whether the text you're reading is being presented as a commandment, recommendation, or warning.
- Go deeper in learning about your own context for ministry. Is obedience the aim, or are there other, unacknowledged advantages that the supposed "more and better" will provide, and to whom?
- Build deeper relationships with meeting of elders, or of ministry and counsel, so that you build accountability to those who have dedicated themselves to greater spiritual depth for the whole community.
- Question yourself more deeply about where you've placed your hope and security. If fear takes up too much space in your calculations, you can pray and consult with elders precisely about that.
- Ask God boldly about your vision, goals, plans, and readiness.
Friday P.S.: It's interesting that a numbered list can seem a pathway into depth to someone writing a blog entry at midnight! surely there's a place for superficial approaches to depth.
I do remember reading (who said it?) that most devotional literature is written by intuitive introverts for intuitive introverts. Being an intuitive introvert, nevertheless when it comes to learning the life of discipleship, I like to think there's some advantage to directness, honestly acknowledging my spiritual hunger. Maybe it's part of my long campaign against gnosticism masquerading as wisdom.
Of my six midnight points, maybe in the light of day numbers four and five seem most worth emphasizing. Nobody denies the central importance of prayer and study, but do we all mean the same things by these disciplines? When do we cross over the line into imitation, self-deception and wish fulfillment? By myself, I'll not get much deeper, but by combining honest prayer and conversation with people we trust, we'll get there together.
There are zillions of books, old and new, that might serve as guides into this territory of going deeper. I own a few of them; they're stored in a locked storage unit somewhere on I-205. But I remember with affection two in particular, both by Thomas H. Green: Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer and When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings.
Next week at this time, Judy and I plan to be on our way back to Russia, arriving August 7.
A few links to share this week, gathered during odd moments stolen from the yearly meeting sessions: Saying goodbye to Natalya Estemirova. ~~ YouTube's page for the Daimohk dance ensemble from Chechnya. ~~ Urgent action appeal: saving At-Tuwani's electricity pylons. ~~ Thoughts on the church habits of USA college students. ~~ Norway sails serenely (well, at least less nervously) through the global economic crisis. ~~ More on Joachim Crima, the "Volgograd Obama."
A small Yearly Meeting album:
I may post more photos later, but Facebook users can find a lot more on the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church page.
Check your volume before clicking on this video: Hillstomp's "Cardiac Arrest in D," presented in honor of their great set at last month's Waterfront Blues Festival.