Takeaways from forgotten books

Over the past year or so I have been devoting some time to divesting of some of my too large (and too underutilized) collection of books. This has not been easy. And no, this is not a post about downsizing or simplifying one’s life (well, at least, not in whole). It’s in part a post about serendipity, discovery, and excavation.

And yes, I have downsized some. I want to claim I have downsized a lot but others might can judge that better than I. I have donated many, gifted some and sold a few.

And then there are the discoveries. Some books I wanted and didn’t know I already had. I have found multiple titles of others.

And there are others I didn’t remember I owned, didn’t know when or even why I might have gotten them.

But then as I opened a few, I began to discover why they were in my hand and opened for reading.

One of those that got me to thinking (and meditating) is The Devout Life: William Law’s Understanding of Divine Love by Martin Israel and Neil Broadbent.

I knew William Law wrote A Serious Call to the Devout LIfe and had read a few pages of it, but found it slow going at that time and put it aside.

The Israel and Broadbent book, by bringing my attention to Law’s later writings, puts in front of me contrasts between Law’s early and later writings.

They claim that in Law’s early writings you will find “unflagging rigiorism” and “the main characteristic of the earlier Law was his severe harshness.” Further they claim that “half measures would never have sufficed for Law.” (p 20) I would have to say that I did find those elements in A Serious Call but also passages that stood out with such vivid detail they were hard to forget.

Then Israel and Broadbent report that as Law encountered the writings of Jacob Boehme he was introduced to a “new symbolic language through which the narrow, severe intensity of his devotional nature was released into a new freedom of love, joy, and praise.” (p 22)

Law’s volumes The Spirit of Prayer and The Spirit of Love are representative of the “later” Law.

All three of these works of Law as well as Boehme’s The Way to Christ can be had for free at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (www.ccel.org)

This got me thinking – have I ever read anything (or heard anything) that has had such a profound impact on my life and thinking? What have I encountered that led me to “a new freedom of love, joy, and praise,” and away from “harshness”? Or even more important, do I yet come close to such freedom?

May I offer a suggestion?

Why don’t we take some time today and over the next several days, to review our spiritual journeys? Looking back over the years, what changes do we notice? Are the changes for our betterment or not? Can we identify any books, events, people or practices/disciplines that helped provoke those changes?

Take some time to explore your journey. It might even offer something of a “roadmap” for the days to come.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Entering Scripture, one more model of Lectio Divina

Entering Scripture, one more model of Lectio Divina

Several months ago I offered a post on “Entering Scripture” via the steps of Lectio Divina. I intended for the following week to offer another method that is patterned on Lectio Divina but circumstances and time got away from me and it was never posted.

So, today, let’s try that again.

What I post below is found in The Message//Remix: Solo – An Uncommon Devotional, p 208.

What I especially like about his book is how it goes beyond being your typical “devotional” book. The intent is to teach us a method of praying deeply with Scripture; of slowing ourselves so we no longer merely read the words of Scripture but “Scripture reads us.”

Below I have taken one page from the volume that will show you the pattern followed in this way of listening to, and praying Scripture.

Try it out and see what you think. Don’t be surprised if you return to it several times and find depths you did not notice on the first readings.

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

READ
Read the passage slowly.

THINK
Read the passage again, listening for the words or phrases that stand out to you, such as:

– “come to me
– “recover your life”
– “real rest”
– “walk with me and work with me”
– “watch how I do it”
– “keep company with me”

Notice the many different ways Jesus says, “Hang out with me.” Which one do you find most inviting? Why?

What would it feel like to walk with Jesus and work with him? It’s okay to be honest; “freely and lightly” may not describe what you think it would really be like. Instead you might think it would be forced and difficult. If so, what would you desire for it to be like?

Have you feared that a walk with Jesus might require heavy or ill-fitting things? What are they?

PRAY

Jesus speaks very personally and conversationally in this passage, using phrases like “Come to me.” In fact, I or me occurs eight times, and you occurs five times. So consider that Jesus has been talking to you. What is your reply? What do you need to discuss with Jesus today?

LIVE
Walk with Jesus, either in your mind or on an actual walk. As you do, turn these words from Jesus over in your mind: rest, unforced, keep company with me, freely, lightly.

What do you think? How did it work for you?

Does it take you more deeply into the Scripture? Do you see things that did not come into view before?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Just in Case You Do Not Recognize Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Last week I mentioned I was putting together a Lenten mailing list to offer a practice that incorporated readings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and realized I assumed “everyone” knew who Bonhoeffer was.

If that is not the case for some, let me offer a few thoughts.

First, let me offer a link to a very good overview provided at the The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute –  “https://tdbi.org/dietrich-bonhoeffer

That page includes most of what I considered including in this post.  Allow me to point out what I find helpful.

In most circles Bonhoeffer is remembered mostly for three books – The Cost of Discipleship, LIfe Together and Letters and Papers from Prison.

In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer tells us – 

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Given how often the word “discipleship” is dropped in many religious circles today, maybe it is time to revisit Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on discipleship.  More recent translations of the book bear the title Discipleship.

The small volume, Life Together, is drawn from material for the “underground seminary” Bonhoeffer directed for pastors of the German Confessing Church.  The Confessing Church was started by Bonhoeffer and others in opposition to the Nazi control of the German churches.  The Nazi’s eventually shut down the seminary.

And, Letters and Papers from Prison, is what what the title suggests – material written by Bonhoeffer while he was imprisoned by the Nazi government.  The imprisonment ended with his execution on April 9, 1945.  Eleven days before the Flossenburg prison was liberated by the Allied armies.  Bonhoeffer was 39 years old.

He was a musician, a writer, a pastor, a theologian, a spy, and a member of the German resistance to Hitler.

Given the range of his writings, he has been claimed as a champion by evangelicals and theological conservatives as well as those who consider themselves Christian progressives and at one time the “Death of God” theologians claimed him.

During Lent we will have time to sample a small portion of the writings he left us.  May you find encouragement and blessings in these readings.

charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

PS – 

If you are interested in some more resources on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer you could look into the following – 

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Kendrix – an excellently done graphic biography (yes, graphic, as in graphic novel), 

Two well reviewed “traditional” biographies are, 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen

And not to left out is 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge and Victoria J Barnett (Bethge was one of Bonhoeffer’s closest friends and associates)

And the documentary by Martin Doblmeier, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister would be a excellent way to spend an hour an half learning about Bonhoeffer

How About Spending Time with Dietrich Bonhoeffer this Lent?

The Mardi Gras parades are well underway here in Mobile, Alabama, so Mardi Gras Day and Ash Wednesday will soon be upon us.

I’ve been thinking about Ash Wednesday and Lent for several weeks and wondering if there was a Lenten practice I wanted to take up this year or maybe share with others.

Several years ago I came across the book 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and mentioned it on this blog.  The more I think about that small book, the more I have become convinced Lent would be a good time to take up a daily reading from it.

While the selections from Bonhoeffer’s writings were not selected specifically with Lent in mind, I think it is always good to spend time with him and additionally this book offers a great pattern for a Lenten practice (or for that matter a pattern for any time of reflection).

Each day offers the following – 

  • A brief quotation from Bonhoeffer’s books Discipleship or Life Together
  • A verse or two from Scripture
  • Some “Questions to Ponder”
  • A few sentences from a Psalm
  • Suggestions for Journaling
  • A thought or two for prayers of intercession
  • A closing prayer 

What do you think about giving this a try?

I have created a mailing list and around midday (Central Time) each day of Lent will send out an email with the day’s reading.

If you already receive posts from one of my blogs or my email lists I will include you in this Lenten mailing list.  If you prefer not to receive these emails, contact me at charles@discipleswalk.org letting me know you do not want to receive the Lenten mailings and your email address will be removed from the list.

By the way, the emails will be sent to the list address lent2022@discipleswalk.org and will be sent from my charles@discipleswalk.org email address.

I hope you want to give this a try with me.

Charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Entering Scripture – Lectio Divina

“The Psalms acquire, for those who know how to enter into them, a surprising depth, a marvelous and inexhaustible actuality. They are bread, miraculously provided by Christ,to feed those who have followed Him into the wilderness.”
From: Bread in the Wilderness by Thomas Merton

I posted the above quote last week in The Lectio Room as part of our reflections on Psalm 149 and 150 ( http://lectio.discipleswalk.org/issl-reflections-october-31-2021-psalms-1491-5-150-post-3/ )

Merton’s phrase, “… for those who know how to enter them …” took me back to a post from last year, “Approaching Scripture.” My plan was to follow that post with several on “Entering Scripture.” For various reasons it did not happen at that time, so maybe it’s time we got back on that track.

Let’s start by thinking together for a few weeks about “Lectio Divina.” Whether we call it by its Latin designation, “Lectio Divina”, translate it as “Sacred Reading” or call it as some do, “Praying with Scripture,” we are thinking about a way of spending time with Scripture that takes us beyond a surface reading, or reading for information, but to one way of “meditating” with Scripture.

To begin our thinking about Lectio Divina allow me to share a quick overview by quoting from a brochure from Contemplative Outreach, http://www.contemplativeoutreach.ie/wp-content/uploads/lectio_divina.pdf .

Lectio Divina is a reading, reflecting, responding and resting in the word of God that helps one grow in relationship with God.

Listening to the word of God in Scripture (Lectio Divina) is a traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the texts of Scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and He were suggesting the topics of conversation. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on His word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust, and love. Conversation simplifies and gives way to communing …. “resting in God.”

The brochure then has a brief explanation of the four steps you follow as you engage a passage of Scripture.

Moment One: (Lectio)
Read the Scripture passage for the first time. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” What phrase, sentence or even one word stands out to you? Begin to repeat that phrase, sentence or one word over and over, allowing it to settle deeply in your heart. Simply return to the repetition of the phrase, sentence or one word, savoring it in your heart.

Moment Two: (Meditatio)
Reflect, relish the words. Let them resound in your heart. Let an attitude of quiet receptiveness permeate the prayer time. Be attentive to what speaks to your heart.

Moment Three: (Oratio)
Respond spontaneously as you continue to listen to a phrase, sentence or word. A prayer of praise, thanksgiving or petition may arise. Offer that prayer, and then return to repeating the word in your heart.

Moment Four: (Contemplatio)
Rest in God. Simply “be with” God’s presence as you open yourself to a deeper hearing of the Word of God. If you feel drawn back to the scriptures, follow the lead of the Spirit

What do you think? Does this process make sense to you?

If you are so inclined, try this with a short passage of Scripture.

Next week, we will look at how this is described elsewhere.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Do You Know a Good Story …

“Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.”
Eugene Peterson

When I read the above I immediately thought of Jesus’ parables. By calling them “parables,” let’s not forget they are stories. Some short, some micro-short, some longer but all stories in one form or another.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus so often told stories, rather than presenting theological discourses as many of us might be prone to do?

Could it be Jesus is the gracious host, not just standing at the door but opening the door so we can get a glimpse of what is on the other side? We begin to get a first, a partial look, at the landscape of the Kingdom and he invites us in. Yes, he shows such hospitality we are not only invited in, but offered a seat at the table.

He offers food, rest and even some work to do alongside him.

I often fear we have heard his stories so often, they have not only lost their freshness, but their surprises also. “Ears to hear that do not hear.”

How do we hear them as for the first time? Maybe I’ll try to watch Jesus and hear Jesus tell the stories instead of listening to what I think I know about his stories.

“Story is the most natural way of enlarging and deepening our sense of reality, and then enlisting us as participants in it. Stories open doors to areas or aspects of life that we didn’t know were there, or had quit noticing out of over-familiarity, or supposed were out-of-bounds to us. They then welcome us in. Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.”
Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology

A Sabbath Meditation – Psalm 84

The Psalmist is so drawn to The Lord’s “dwelling place” he cannot help but sing out about its beauty, its safety, its empowering of his life, its nearness ever as he journeys toward it.

As I listen to the Psalmist sing,

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

I hear how he longs to be in that lovely, beautiful, place once again. It’s a beauty that goes beyond a surface appearance of beauty. It is a beauty that nourishes one’s very soul. Yes, he longs to be there. Yet even in his longing for the place, there is a part of that beauty that he holds in the depths of both heart and flesh that gives him joy. Though he does not yet stand in that dwelling place of the Lord, he is not separated from it in his soul.

He remembers seeing the small birds fly around the sanctuary, and even seeing a mother bird at her nest caring for her young.

The sanctuary of the Lord is a place of safety, even for the smallest, the most vulnerable.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Maybe even for the Psalmist? Yes! It is a place he goes to for safety. A place he is cared for. A place he is nourished. “… at your altars, O Lord of hosts … “ so very much can be given and received.

And even as he journeys to that sanctuary, the power of his King and God is with him.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

In his very heart lies that “highway” that takes him to the sanctuary.

And on his travels a presence of the Lord is with him such that even in the a valley of dryness, of weeping, of despair he looks for the springs of life, of hope, of renewal. It may be he has to dig a little to find the spring, to dig out a well, but the filling of that well, that pool, is left to the rain, to a gift from the God of Heaven and Earth.

Even on his journey, the beauty of the Lord’s dwelling place is never fully absent. And never fully absent also are safety, hope and the nearness of The Lord.

Psalm 84 (NRSV)

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise. Selah

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Sela
h

Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed
.

For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.

charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Are We Graded on a Pass-Fail or ….

These posts began as emails to an adult Sunday school class over 10 years ago.

It was probably about 1982 that I first read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicity and over the following years found more and more to read about spiritual disciplines/practices and later began to make the first attempts to incorporate such into my life. (I’ll spare you a lengthy bibliography here but maybe later ….)

By 1982 I had read more, attended retreats, workshops, discovered the Jesus Prayer, and Lectio Divina. By then I was a gung-ho advocate that we all should be very intentional about the regular practice of spiritual disciplines. I probably talked the ears off (and bored to tears) more than a few folk.

In the emails to our Sunday school class I tried to be more patient and gentle in acquainting our class with the various disciplines and started by sending an weekly email naming a practice and briefly describing it.

It was while I was such a gung-ho evangelist for spiritual disciplines that I heard of a book titled Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Riess.

Well, the title bothered me somewhat. No, it bothered me alot. I wanted to present spiritual disciples in as positive a way as possible. It already had too many detractors and I wanted folk to know how great it could be for them and any thought of “flunking” was not received well by me.

So, I did what I do with a lot of books that annoy me – I started reading it. After all, you need to know your opposition. Right? Not the best attitude with which to begin reading a book, but there is something to be said for beginning. Right? Even with a less than open mind? Right?

The book is a type of spiritual memoir in which Riess recounts her spending a year giving a full month to practice each of … well, here what is reported on the back cover of the book,

“… Jana Riess shares a year-long quest to become more saintly by tackling twelve spiritual practices, including, fasting, fixed-hour prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, the Jesus Prayer, and generosity. Although she begins with great plans for success … she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing – not just at some practices, but at every single one.”

NO! We don’t need to be writing about failing at these practices! We need to encourage folks to do them and share stories of success. — That was my initial response.

Then the next sentence on the back cover of the book,

“What emerges is a vulnerable story of the quest for perfection and the reality of failure, which turns out to be a valuable spiritual practice in and of itself.”

At the time, I was not at all sure I followed that line of reasoning, but it did intrigue me. A lot!

The following are Jana Riess’s words from the epilogue of the book and are not meant to be a spoiler but a way of seeing life and practices beyond the lens of success-and-failure.

“All through this project I’ve been hard on myself because of the practices I couldn’t do at all … the ones I did successfully but pridefully or for the wrong reasons … and the ones I didn’t see the point of. But in the end, many of this year’s practices helped me when I needed it the most: fasting helped teach me that this body and this life are not all there is … Sabbath keeping taught me about time out of time…. Sabbath time is like suspended animation …. Other practices, especially fixed-hour prayer, have this same undercurrent. Your schedule is all very good, these practices say. But you have to be prepared to drop everything for God, or others, for death….. I may have spent a year of flunking sainthood, but along the way, I’ve had unexpected epiphanies and wild glimpses of the holy I would never have experienced without these crazy practices.”

With that in mind, I think I’ll take some time and let my mind wander a bit and see if I notice any “wild glimpses of the holy” that came at unexpected times in unexpected ways. Or better yet, came in spite of my schedule, my plans and my timing of things.

How about you?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Finding one to lead

“Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them.
They remember what you are.” – Jim Henson

It happened 50 years ago but that day in a college class is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

That week was “Religious Emphasis Week” on our campus. I recall it was the custom at the denominational college to have chapel programs two days a week and by my senior year attendance was mandatory at one chapel program a week. For “Religious Emphasis Week” I think we had three chapel programs that week. That year we had a chemistry professor speaking. And yes, that was out of the ordinary. The professor had a doctorate not only in chemistry but also in the philosophy of science and the history and philosophy of religion. It was not uncommon for him to speak about religion in such settings as our “Religious Emphasis Week.”

In the course of his talks, it became clear that his view of salvation was that of a universalist. It also became clear that this view was not going over well with the sizable population of ministerial students on campus.

On an afternoon after one of the speaker’s talks in chapel, I had a class taught by the chairman of our religion department. It was a large class and consisted entirely of ministerial students.

Before we ever got into our class topic for the day, a number of the students found it necessary to express their extreme displease with and hostility toward the chapel speaker. Our professor gave the students space and time to express themselves. As this went on for some time, the expressions became more and more hostile toward the visiting speaking. Some became insulting and called into question the right of the visiting speaker to call himself a Christian.

After a long while, our professor voiced his own response to the matter. Our professor said he did not agree with the visiting speaker’s stance on universal salvation. He said he wished he could, but his reading of Scripture did not lead them there.

Then our professor defended the man’s right to hold such an opinion and our need to respect him. Then came the punchline (at least it was so to me), speaking of our guest speaker my professor said, “… he has thought more about what he believes than many of you have or some ever will.”

Dare I say the lightbulb above my head turned on!

In class that day I saw a professor standing in front of us who was not only a scholar but someone who wanted us all to see how to be better persons, and was willing to give us an encouraging push. Would that some of his spirit rub off on me.

“We must love them both: those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in search for their truth and both have helped us the in finding of our own.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Can you think of someone who has so clearly modeled a behavior, an attitude or a character trait that you wanted that to be part of your character?

If so, who was it?

What did they model?

Did it take?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

How Do You Describe Your Reality?

Each morning I receive a brief quote from the writings of one my favorite spiritual-theological-philosophical writers (he could wear all three hats), Dallas Willard. I was so struck by this morning’s words, I wanted to share them,

The most amazing thing we can imagine in human existence is the unending fellowship of endlessly loving people. We yearn to love and to be loved, to know and be known, to enjoy and be enjoyed in creative adventurous discovery. What these passages indicate is that this kind of wonderful existence was created and is watched over, maintained, and led by the King of Kings in his kingdom. This kind of wondrous, awe-filling reality has existed and flourished from all eternity and in all eternity. God is reigning over an everlasting festival that he has invited us to participate in, contribute to, share in, and reap the blessings from.

From The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth

I don’t know what captured by attention the most,

  • Fellowship of endlessly loving people
  • Yearn to love and be loved
  • Creative adventurous discovery
  • Awe-filling reality
  • Everlasting festival

Do any of those expressions describe the reality you are “invited … to participate in, contribute to, share in, and reap the blessings from”?

Charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

PS
If you want to subscribe to a daily reading from Dallas Willard you can go to https://www.biblegateway.com/newsletters/ and under the heading “Exploring Faith” you will that newsletter listed.