Friday, August 16, 2013

Listening for the wisdom of the saints in my life...

Throughout this past week, I've found myself talking a LOT about saints - and it seems to be in the air all around me, too.  This morning, for example, the pastor of one of the "tall steeple churches" in our tradition posted a piece on our daily devotional site entitled:  "We Need MORE Saints."  It begins:  We Protestants need more saints.

In this context, I do not mean saint in the way the Apostle Paul used the term as inclusive of all of the people of God. Rather, I am referring to individuals of faith whom the church points to and says, in essence, "Pay attention to these lives. Take inspiration from them. Try, as you are able, to follow their example." I am thinking of Frederick Buechner's definition: "In God's holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints."
(read more @ we_need_more_saints)

Last night I came across a post on "The Christian Pundit" called "Young Evangelicals Get High" in which the author writes:

Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/ Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least. It’s encouraged by certain emergent leaders and by other “Christian” authors whose writings promote “high” theology under a Protestant publisher’s cover.  (read more @ http:// the

At our recent worship ministry team meeting there was a spirited conversation about the role of saints in Protestant worship. We were discussing how we sensed the Spirit's leading re: Advent 2013 and how we might help shape the sights and sounds of worship this year when talk turned to St. Nicholas Day.  Most were intrigued about building an intergenerational event around the story and wisdom of St. Nicholas - giving a context in tradition to the ubiquitous Santa Claus - but one member expressed distress. "We don't DO saints" was the essence of the concern.  And historically most New England Protestants would agree for we have shaped our religious identity by being something other than Roman Catholic:  if THEY do it, then WE don't.

But times have changed - and so has our Reformed tradition.  So much so that of the six participants in this conversation, only one could claim a life-long history in the Congregational way.  And that same fact is true in the larger United Church of Christ where most of our new members come from either the historically "high" churches or else self-identify themselves as SBNRs (spiritual but not religious.)  Our exploration of St. Nick will continue at our September meeting.

At the start of this week, two different groups of guests made a point of asking me about the contemporary iconostasis in my study.  It contains 24 photographs or drawings rendered as Orthodox saints including Martin Luther King, Kathleen Norris, Bono, Dylan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklyn.  "It is a way of honoring the sacred that I have encountered in their lives," I told them.  "I know not all of them are dead, but God has spoken to me as much in the poetic ministry of Rumi as in Scripture." For like Henri Nouwen wrote in his brilliant little book on icons, these sacred images are visual prayers.  My icons were inspired by the brilliant work of the contemporary iconographer, Robert Lentz, whose images of Harvey Milk, MLK, Dorothy Day and his various interpretations of both the Virgin Mary and Christ have long fed my soul when I didn't have words or energy to pray.

And then this morning I received a long note from a friend coming through the sad end of a marriage.  Among other things, she told me that she had been practicing contemplative prayer.  It had become a life line - an oasis of healing and hope in a dark time.  It seems that the ancient monastic wisdom of Henri Nouwen as expressed in his posthumous book, Spiritual Direction, offered a way for my friend to become grounded in the beloved grace of God.  This new/old way of prayer, too has roots in the saints we know as the desert mothers and fathers.

St. Frederick Buechner tells us to: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. So I am listening to all this saint talk and like Mary pondering it in my heart. I'm not sure what it all means or where it will take me, but that's ok. Right now, all I am supposed to do is listen, watch and wait - be still and know that I am God - for as Buechner also notes, even this silence is prayer.

Everybody prayers whether you think of it as prayer or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad.  The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain.  The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds (or even silence) you use for sighing with over your own life, these are all prayers in their own way.

And just so I keep paying attention, my copy of The Way of St. Cuthbert: A Pilgrimage came in this morning's mail.

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