About 20 years ago – or was it longer? – I took a class taught by a Protestant minister, the father of a good friend, about the devotional classics. We learned about and read from Thomas Kelly (A Testament of Devotion), Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God), Thomas a Kempis (The Imitation of Christ), Saint Augustine (Confessions), John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together), as well as William Law (A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life).
Law was an English cleric and devotional writer from the 18th century. Based on the book’s title, it sounds oh so heavy, but Law lightened it substantially by crafting his book using fictitious stories following characters named Classicus, Octavius, Miranda, and more as they learn the importance of intention. A much younger “me” wrote the book’s key message on its first page: “We aren’t where we want to be because we never intended to be. Commitment of will.” The lesson of intention delivered by this book resonated with me all those years ago and it resonates with me now. I still have things to learn from it.
The book’s lesson came to me again the last couple of weeks as I read The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, written by Sarah Arthur (who I’ve written about here and here) and Erin F. Wasinger, and published by Brazos Press. The Year of Small Things tells the story of how Sarah and Erin and their husbands intentionally became “communal friends” and together committed themselves to adopt, cumulatively over the course of a year, the twelve spiritual disciplines typically associated with new monasticism, with some adaptations for their young families. They began in August with their covenantal friendship, continued into September with hospitality and October with radical finances. Late fall and winter focused on spiritual habits, possession, holy time, and vows. Spring brought the practices of congregational life, teaching children, and sustaining creation. The start of summer brought self-care and justice.
Not all of us will move to the inner city or live with the homeless or protest unjust laws before city councils. Some of us will do just one of those things; a few of us might do several. But many of us are called to try this radical thing right where we are, facing our current battles and barriers, one day at a time. Mother Teresa is often quoted as saying, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Well, that’s all we’ve got. Small changes, small acts of hospitality, small attempts at solidarity with “the least of these.” This is what our families, with help from some wise friends and our local church, attempted over the course of one year, taking notes as we went. We hope that others, like you, will not only rejoice with us but give it a shot.
Although this gem of a book claims the word “discernment” as its guiding word, I think the stories of these two families could have the word “intention” as the watermark on every page. I was moved by all they intended and how they did what they intended.
Reading the story of the Arthurs and the Wasingers, you may not – or you may – join them in committing to the same spiritual practices, but my guess is at the very least you will close the book, like me, with some response in mind. An idea. An idea that will become an intention that will become an action that might change your life and someone else’s too.
[Photo: taken of my kitchen window on a very cold morning]