735. Choosing hope this Lent

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Lent begins next Wednesday, February 10. For your own spiritual practice during this season, please find at the end of this post a link to a free Lenten devotional, Come Back to Jesus, in which I have an entry. The devotional was put together by Chris Gehrz, a professor at nearby Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Writers of the devotional were readers of the book that he and co-author Mark Pattie have recently written, The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, published by IVP Academic. I'm happy to say that I had the privilege of writing the entry for the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 18.

Several years ago I attended a seminar taught by Gehrz on the topic of Pietism, a religious movement that emerged in the late 1600s. What I learned that weekend helped me fill in pieces of history to better understand the church denomination that I belong to and was raised in. The Covenant church, which grew out of the Lutheran Church of Sweden during the great "spiritual awakening" of the nineteenth century, was particularly influenced by the Pietism movement, which in turn was influenced by Lutheranism, mysticism and late medieval Catholicism, reformed protestantism, and anabaptism. Pietism has an emphasis on devotional practice, particularly the practice of hope. In fact, hope is the central Pietist virtue. (When I learned that I got a shiver given that my current book-in-progress is on hope.)

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In The Pietist Option, Pattie writes, "This decision to put one's faith in God and so to allow hope in the fulfillment of God's promises to blossom and bear the fruit of love is at the heart of the Pietist option.... A living faith out of which hope springs up, inspiring love, directing life, and reshaping the world."

May you enjoy this Lenten devotional. Here’s the link. Please feel free to share the file if you'd like; it has a Creative Commons non-commercial license. (For those of you who receive this post through email subscription, I'm not sure if the link will be active in your inbox. You may have to click through to the web version.)

I also encourage you to read Chris and Mark's book!

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[Photo: taken of art at a local coffee shop at which I sometimes write.]

724. The year of small things done with great intention

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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.

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[Photo: taken of my kitchen window on a very cold morning]

721. On finding the way

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I first read To Resist or To Surrender by Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician, decades ago when I was in my late 20s at the recommendation of a friend. The book came to my mind again this past November, and I wrote the title in my journal. I found it long abandoned in a basement bookcase, a coupon for Centrum vitamins, dated November 1984, as an old bookmark in its very marked-up pages.

The book is about how we decide what to do in a given circumstance, particularly when choices are hard or even difficult to identify. It begins by presenting the dilemma of churches in Nazi Germany deciding whether to oppose the regime or to try to coexist with the hope of influencing it in more subtle ways. Tournier then expanded the discussion to show that the question of “resist or surrender” is basic for all points of conflict, whether in times of war between countries or in times of workplace conflict or in battles between parents and child or a husband and wife. Our natural impulse is to frame our choice as between striving to get our way or giving in, but the book is written for those who want to move beyond this impulse of a dichotomous choice when considering life problems that require something more.

Tournier offered two processes that go beyond the limited power of reason when finding our way. The first is the seeking of divine guidance by Bible reading, prayer, and meditation. Unfortunately, God often is silent in response. “We fail to see,” wrote Tournier, “that by our thus asking God questions, even in the reverence of prayer, we are still attempting to remain in charge of our meditation rather than let God direct us.”

The second is the responsive process of personal transformation. Tournier calls this process “an act of God’s grace.”

“At the very time that we are asking questions of God, questions which remain unanswered, he is ever asking other questions which we fail to heed…. Men throw out questions to God which remain unanswered. But they change and find unexpected solutions when they begin to listen to the questions God asks of them, and to answer him.”

Like all books that stand the test of time, this book written in the early 1960s and hiding in my basement has something to say today. Tournier wrote of Job who in the Old Testament did not receive an intellectual reply to his barrage of “Why’s,” but instead he received "an experience of God" and was changed.

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[Photo: taken of a favorite scarf]