Prayer from Abraham Lincoln for Thanksgiving

LINCOLN scholar Duncan Newcomer has contributed many of the fascinating materials indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page. Drawing on Lincoln’s own words, from various texts, Newcomer has assembled this special prayer, perfect for use at Thanksgiving—the national holiday our 16th president established. Of course, you are free to widely share this prayer. Click the blue-“f” Facebook button, or the envelope-shaped email icon, or print this page and pass it around.

Inside the Lincoln Memorial Washington DCPrayer from Lincoln
at Thanksgiving

So, we must think anew,
And act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves.
We are not enemies,
But friends.
We must not be enemies.
We cannot separate.
There is no line, straight or crooked,
Upon which to divide.
We cannot escape history.
No personal significance, or insignificance,
Can spare one or another of us.

The mystic chords of memory
Will yet swell the chorus of union
To every living heart
And hearthstone,
And again touch
The better angels of our nature.

 

Awakening Soul: A prayerful gathering amid music and nature

A banner from an earlier Awakening Soul gathering.

A banner from an earlier Awakening Soul gathering.

ARDEN, N.C.—Peacemaker and singer-songwriter Fran McKendree, Lauren Winner (author of the popular Girl Meets God) and Jerry Wright (Jungian analyst and Presbyterian minister) are the headline speakers at a national gathering in November called, Awakening Soul: Modern Mind—Ancient Soul.

In addition to his national touring and activism, Fran McKendree is an occasional contributing writer and musician to Read The Spirit. Among his past contributions: He shared a music video, Times Like  These; and he shared a terrific retreat project that challenges participants to paint on kites. Fran also participated in our Read The Spirit national gathering in Kentucky in April.

If you are interested in Awakening Soul—either to share the inspiration from wherever you are sitting today or to consider attending in November—here is the information you’ll need.

IF YOU CARE TO GO …
TO AWAKENING SOUL

Visit the Event page for this year’s Awakening Soul: Modern Mind—Ancient Soul. Here are short bios of the speakers, musicians and artists leading the four-day gathering this year. Scroll down past the bios and you’ll find the location, schedule and prices. Also, take a look at the Awakening Soul Gallery, which houses lots of intriguing material from the group’s 2011 national gathering.

CATCHING THE SPIRIT …
OF AWAKENING SOUL

Beyond the event, there is the message.

The best introduction to the spirit that motivates Awakening Soul is by Fran McKendree himself in a new column he has written describing the original spark, the first national gathering and his hopes for the 2013 event.

Even if you are not likely to attend the gathering—you may want to follow Fran McKendree’s stories, photos and music as he crisscrosses America. This singer-songwriter regularly leads major events in various parts of the U.S. He’s a popular choice to lead youth retreats and events for clergy renewal. Fran McKendree has a personal website packed with inspiring material.

We also have posted a 7-minute musical prayer—a video sent to us by Fran from an earlier Awakening Soul gathering. We are featuring that video, in its entirety, in our new Faith Goes Pop department.

Want to hear more of the nuts-and-bolts reasons for considering this event? Here is a 3-minute video in which Lauren Winner and Jerry Wright talk about what moves them to participate in Awakening Soul.

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A Blessing for your marriage (and how we made it 50 years)

The late poet Seamus Heaney wrote that his parents’ solid marriage was built upon “a love that’s proved by steady gazing, not at each other, but in the same direction.” (Read more about Heaney’s life and work here.) These days, millions of Americans are wondering what defines a marriage—and what makes good marriages work. Popular author and columnist Benjamin Pratt has spent a long time consulting with his wife Judith Pratt on what they have learned in their half century. And—don’t miss the blessing Benjamin offers at the conclusion of this column!

Love Is What You Go Through With Someone

By BENJAMIN PRATT

Benjamin and Judith Pratt on our Day 1.

Benjamin and Judith Pratt on our Day 1.

Judith and I are in our 12th marriage.

To be a little more precise, we can demarcate 12 different movements to our 50-year marital dance. Each dance has been different with some, like the tango, filled with passion, and others gentle and orderly like the waltz. Oh yes, we’ve had turns of rock and roll, herky-jerky and the energetic swing—and even the crawl as our world slowed down.

Each marriage corresponds to major life transitions: being newlyweds, the birth of children, personal times of growth and struggle, new professions, deaths of parents, children moving away from the nest, aging, and, of course, illness and the tasks of caregiving. Each transition involved the basic marital functions of love, sex, children, careers, families, companionship and house-holding. And, each turn in the dance was dynamic, daunting and demanding.

We never claimed to be masters of the dance. We are always learning.

THE SHY MEETING

Fifty-four years ago, I met Judith.

As a very shy teenager who had dated very little, I remember our first encounter. An electric jolt went through my body and stunned me to silence. I translated the jolt as a confirmation that I had met the girl of my dreams.

It was nearly four months until we had our first date. I told you I was shy! Our first date was a part of my fraternity initiation process: I had to ask someone I had never dated to a dance. The horror of the evening was that I had not slept for 36 hours, was wearing a scratchy burlap bag under my shirt and tie, had just eaten 4 cloves of garlic and had a heavy dose of lilac tonic rubbed into my hair. Wasn’t I appealing?

My assignment that night: I was to return to the dorm with lipstick on my lips. On the way home, I asked her to paint my lips. She later confessed that she really wanted to kiss me. My interpretation of the jolt was confirmed.

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL

Electricity has flowed in our relationship. Most often it has been positive but sometimes quite negative. The closest our marriage came to failing was during the tenth year. I was the founding pastor of the fastest growing church in Northern Virginia. Folks were fueling my foolish pride by predicting I would become a bishop. I averaged working 70-80 hours a week. I was so absorbed in my work that I was absent to my wife even when I was at home.

I had become full of myself!

NEWSPAPER COVERAGE OF MY HUMBLING: The headline read “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” and the brief story explained, in part: “Two broken arms fail to keep the Rev. Benjamin Pratt of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church from his duties as he chats with parishioners. The injuries occurred during a football game with the men and boys of the church at the picnic on Sept. 10. Pratt was tripped while catching a pass and tried to break the fall by landing in push-up fashion. Until the casts come off, movement is limited to the shoulders and simple hand functions.

NEWSPAPER COVERAGE OF MY HUMBLING: The headline read “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” and the brief story explained, in part: “Two broken arms fail to keep the Rev. Benjamin Pratt of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church from his duties as he chats with parishioners. The injuries occurred during a football game with the men and boys of the church at the picnic on Sept. 10. Pratt was tripped while catching a pass and tried to break the fall by landing in push-up fashion. Until the casts come off, movement is limited to the shoulders and simple hand functions.”

Without rain, Virginia red clay becomes like concrete. There had been a six-week drought that summer. In September, our church gathered at a sun-baked park for fun, games and a picnic. I joined in a touch football game. I was running full speed to catch a pass when I tripped over a young boy’s foot.

I plunged toward the clay concrete, reaching out both arms to break the fall. The fall broke the radial heads in both of my elbows. For six weeks I was in two casts.

I instantly became like a dependent infant, except for being able to thrill my daughters by mimicking the Cookie Monster. I could lift the lid off the cookie jar on top of the refrigerator and extract a cookie, placing it on the edge. “Gulp! Coooookie Monster!” Fun. But, not a basic survival skill.

Truth be told, I could do nothing to care for myself. I could not dress, feed, or clean myself in any way. One parishioner drew a cartoon of me exiting a Men’s Room with my head turned back to say, “Thanks.” So, I turned to Judith for care. Considering the emotional-and-relational canyon between us at that point, it was not easy to close our intimacy gap. I had ignored her, so it made sense that she was not eager to care for me in my dependency. On more than one occasion she has confessed that she was tempted to cut more deeply while shaving my neck.

Slowly, but surely, the painful, humbling fall led us to tears, confessions, forgiveness and a new, much deeper love and commitment. I came to believe that it was God’s foot that tripped me and brought me down.

It was God who affirmed that love is what you go through with someone.

50 YEARS OF ATTEMPTED HUMOR
—AND REAL COMPASSION

Occasionally, someone asks, “What is the key to making a marriage last for 50 years?”

I usually test their sincerity with a few dark quips: “Good Scotch;” “I always surrender;” “Long walks, very long walks;” or “Marriage is the commitment to share the same bedroom in which the temperature is never right.”

But, if I sense that the question is a serious inquiry, I will speak more openly and thoughtfully. I might open by saying that humor, which I just attempted, is basic to success. Not only humor that makes us laugh together, but the deeper understanding of humor helping us prevail against our fears and not letting us take ourselves too seriously.

Love is what you live through with someone. Marriage holds us together during our intimacy gaps. Marriage is the best alternative to aloneness and loneliness. Sustaining a good relationship means really being there for the other, being alert and hospitably present. It means listening to the other, not just with our ears but with our heart. It means responding to what we hear with compassionate action. It is soul engaging, emotionally and mentally energizing. It is the stuff of committed friendship. It is the dance of love, the stuff of life in communion and community. It’s common sense—and especially common decency.

We trust the old adage that marital partners are adversaries. There are some fundamental differences in each of us that will always impact our relationship. They are basic to who we are, why we risked marriage—and how we bless and irritate each other. These differences could have been the source of perennial warfare. But we chose to make them the creative irritants that spur on-going growth in each of us. Judith and I have chosen to understand that our differences are the grains of sand that irritate our oyster to develop and create a more beautiful pearl in the heart of each of us. We are not the same persons we were 50 years ago. We are better, wiser, more caring and creative persons because of each other.

We are in the 50th year of our marital dance because we are deeply respectful, grateful and tender toward each other. We believe in and trust each other. We, like all couples, have been critical, even contemptuous, of the other. But those times were short-lived and minor compared to the warm, affectionate, openness that has prevailed in our mutual dance.

Without hesitation, I can say that I have been a better marital partner because I daily pray the Discipleship Prayer, attributed to St. Francis. In it is the admonition to “seek not so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.” This act alone orients any relationship in a positive direction.

SHARING ‘A BLESSING OF THE SENSES’

Starting our second half century.

Starting our second half century.

When I conduct weddings, these days, I no longer deliver a homily. Instead, I share a Blessing of the Senses. Each time I speak the blessing it is personally crafted to include feigned touching of the couple’s eyes, ears, lips, hands and heart. I think it summarizes the ingredients necessary for a sustained, thriving marriage.

Here is one version of that blessing:

May God so bless your Eyes that you will see, not who you want to see, but truly see your partner for his/her gifts and graces, warts and wounds. May you celebrate with gratitude the gifts and joys, and understand and console the wounds and warts.

May God bless your Ears that you may not only listen but truly hear the voice, words, yearnings, needs and hopes of your partner.

May God so bless your Lips that your kisses shall be sweet and tender. And may the words crossing your lips be ones of honesty, hope, forgiveness—along with laughter. May your lips be guardians that halt words of hatred, vicious criticism and contempt.

May God bless your Hands to be instruments of comfort, strength and tenderness for the other.

May God bless your Heart that you may be a presence of comfort, joy, hope, forgiveness and vitality to your partner as well as others. May your Hearts be so filled with love that you will be instruments of peace to all.

Love each other as you have been loved.
Care for each other.
Bear one another’s burdens; share each other’s joys.
And, bring each other home.

DID YOU ENJOY THIS COLUMN?

Please, share it with friends. Click the blue-“f” Facebook icon with this column or use the small envelope-shaped email icon. Help us spread the good news about our ReadTheSpirit writers. You may also want to visit Benjamin Pratt’s author page.

 

Brian McLaren, Evangelical author and activist: Interviews & book reviews

Brian McLaren author photoBrian McLaren
Resource Page
for Small Groups

Read The Spirit helps individuals and small groups nationwide. This Resource Page gathers, in one place, links to our extensive coverage of author and activist Brian McLaren. Please feel free to share this helpful information with friends (click on the blue-“f” Facebook icon above, or the envelope-shaped email icon):

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Brian Mclaren was born in 1956;  he published his first book in 1998 in his early 40s and he became a nationally influential Christian leader just before he turned 50 in 2005. A Google Trends analysis of his popularity shows that the all-time peak of online search activity for his name was 2005 to 2006, shortly after TIME Magazine named him one of the “Most Influential Evangelicals.” However, Americans have never thought of him exclusively as an “evangelical.” The millions of men and women Googling to find out more about him tend to associate his name with the phrase “emergent church,” Google Trends reports. He also spiked in Google searches in 2010 around the time he published A New Kind of Christianity and again in 2012 around the release of his 9/11-and-interfaith themed book (find out about both of those books below).

A WIDELY VARIED MINISTRY: Brian McLaren earned a BA and MA in English from the University of Maryland; he also has been given honorary doctorates in divinity. Over the years, his studies and talents have ranged from literature and philosophy to Christian history and music. In 1982, he helped to co-found Cedar Ridge Community Church, near Washington D.C. He became a close friend of Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Phyllis Tickle and other emergent church leaders; he also has worked closely with Sojourners. Then, as his ministry evolved into a national calling as a speaker, writer, consultant and activist, he left his pastoral ministry at Cedar Ridge in 2006. He now lives in Florida with his wife Grace. They have four adult children and several grandchildren.

Christianity Held Hostage

A defining theme runs through Brian’s work—a belief that Christianity has been taken hostage by politically conservative forces that push churches toward lock-step allegiance in political campaigns. He was an early evangelical voice calling for inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, for example. He also preaches that Christians must be concerned for the welfare of the world’s most vulnerable people, especially the poor. In honoring him in 2005, TIME wrote: “If his movement can survive in the politicized world of conservative Christianity, McLaren could find a way for young Evangelicals and more liberal Christians to march into the future together despite their theological differences.”

Misunderstood Religious Words

In 2006, during the period when he was bursting into national news media, New York Times religion writer Laurie Goodstein reported on evangelicals and described McLaren as “a leader in the evangelical movement known as the ’emerging church,’ which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.”

Goodstein also quoted McLaren: “More and more people are saying this has gone too far—the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

Brian McLaren’s warnings about the dangerous baggage packed in Christian language has been obvious since his break-through book in 2004, which had the extremely long title: A Generous Orthodoxy: WHY I AM a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished CHRISTIAN. Many love his message; many take issue with it. To date, for example, Generous Orthodoxy has nearly 200 Amazon reviews: He scores 100 rave reviews (4 and 5 stars) and is panned in 70 reviews (1 and 2 stars).

BRIAN McLAREN 2014:
‘We Make the Road by Walking’

Brian McLaren book cover We Make the Road by Walking

Click this cover to read our 2014 interview with McLaren.

In 2014, McLaren published We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. And ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed him about this important new book. Here are just some of the words of praise for this book-length invitation to take a year-long Bible study with McLaren …

“This is one of the most remarkable documents in recent Christian writings … There is no evangelizing here, and no preaching, only a sinewy, but orderly and open, presentation of the faith that holds. The result is as startling as it is beautiful.”
Phyllis Tickle, author of The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church.

“A ton of people have been waiting for this book—they just didn’t know it! Brian has biven us a clear and compelling guide to walking the Jesus path together, around the table, in the living room, discussing and learning and growing. This book is going to help so many people.”
Rob Bell, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

“This is Brian McLaren at his best, and I think this is what so many readers want from him. Deeply rooted in scripture, yet offering fresh, even radical, readings. We Make the Road by Walking will surely be a benefit and blessing to many.”
Tony Jones, author of The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement.

Read our in-depth interview with Brian McLaren on We Make the Road by Walking right here.

AND in 2014:
PREFACE for ‘UNITED AMERICA’

th United-America-Brian-McLaren-Preface

Click the cover to visit the bookstore.

In January, McLaren provided the Preface for United America, a book by University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker reporting on years of research into 10 values that unite all Americans. In his Preface, McLaren appealed for a rebuilding of American communities (a goal he encourages in his own 2014 book). He writes, in part:

“If we want to strengthen the key subsystems that make up the American system, we will promote the deep values that Americans share. That means that even in disagreement, we will practice civility and a respect for others. We will build on our common ground of both symbolic and critical patriotism. We will emphasize our shared love for freedom, security and self-reliance. We will celebrate equal opportunity, the dream of advancement, and the pursuit of happiness. And we will unite around a sense of wider connectedness.

“Just as destructive interventions target multiple points in a system, healing interventions must arise system-wide.”

Click the book to visit its SkyLight Paths page.

Click the book to visit its SkyLight Paths page.

BRIAN McLAREN 2013:
‘Men Pray’

In 2013, McLaren offered the opening section of the SkyLight Paths prayer book, Men Pray: Voices of Strength, Faith, Healing, Hope and Courage. This nearly 200-page collection of prayers by dozens of men, down through the centuries, is worth buying especially to read McLaren’s moving 8-page introduction in which he describes his own grandfather’s example of prayer as Brian observed it when he was just a boy. After telling that personal story, McLaren concludes with this appeal:

If men like us don’t pray, where will emerging generations get a window into the soul of a good man, an image of the kind of man they can aspire to be—or be with—when they grow up? If men don’t pray, who will  model for them the practices of soul care—of gratitude, confession, compassion, humility, petition, repentance, grief, faith, hope and love? If men don’t pray, what will me become, and what will become of our world and our future?

The book includes prayers by Daniel Berrigan, Wendell Berry, St. Francis of Assisi, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Father Thomas Keating, C.S. Lewis, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Merton, John Philip Newell, Rumi, W.B. Yeats and many others. The collection also includes prayers by two Read The Spirit authors: Benjamin Pratt and Daniel Buttry.

BRIAN McLAREN 2012:
The 9/11 Interfaith Book

Brian McLaren’s most recent major spike in Google Trends was around September 2012, when he released a book with a seemingly humorous title: Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World.

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Click here to read our entire in-depth interview with Brian McLaren about that book. In reviewing Why Did …, we began this way:

In his 19th book, the prophetic evangelical author Brian McLaren is publishing his first interfaith book. It’s timed to appear on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that opened and still define this turbulent new century. As you will read in our interview with McLaren, the best-selling writer argues that this new book is far from the typical appeal for interfaith understanding that other writers are producing these days. While many of those books are noble, he has a different purpose. While readers are smiling over the old joke in the book’s main title—he doesn’t want us to miss the book’s real focus, which lies in the sub-title about “Christian Identity.” This book is a passionate appeal to enrich Christian appreciation of cross-cultural relationships by doing some thorough house cleaning within Christianity itself. In this book, Brian is primarily writing to the Christians who comprise a majority of the American population.

In the interview, Brian says, in part:
One of the biggest insights that came to me, as I was researching this book, is the realization that it’s not our differences that are keeping us apart. What’s keeping us apart is something we actually have in common: The way we often try to build our own identity through hostility. Leaders build loyalty among “us” by building hostility toward “them.” It won’t work to simply rush off into interfaith dialogue until we deal with some of the deep work within our own identity. We won’t get far in our relationships with others until we deal with some of the often hidden ways we have defined ourselves through our hostility.

BRIAN McLAREN 2012:

Click the image to visit one of the books' Amazon pages.

Click the image to visit one of the books’ Amazon pages.

3 politically satirical novellas

In the midst of the 2012 campaigns, McLaren released three e-books—a trio of short, razor-edged satirical novellas: The Word of the Lord to Democrats, The Word of the Lord to Republicans and The Word of the Lord to Evangelicals. (Those links go to the three books’ Amazon pages for Kindle.) In our coverage of those books, we described them as “Fiction with a Sting.”

Read our entire review of the first volume in the series, which includes quotes from Brian McLaren and a brief excerpt from the Democrats book.

At the time, Brian McLaren was saying, “When you’re silent on issues of injustice, your silence tacitly supports the status quo. So even silence ends up being political.”

In our review of the Democrats volume, we called it “broad-brush humor more than deft farce.” We said, in part:

Borrowing the kind of acerbic style we normally associate with New York Times commentator Maureen Dowd, McLaren is firing off a series of short, political e-books cast as fiction. … McLaren says he hopes this dramatic switch in styles will cause Americans both to laugh and to think in fresh ways about the sorry state of politics in 2012. That’s the bottom line: If you’ve cheered Brian’s stances in the past, then you’ll have fun with these e-books.

We also wrote:
This book is a far cry from Saturday Night Live comedy and mainly McLaren focuses on his provocative central question: What if God did come back in the voice of a female prophet, sent to shake up the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign? That’s really not a laughing matter and, in the end, this book isn’t intended as a joke.

At the time, McLaren described the three novellas as “warm up” books for the release of his 9/11 interfaith book, Why Did …

BRIAN McLAREN 2011:
‘Naked Spirituality’

In 2011, Brian McLaren described Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words by saying, in part:

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

This is a book about getting naked—not physically, but spiritually. It’s about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion—the Sunday-dress version people often call “organized religion.” And it’s about attending to the well-being of the soul clothed only in naked human skin. As a result, it must be a vulnerable book, tender in tone, gentle in touch. You won’t find much in the way of aggressive arguments here, but rather shy experience daring to step into the light.

Not only is this book deeply inspiring and a fresh pathway to reviving our spiritual practices—its focus on redefining sloppy and sometimes dangerous “Christian language ” was a step toward his later 9/11 book. First, read our initial interview with Brian McLaren about the release of Naked Spirituality.

In the interview, he says, in part:
We have to find ways to deal with the conflict. If I am filled with conflict in my soul, then it’s going to be very hard for me to contribute to a more peaceful world. If I’m filled with greed and unbridled desires, it’s going to be very hard for me to contribute to a sustainable world. The solution, I believe, is to rediscover the missional and spiritual dimensions at the core of our faith. Yes, I am a person of hope, but I’m also a person who has never felt more urgency about this need to create honest conversation. If we fail, if we give up, the consequence is beyond scary. I am a person of hope. Week by week, I’m inviting people to build on the hope at the center of our faith.

We also published, at that time, some brief samples of the more unusual passages in Naked Spirituality.

A bit later that year—in one of our most popular efforts in Read The Spirit magazine—we published a combined interview with Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren talking about spiritual perspectives on aging. Richard Rohr had just published his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Richard Rohr welcomed this approach, saying:

I consider Brian a dear brother. Think of how he comes from an evangelical background and I come from a Franciscan Catholic background—so this truly is an example of the emerging Christianity. Yes, we’re on the same page—sharing many of the same details! It’s amazing!

You can read the entire three-way interview between McLaren, Rohr and Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm starting here.

BRIAN McLAREN 2010:
‘A New Kind of Christianity’

One of Brian McLaren’s most popular early works was the 2001 fictionalized call to religious transformation, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey. (We still recommend reading that book; and it’s still available, if you click that linked title and visit Amazon.)

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Then, a decade later, Brian McLaren issued a far more ambitious manifesto with a similar title: A New Kind of Christianity, Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. In reviewing the book, we wrote, in part, that Brian was:

Not merely producing yet-another-book-for-small-group-study. He’s packaging spiritual dynamite and shipping it to cells of believers nationwide who are so restless with the bondage of “church life” that they want to blow the roof off and start again. Of course we’re talking about this metaphorically! Brian is world-renowned as a peacemaker, among other things. But that language captures the urgency and the dramatic scale of this transformation Brian—and Read The Spirit—see unfolding for millions upon millions of men and women.

We published a short version of  the ’10 Questions’ in the book’s subtitle.

We also published an in-depth interview with Brian McLaren about A New Kind of Christianity. In that interview, he said, in part:

This is a very, very exciting time. In the first half of this new book, I talk about theological pregnancy. We’re in an era of very positive rediscovery of the treasures buried in our own back yards. But to access those treasures, it requires us to dig up some of the sod. This will get messy before we can move on.

Later in the same interview, he poked fun at himself as he argued:

We preachers are always so sure that a sermon can actually solve people’s problems. (laughing) We underestimate how deep and difficult this transformation is! I’m so happy that this book is shaped around questions, rather than statements. And, I don’t answer all the questions. That wouldn’t get us where we need to go. This is why Jesus taught in parables so often rather than just issuing pronouncements. The very form of the parable invites us into a space where we’re using our imagination and reflection. We actually have to understand the story before we can even begin to agree or disagree.

BRIAN McLAREN 2008:
‘Finding Our Way Again’

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

In 2008, Brian McLaren worked with author and editor Phyllis Tickle on producing a landmark series on Ancient Practices for Thomas Nelson. This was a landmark partly because of the high caliber of the authors Tickle assembled to produce the series. Other examples in this series were Scot McKnight writing Fasting and Joan Chittister writing The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. The series also was historic because it represented one of the world’s most famous evangelical publishing houses, Thomas Nelson, offering its readers deep explorations of practices that Protestants once might have dismissed as “too Catholic.” Going even further, this series pointed out that versions of these ancient practices are shared by Jewish and Muslim communities.

Brian McLaren wrote the first and perhaps the most important book in the series, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. At that time, still soaring from the pinnacle of his 2005-2006 role in national news media, McLaren was a prophetic guide working with Phyllis Tickle to urge evangelicals toward these deeply rewarding Christian traditions.

In reviewing the book, we wrote in part:

Other leading Christian voices have pointed in this direction over the past year, including Tony Campolo and N.T. Wright. But what’s remarkable about the series Brian is kicking off right now is the authors’ affirmation that these practices are valued, as well, by our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters. This is a milestone in interfaith relations—a warm hand reaching out to other men and women in this Abrahamic family of faiths.”

Read our entire in-depth interview with Brian McLaren about Finding Our Way Again.

In that interview, he says in part

One of the things that is so appealing about Abraham in what we might call our post-modern, post-colonial, post-“Christendom” context is that Abraham was directly in touch with who we Christians, Muslims and Jews believe was the Creator of the universe. Abraham was directly in touch with God without a religion. Abraham was before Judaism as we know it, and of course he was long before Christianity or Islam were established. Abraham had that primal calling from God to be on a pilgrimage, on a journey. He’s not the representative of a dominant religion -– certainly not a state or an imperial religion. He becomes a sole believer in a transcendent God in the midst of a polytheistic, pluralistic world. This idea of Abraham as having faith before a religion was organized makes him a very, very important figure for us when many of us are struggling to have faith in spite of the religion we see around us today.”

At that time, we also published a story with Phyllis Tickle, architect of the series for Thomas Nelson. That story includes a very quotable excerpt from Phyllis’s Foreword to the new series that says, in part:

Young men and women of faith, especially, are crying everywhere, “Give us a faith that costs us something! … Teach us the things that will mark us as children of God! …” Their demands swell out with heat and vision, and what they foretell is that Christianity must be a way of living life as much as it is a system of belief. What they envision are Christians who belong to each other in common cause, regardless of place and circumstance, a tribe of people marked by how they are and live as a nation peculiar unto God, regardless of where they may exist on this earth. It is a soul-shaking concept.

Please, Share this Brian McLaren Resource Page with Friends:

Please, start a conversation with your friends by clicking on the blue-”f” Facebook icons connected to this interview. Or email this interview to a friend using the small envelope-shaped icons. Best of all, add a link to this Brian McLaren Resource Page to your own website, newsletter or blog. The Permalink to this page is: https://readthespirit.com/explore/brian-mclaren-resource-page-for-small-groups-and-bible-study/ Readers tell us that one reason they appreciate these Resource Pages and author interviews is that we maintain them reliably, through the years. Thanks for sharing the news!

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

The Love and Salt interview: Why letter writing still builds friendship and unlocks our spiritual vision

Click the cover to visit it's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit this book’s Amazon page.

Christianity was founded on letters. St. Paul’s letters carried the faith into the world years before the four Gospels were published. Much later, America was founded on letters, which is why John Adams is associated with the current National Card and Letter-Writing Month. In the civil rights struggle, a letter from a Birmingham jail 50 years ago ignited a national movement for justice. (Read more about the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous letter in a second story, today.)

Recently, two American women—one who lives in Illinois and one in Virginia—published a collection of their letters, spanning three years and some tumultuous changes in their lives. Their project is a unique window into the spiritual lives of American women—wives, mothers and professionals in their 30s. While American women are the greatest consumers of spiritually themed media—books, magazines and websites—they usually find publishers offering them a heavy diet of older male voices. Instead, Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith wrote their own inspirational Christian classic from scratch.

At ReadTheSpirit, we are not alone in praising Love & Salt. Gregory Wolfe, founder of Image magazine and a leading talent in American spiritual letters, described the book this way: “There are a lot of good books about the spiritual life out there, but one of their drawbacks is that they tend to organize experience into categories and abstractions and steps. … What if a book about God was something more like a conversation between two thoughtful people recording the messy vicissitudes of everyday life, including marriage and children, circling around important topics without schematizing them, sharing what they observe and read and care about? That’s precisely what we get in Love and Salt.

TODAY, rather than tell you more about Love and Salt, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Amy and Jessica. Much as they do in their letters, they are able to share personal insights into what makes their three-year journey both unique—and universal.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW ON ‘LOVE & SALT’
WITH AMY ANDREWS & JESSICA MESMAN GRIFFITH

DAVID: Fans of TV series and movies about women will be surprised to learn that your letters rarely mention shopping; your letters contain a lot about relationships, but not about sex; and your letters spend a lot of time focused on something that is rarely mentioned in Hollywood—your spiritual lives. What’s remarkable is that you two chose that theme and stuck to it for three years.

Amy Andrews, photo courtesy of the publisher.

Amy Andrews, photo courtesy of the publisher.

AMY: The basic premise was that we were going to write letters, telling each other stories about the state of our souls—stories about how we came to that place in our lives, each day.

JESSICA: We certainly didn’t set out to write a book! Honestly, I’m shocked by this book every time I re-read it. We were just two people who started this conversation through letters. The providential nature of what we tried to do is shown in how important our friendship would become. We were serious about writing letters as we started out, but we had no idea what our friendship ultimately would mean to us—or how much our growing faith would mean to us.

We were surprised that that, all of a sudden, what we were doing in writing and mailing these letters became a really important part of our lives. Eventually, these letters became something we had to do to survive. You can see in our early letters that we were wondering about our faith, pondering some theological ideas—then, as time passed, we began living out our faith. I’m still blown away by how this story unfolded. I lived through it. I wrote half the letters. But it’s as though the book wrote itself through all we experienced together.

DAVID: We won’t include spoilers to this interview, but I can say that your phrase—“all we experienced together”—includes intense heartbreak at one point in the overall story.

Before we talk further about what happened, I’m sure lots of readers are going to want to follow your example. So, let’s explain how you did this: You two met in a writing workshop and you both were interested in the Catholic Church. Jessica already was Catholic; Amy was going through the process to officially become a Catholic. Jessica, you agreed to be Amy’s sponsor as she formally joined the church. As part of your dual journeys both into writing and into the church, you decided to write these letters back and forth starting in Lent 2005.

What were the first steps? Did you go out and purchase stationery? Were you interested in fountain pens? Old-fashioned typewriters?

LOVE AND SALT:
‘THE CONVERSATION WAS THE PRIMARY THING’

AMY: We never used email. These letters were either typed or handwritten and the majority of them were handwritten.

DAVID: Typed? I’ve been a journalist long enough that I actually started out using a typewriter like the drawing on the cover of your book.

AMY: No. We typed them on the computer, then printed them out before mailing them. But, we didn’t even want these letters to stay resident on our computers. Often, I got rid of the computer copies after they were printed. We wanted these to be physical letters, and we still have big boxes of them.

I was never enamored of beautiful stationery or special pens or anything like that. This was a big commitment to write so regularly to each other, so we needed to approach this like a workhorse. The conversation was the primary thing. I would grab whatever I could to write my next letter. I sent a few cards here and there but I often wrote on legal pads. Once, Jess wrote to me in crayon on some used construction paper, because she was sitting in her car and that’s all she could find.

JESSICA: I usually wrote on legal pads, too, because I had a stack of them in my office. When I started with this, I was a development officer at Notre Dame. I served as a ghost writer for the president in thanking various people who supported Notre Dame, and I wrote those letters first on legal pads.

So, it was natural for me to write to Amy that same way. Just reach for the legal pad. We agreed that this wasn’t a precious project. We didn’t choose special paper or fountain pens. We were so focused on the letters themselves that sometimes, yes, I did write on trash I had at hand.

At one point, my daughter was very young and had trouble getting to sleep, so like a lot of parents we would use the trick of driving her around until she would fall asleep. This was particularly true at naptime. One time I did that and was just sitting in the car, letting her sleep, and I found this old piece of construction paper. I didn’t have a legal pad handy, so that’s what I used for the next letter. And, no, even though there is an old-fashioned typewriter on the cover of the book, neither of us used one.

LOVE AND SALT:
INFLUENCE OF C.S. LEWIS AND THE INKLINGS

DAVID: Any of our readers who love Christian classics, including C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, will find kindred spirits in the two of you. Your book is a treasure trove of recommendations that you make to each other about terrific literary voices—mostly Christian writers. People will close your book with a wonderful reading list in hand from the books you two share. Here’s my question: Were you surprised to find the Inklings such an inspiration? I can’t imagine a more crusty bunch of older male academics. The Inklings were an honest to goodness “old boys club.” Yet, you two love these writers.

AMY: I grew up in an agnostic/atheist family, although my whole family now is Christian of some variety. One of the very important influences in my family was when my father started reading C.S. Lewis. I was then a senior in high school and he was reading Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Then I became philosophically interested in C.S. Lewis, too. In college, I read tons of C.S. Lewis. I was interested in him as a thinker, then became enamored of all the Inklings. There was something so beautiful in these people coming together to talk about these ideas. These were Oxford dons who also wrote novels and children’s books for real people—not for other Oxford dons. They weren’t focused on small scholarship—they were focused on big ideas. I’ve referred to our exchange of letters as our own Oxford pub.

Jessica Mesman Griffith courtesy of the publisher.

Jessica Mesman Griffith courtesy of the publisher.

JESSICA: Yes, the Inklings are huge for us. They’re like role models. We want to be in that Oxford pub, talking about God and life and death and heaven and miracles. We crave that kind of serious intellectual engagement with faith that we see in the Inklings—and we also see their deep friendships. That was very appealing to us.

DAVID: I’m curious Amy, because you teach math now at Northwestern University, whether Lewis’s very logical style appealed to you. He has been both praised and criticized for the logic he tries to lay out in his Christian apologetics.

AMY: Interesting you would ask that. When I was in college, that’s exactly what I wanted: logic. I started out as an English major and then I began to study science and math and I wanted things to be rational. So, I would say, I used to love Lewis. But now I’m much more of a Tolkien fan. One of my favorite Tolkien pieces is his essay, On Fairy Stories. He essentially says: Ultimately what is true about life comes to us in story form.

DAVID: Yes, it’s a popular piece. As he reaches the end of that essay, he argues that the Christian message is such a vast, cosmic truth that the finite human mind is incapable of grasping the entire truth. So, we receive it in the form of stories. However, Tolkien says: “This story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”

JESSICA: The Inklings were a mystical bunch. I enjoy the novels of Charles Williams and, among the Inklings, Williams was really out there. Just the other day, I was re-reading a portion of his Descent into Hell. Now, I’m not saying that I totally agree with everything Williams wrote, but he has a lot of interesting ideas. One of the ideas he writes about, and we see in the other Inklings as well, is this idea of bearing each other’s burdens. They were exploring a much deeper idea here of spiritually committing to help bear each other’s burdens. This idea appeals to me, because Amy and I don’t live in the same part of the country. So, how is it possible that we can try to bear each other’s spiritual and emotional burdens?

LOVE AND SALT:
CHOOSING TO FOLLOW IN THE STEPS OF RUTH AND NAOMI

DAVID: You also draw a lot from the Bible, including the central theme that runs through the entire book: “Where you go—I will go.” That’s the timeless line that comes to us from the first chapter of the book of Ruth. I mention this because, among the millions of small groups that meet coast to coast, many of them are “Bible studies” and the participants like to touch on biblical themes. Readers certainly will find that in many forms throughout this book. I could envision a really wonderful small-group series in which people would agree to read sections of your book, each week, and then prepare to begin writing letters as they complete the series. So, let’s talk for just a moment about Ruth and Naomi. You stumbled upon this passage of the Bible at the very beginning of your friendship and it has become an important touchstone throughout your friendship.

AMY: I’m very slow to say that anything is providential. But, it’s hard not to view our discovery of Ruth and Naomi at the beginning of our friendship as anything other than providence. We were walking around New York and talking. We wanted to find something to read together, so we stepped into a bookstore and we wound up with this story.

JESSICA: It was a gift. I don’t talk that way very often, but this was a gift—in some strange way we happened upon that story in that store full of books. We were walking around Manhattan and just enjoying talking with each other. We were not setting out to read the Bible together. But we were in this bookstore in Greenwich Village and she just happened to reach onto a shelf where there was a Bible. And, we just happened to end up with Ruth and Naomi.

It was only later that we even realized that reading scripture aloud is a traditional form of praying. We were just captivated by the story of Ruth and Naomi. We liked the idea of making a vow to each other as friends. The idea of one woman committing to a friendship with another woman is a very powerful idea. Then, as we went through this friendship—and encountered tragedy together—we would remember that day in the bookstore and it gave us a noble way of thinking about our friendship.

LOVE AND SALT:
‘WHERE THE REAL STORY BEGINS’

DAVID: I have to urge readers who have enjoyed this interview—and who click over to Amazon and buy a copy—to commit to reading the first third of the book. It starts slow. Your first letters are good reading, but those opening pages aren’t what would inspire someone to call a friend and start a discussion group about this book. It’s when you reach the middle of this book that you really see the larger power of this whole story. And, no spoilers here, but I have to say:

One of the big influences on my life is my late grandmother, Mabel Yunker, a towering figure of a churchwoman in northern Indiana. She had a saying that it took me well into my 50s to understand: “Pray when you don’t need it—so when you need it, you don’t have to pray.” I’d say that’s a central truth in your book.

AMY: I’ll be interested to see what Jessica has to say about this, because she lost her mother when she was 13 and grief has been a reality for her throughout her life. But for me, grief wasn’t so real. I had an awareness of mortality, but it was theoretical for me. As we started this friendship and these letters, it was a beautiful experience for us—but it was beautiful in a poetic, abstract way. We only realized later that we were doing all of this long before we understood the depth and the power of this practice. We didn’t know how much we would need this.

JESSICA: Yes, I appreciate your saying that to readers, David, because you have to follow this story and trust that the real story will begin for you, as a reader, where it truly began for us. Think of the opening portion of the book as our training for what would come later.

DAVID: And that’s a perfect set up, Jessica, for the final question: So, what comes later for you two in 2013 and beyond?

AMY: Well, I’m 42 and, yes, we have been writing letters ever since. But there are gaps in our letters now. Having small children around the house makes it harder to produce every day. Then, there was a nine-month period where we wound up living in the same place and it didn’t make as much sense to write letters. Will there be another volume of letters? Who knows. We had no intention of creating a book in the first place. So, I could say with fear and trembling: Yes, there might be another book of letters.

JESSICA: I’m 36 and I am a writer, and this is a weird position for me as a writer to be known for my letters. We wrote these letters without any intention of turning them into a book. That came later. But, as a writer, I don’t want us to become known as just “The Letter Writing Ladies.” I’m more interested in sharing our story and letting other people take inspiration and perhaps start writing themselves. We would love it if other people were moved to take up their pens, too.

Click on the book cover above to order a copy of Love & Salt.

(Read more about the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous letter in a second story, today.)

(This interview was originally published in readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural issues.)

Lenten Journey: Past Easter, Jesus waits … with breakfast

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

Every year, as I walk the Lenten pilgrimage I am reminded of breakfasts prepared over charcoal in a remote farm community in Cuba where our United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Team was working along side our Cuban brothers and sisters to build a retreat facility for the emerging Cuban Methodist Church. It was in that setting that my hungry, empty soul was filled as if by Jesus who also prepared a breakfast over a charcoal fire for his despairing disciples. I am deeply grateful for the compassion from a community filled with Grace who fed my soul.
Gracias Senor!

In the early 1990s, Jesse Jackson personally confronted Fidel Castro with his abuse of Christians. Castro publicly apologized opening the doors for suppressed faith groups to come out of hiding and grow. By 1998, the time of my first trip, the Cuban Methodist Church had grown from 2,000 to more than30,000. Other Christian denominations and Jewish communities have grown at great speed. Within the last year, the Cuban government has asked our UMVIM teams, which have averaged one team a month, to come more often.

Perhaps the rapid growth is because their faith was a light the darkness could not overcome, an underground light much like a smoldering fire that lingers unnoticed until the firefighters have left the scene, whereupon it erupts into flames.

It is a strange irony that Genesis begins with darkness and the last of the four Gospels, John, ends in darkness—Genesis1: 1-5 and John 21: 1-14. Genesis tells us that before darkness there had never been anything other than darkness; it covered the face of the deep. At the end of the Gospel of John, the disciples go out fishing on the sea of Tiberias in the dark night! They have no luck. Their nets are empty. Then they spot somebody standing on the beach. They don’t see who it is in the darkness. It is Jesus.

All it took to break the darkness of Genesis was God’s word, “Let there be Light!” Amazing—beyond our imagination! But the darkness of John is broken by the flicker of a charcoal fire in the sand. Jesus has built a charcoal fire and he is cooking fish for his old friends. Breakfast! The sun is rising. All that we need to know about overcoming our own darkness may be found in those two scenes.

The original creation of light is so extraordinary that most of us cannot fathom it. Breakfast cooking on the beach is the opposite. It is so ordinary that we are prone to ignore it.

God’s creation of Light to overcome the darkness is not what pulls most of us to faith. It is too exceptional. So, a small spark was lit to draw us. Jesus sheltered a spark with his cupped hands and blew on it to make enough fire for a breakfast. Very few of us will come to God because of our interest in creation. We are much more likely to come because of the empty feeling in our hearts and stomachs.

Nearly every morning while working in Camp Canaan in Miller, Cuba, I was reminded of these scriptures. We awoke in the pale early morning light before the sun arose. Then, like the dawn of creation, the rising sun filled the sky with a golden ball of fire. As we watched the sunrise, the smell of breakfast being cooked over an open charcoal fire drew us toward the morning table.

I wasn’t sure why I went to Cuba. I felt called to go but it was a call I resisted. It scared me. It was out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t even speak Spanish! I responded to a pilgrimage I needed to take. I went to attempt to heal something in my hungry, empty soul. I hoped and prayed that if I loved and served in a new way my hungry, empty soul might be filled. Every morning two women cupped their hands and blew on a spark to start a charcoal fire for preparing breakfast. It was the love and compassion of colleagues in a grace filled community, eating breakfast together, working for others who loved us in return that filled the dark empty place in my soul. They loved me. I loved them. We worked in community, and Jesus brought light into the darkness of our lives and the lives of those we served. God healed my hungry, empty soul through the ones I went to serve—with charcoal, a compassionate community filled with Grace, in Cuba.

GRACIAS SENOR!

Originally posted at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

This column also was posted at the website for the Day1 radio network.

Lenten Journey 7: Sacred doors into Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

“YOU ARE HERE!”

Maps, paths and doorways collage.

Maps, paths and doorways from photos in Wikimedia Commons and from Benjamin Pratt.

We’ve all read the signs. They remind us of our current pinpoint on Earth—and, if we prayerfully reflect, we realize that these are sacred truths:
We are here.
We are among the living.
We stand on a tiny spot of God’s Creation—ready to take a step.

For Christians around the world this week, that next step carries us into the three most important days of the year. So, let’s pause in our Lenten Journey. Remember where we started? I wrote these words: “Holidays are history. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the yearlong cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.”

Remember how far we have come? You may want to review the earlier parts in this series.

Now, in Holy Week, everything we have summoned in this Lenten Journey rises and converges in a kaleidoscope of life and death, hope and tragedy, community and isolation. In these final days before Easter, we pass through enormous sorrow and abandonment as we move toward the spectacular joy we proclaim as Christians. On Good Friday, Jesus was tacked to a tree—his spirit broken. Holy Saturday is a long period of waiting when, some Christian traditions say, Jesus descended into Hell. Easter brings—resurrection.

We might think of Friday as the day of “NO!” As we experience Good Fridays, life throws us against a rock, tacks us to a tree, devastates our innocence and dreams for our marriage, our country, our children, our lives. That “NO!” breaks our spirit and almost destroys our faith in the goodness of God. On such Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is appropriate to be angry, enraged and in deep grief.

Saturday is “I DON’T KNOW.” We move—as Jesus’s followers did 2,000 years ago—into a soft cynicism or despair. We can’t stay in Friday’s intense pain, but we haven’t reached Easter’s joy. Saturday is the janitorial day. We can’t mourn; we can’t celebrate. So, we get up and start moving through our many tasks. Grief and anger from Friday evolves into a flat, soft, lazy, cynical bitterness, a spiritual deadness. This is life without any spice, vitality or vigor. This is spiritual accidie—a term I describe in my books on Ian Fleming and on coping with the challenges of caregiving.

And, Sunday? “YES!” We yearn for Easter, when we are reborn with new directions, new possibilities. It is the day of a clean and restored heart. We are able to sing praises and live with purpose, compassion and gratitude. The Psalmist writes: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. You will not reject a humble and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51)

LINKS IN THIS TRIDUUM

Perhaps you can see, already, that this Lenten journey really is a cycle through which we live, over and over again, throughout our lives. The Catholic Church calls this the Easter Triduum—three inextricably linked days packed in Catholic tradition with more sacred firepower than Christmas. Bishops around the world bless all the holy oils that priests will use for 365 days until the next Triduum. The church’s mighty leaders wash the feet of the powerless, including at the central altar in the Vatican. Good Friday becomes the only day of the year without a Mass. And the liturgies for Easter? The Eastern Orthodox prayers go on for hours and hours—and hours.

In some Easter vigils, outdoor fires are lit and carried in processions. Such powerful images in these three days! My own prayers in recent years begin with images. I crave the clarity of images that reflect awe, gratitude, hospitality, compassion, fear, anxiety and hope—a vast array of feelings. These images may turn into words, some of which I record, but often I stay in the meditative clarity of the images. I often carry a camera and sometimes, I simply capture an image whole and wordless. I have given you lots of words, so let me turn to images for this most important of all periods in our journey.

PAUSE A MOMENT AT THESE THREE DOORWAYS

You may want to set aside a few minutes to read these next three paragraphs. You may want to gather up a notebook or journal to record your reflections.

A FRIDAY IMAGE: Remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre? Some images are burned into our collective memories: that single-file row of fleeing students and, later, the tears in President Obama’s eyes as he spoke to the nation. But, now, turn your mind’s eye toward another detail—one we all missed. As the tragedy unfolded, parents were told to report to a local fire station to pick up their children. Officials tried to bring all of the surviving students to that fire station to send them home in an orderly way. Envision a doorway—the doorway to that fire station. You are among the parents coming to take your children home. Then, you realize that all of the surviving children have been hugged and taken home. People are staring at each other, now. Weeping. Some parents are left standing. Some can no longer stand. The truth is: No more children will go home. A shocking image, isn’t it? Yet, that is what happened on Friday, December 14, 2012.

A SATURDAY IMAGE: On Saturday, January 8, 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabby” Giffords was shot numerous times in a Tucson shopping center. Initial news reports declared her dead, but an intern in her office, Daniel Hernandez, Jr., ministered so effectively to the severely wounded congresswoman that she was alive when she reached the hospital. During and after surgery, she was placed in a medically induced coma. She did not open her eyes for days. Imagine the doorway of her hospital room on that Saturday night: a white-wrapped body all but lifeless. It was a Saturday in which the whole nation could say only: “I don’t know.”

A SUNDAY IMAGE: Gabby Giffords has had many spectacular Easter moments over the past two years. Sunday June 22, 2011, we all saw her again—for the first time since the shooting—in two photographs she and her family released to newspapers and TV news that day. But think of another Sunday, July 31, 2011, when we all heard the news that Giffords would return to Congress the next morning! Hearts stirred in Washington and nationwide as each of us heard this news and prepared for what would unfold on that morning of Monday August 1. Focus your mind’s eye on the doorway into the U.S. House of Representatives as Giffords approached that portal. Inside, hundreds were poised to leap to their feet and applaud. In that moment at the doorway, envision the radiance of joy and purpose on her beautiful face—the resurrected image of a woman who will always live with the marks of her Friday but who lives with courage, purpose and faith in the future.

Wondering where you are this Lenten season? These three days take hold of us from that despair we all feel when we are utterly lost and scream: “No!” We have no choice but to move through those first stumbling Saturday steps—without much hope at all—admitting: “I don’t know.” And then, our faith says, we reach the “Yes!” of Easter. The Good News comes to us with that sign so clearly in our eyes again—pinpointing our sacred spot in God’s great Creation and allowing us to live again:

“YOU ARE HERE!”

May the One who called you unto life and who will call you unto death—the One who holds you Beloved and yearns that you know Eternal Life now, Bless you so that you may be an instrument of Peace, Love, Hope, Compassion and Forgiveness to all whom you encounter.
Amen.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

This column also was posted to the website for the Day1 radio network.