Category Archives: words

Posts and writings related to other words, including definitions, literature, etc.

Sitting With Sparrows (1998)

(This is an old one – a story reflection on communion. But I don’t have it posted anywhere here, so thought I’d share!)


He believes the sparrows know him by name, he has spent every morning with them for so long. He sits at the corner table, just far enough under the canopy to be clear of rain but open enough to be in the warming rays of the morning sun. Each day he arrives five minutes before the coffee shop opens its doors, and sits quietly with a book du jour, while the sparrows flock around him as soon as he sits. The shop’s serving staff has become so accustomed to him that they bring a hot cafe mocha and muffin to him just as the doors are unlocked. Silently drinking his coffee he splits the muffin in half, then patiently breaks off pieces to feed the swarming, fighting birds.

It was a spring morning, free of the chill that often settled in the desert air. The sun was shining brightly and warmly through a cloudless sky as the man walked up and took his seat. Closing his eyes for a moment, smiling at the constancy of the old man, William turned from the counter and began mixing the man’s regular cup of coffee. William selected a fresh muffin from the day’s assortment and placed it on a small plate he carried with the coffee to the door. Jenna smiled at him, unlocking and opening the door that he might step into the sun himself.

The old man was reading as William walked up, but looked up from his book smiling. Upon seeing William the man tilted his head, his smile fading, and he lowered the book to the table as William placed the muffin and coffee before him.

“Good morning, sir,” William said with his customary lopsided grin, beginning to turn to return to the counter.

“Just a moment please, son,” the man responded. William looked back at him. “Do you have a few minutes, son?”

William’s mouth and eyebrows undoubtably showed his surprise for a moment, for in the year and a half the man had been sitting at the table every morning he had rarely spoken much to any of the staff. His first visit he had come into the shop, waited in line, and demurely asked for the cafe mocha “and a nice muffin, please.” Midway through his third week of visiting the shop the staff members had begun to take a secret joy in preparing his coffee and selecting a muffin for him just as he arrived. The man always smiled and thanked whoever served him, paying an even six dollars each time, leaving his server a seventy-five cent tip and a feeling of joyful consistency. “Just a few words with an older man?”

“Certainly,” William said, pulling a chair from the table and settling into it. The sparrows chirped as they hung from the wall or sat atop the roof looking down. Beginning to unrwap his muffin, the man looked at William.
“My name is William, sir.”

The man stopped and offered William his hand. “Charles O’Rourke. Nice to meet you, William.” William shok the offered hand, smiling.

“I don’t think any of us have ever known your name,” William commented, then felt a pang in his stomach that this was a stupid thing to say.

“Perhaps none of the current staff, but Joseph and I spoke a few times,” the man said as he returned to unwrapping and splitting his muffin. Joseph had worked at the shop for two months the past winter; he had been very quiet around the staff and customers, and William knew little about him save that he had an affinity for reading poetry during his breaks. “Your eyes seem troubled today, William.”

“Pardon me?”

“Forgive an old man’s candor, but I find politeness has limits. Did the two of you fight, or is it something else? I am, of course, referring to the pretty blonde who often kisses you as she sometimes gets her morning coffee.”

“Her name is Kristin,” William told Charles. “We…” His mind was spinning at the man’s perceptiveness, and his recent discussion with Kris; he couldn’t put anything into words. She had told him the night before she was in love with someone else. She had tried to allay his breaking heart with words of comfort, to no avail. He could not remember much of what she had said after telling him she loved another, except that she could not see him for awhile. She had met him at a nearby restaraunt and he had left her there, teary eyed over a peach iced tea. “We broke up last night,” he told the man, wondering as he did so why he did so, hearing a finality in his voice he hadn’t known would be there.

“Ah,” was all Charles said in response. William watched as he broke a piece of muffin and held it out to a waiting sparrow. The bird paused, cocking its head to eye William and then, deciding he must be safe, hopped up to the offered morsel. Taking it from Charles’s fingers he winged off to the roof while the man used his free hand to sip his coffee.

Jenna pocked her head out the door. “Excuse me,” she said politely, though there was surprise lurking behind her cordiality, “William, we’ll need your help in a few moments.”

“Certainly, young miss. I won’t detain him much longer,” Charles said, looking up and smiling at Jenna. She smiled back and ducked inside. Charles took a bit from his half muffin, breaking a piece off the other. William thought of the questions that would lay in wait inside the shop.

“My wife used to bake half a dozen large muffins every Sunday and Wednesday,” Charles said as he slipped a morsel to another expectant sparrow. “We would split one while they were still warm, sitting in our kitchen by the picture window. Each with a cup of coffee. We would split another each morning. On Saturday she would crumble the five remaining muffins, and place them in the feeder outside the window. For many happy years we spent our mornings together this way; sharing a muffin and coffee, talking and sitting with one another, watching the birds come to feed off the same bread.”

A plane passed by on approach in the sky, and the man looked up as it flew overhead. William noticed a dampness in Charles’s eyes; the mist that often accompanies memories. He could hear the gentle hum of life beginning in the coffee house; knew the need they had for him inside, but he remained sitting, listening.

“These were always moments of great happiness between us,” the man said, “despite what might have happened the day before or what might be ahead.

“She took sick two years ago. We tried to share a muffin every morning in the hospital, but it was not the same.” The man paused, sipping his coffee and feeding a chirping bird. “There was still happiness and peace in that time together, but there was also an air of unease in the unfamiliar surrounding that we never overcame. When she finally passed away, it was late one morning, and our muffin lay untouched by her bed.

“I’ve felt her presence since then, young man; every morning.” Charles took a bite from his muffin, looking at William. “I feel her with me every morning I sit here, and the joy and peace we had remains. They help me through the day.” He smiled, looking William squarely in the eye. “Bad times are real, but joy and peace, they are more real.”

The door opened and Jenna was there. “Looks like they need you inside, William,” Charles told him. “You have a good day, young man, and find joy where you can.”

William stood, smiling at the old man. “Thank you, Mr. O’Rourke. You have a pleasant day, too.” Charles tilted his head to look up at him. “I will. Thank you.”

William turned, going inside the busy coffee shop. Later, after Charles had left the table behind, William watched the remaining plate carefully. When the crowd of sparrows had finished the last crumbs of muffin, William retrieved the plate and cup; then went on smiling and serving the various souls that came to him that day.

-1998, rvb

The Porcupine Who Howled At The Moon

The Porcupine Who Howled At The Moon (1)

Once upon a time there was a porcupine named Joggi. While Joggi was aware of the great mystery of life that beat within his small chest, he did not think his name – or he, himself – really mattered. He had once had a friend, but their friendship had ended sadly, and that’s a story for another time. (2)

Ever since he had lost his friend, Joggi had grown afraid.

Joggi came out at night, for porcupines are nocturnal, as I’m sure you know. On most nights, after the sun set Joggi would come out of his hole under a tree and root around in the small brush and bushes, snorting and snuffling and looking for something good to eat.

But some nights, as Joggi made his way out, there would be a great big full moon, that hurt his eyes and made him worry that owls would see him. On nights like these, he would back his way back into his hole, bury his head in his front paws, close his eyes, and wait for the moon to set. For Joggi was anxious and afraid of the moon.

On other nights, Joggi would be out snuffling and snorting and looking for food when a breeze would begin to rustle the leaves. If the breeze began to grow, Joggi would back himself into his little hole, bury his head in his front paws, close his eyes and wait. For Joggi was anxious and afraid of the wind.

Other nights, Joggi would look up from his snuffling and snorting and watch the clouds nervously. If flashes of light and thunderous booms filled the sky, Joggi would back himself into his little hole, bury his head in his front paws, close his eyes, and wait. For Joggi was anxious and afraid of lightning and thunder.

Joggi had not always been quite so afraid, and most nights he still made his way around the brush of the forest floor. But even Joggi notices that more and more, he was hiding in his hole, waiting.

And one night, as Joggi buried his head in his front paws, closing his eyes to wait out the garish light of the full moon, he heard something he hadn’t heard before: a long howl. He opened his eyes, and lifted his head, and peeking through the entrance of his hole he saw a great silver wolf off in the distance, staring at the moon.

The wolf howled again, and his tail flopped from one side to another. He tossed his head, and this time, when he howled at the moon, Joggi had the distinct impression he was greeting the moon as an old friend. Then the wolf hopped up, and briskly dashed off into the forest, playing with the moon.

Joggi buried his head back in his paws, closed his eyes, and waited; for Joggi was anxious and afraid of the moon.

On another night, as the wind howled around the entrance to his hole, Joggi heard another curious sound, like a low growl. Opening his eyes and lifting his head from his paws, he peeked through the entrance of his hole and, once again, he saw a great silver wolf off in the distance.

The wolf squared his feet in the soft turf of the forest, lifted his face, and looked directly into the wind. A soft growl rumbled from his throat, but it wasn’t angry. The wolf’s tail twitched left then right then left, and the growl switched to a quick bark. Then he tossed his head, and briskly dashed off into the forest, playing with the wind.

Joggi buried his head back in his paws, closed his eyes, and waited; for Joggi was anxious and afraid of the wind.

As you can imagine, another night, Joggi saw the wolf again. It was a dark and stormy night, lightning flashed in the sky and thunder echoed through the tops of the trees. Joggi lay in his hole, his head buried in his paws, his eyes closed, when he heard a playful sound in the midst of th storm. Opening his eyes and lifting his head from his paws, Joggi peeked through the entrance of his hole and, once again, saw the great silver wolf.

As lightning flashed in the sky above, the wolf hopped about, his tail twitching. When the thunder rolled, he hopped and barked. He turned left and right, hopping and barking, and soon Joggi saw that he dashed off into the forest, playing with the lightning and thunder.

Joggi laid his head down on his paws, but this time, he kept his eyes open. He waited. This time, he watched as the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled. Joggi was anxious and afraid of the lightning and thunder, but this time he also thought about the playful wolf.

And so it was one night, as Joggi emerged from his hole to snuffle and snort after the sun had set, the he saw the great, garish moon rising over head. As he began to back into his hole, he remembered the great silver wolf, howling to greet the moon. He stopped, and sat himself down, and looked at the moon.

Joggi let out his best howl, but he was not a wolf, and it sounded more like a sqwak. So he thought a moment, and looking at the moon he took a deep breath and called out, “hello, Moon!” And Joggi waited, and the shadows stayed shadows and he saw no owls. And Joggi called out again, more bravely, “hello, Moon!” and the great frightening moon wasn’t so frightening. And standing and walking out under the moon’s light, Joggi found that there was joy in the moon.

And a few nights later, as he snuffled and snorted his way through a tasty blueberry bush, Joggi felt the branches shift and sway with a growing wind. As he walked toward his hole, he remembered the great silver wolf. So Joggi stopped, and he turned toward the wind, his face close to the mossy ground. He planted his feet firmly in the soft turf, and he raised his head to greet the wind. And the wind touched his nose, and it ruffled through his quills, and Joggi smiled. For Joggi found that there was joy in the wind.

Some time later, clouds filled the night sky over Joggi as he made his way through fallen leaves. And instead of returning to his hole to hide and wait, Joggi looked up at the growing storm. He waited, a little tense, until the first flash of lightning. He jumped a bit, and shook his quills, and they rattled and rumbled their own echo of the rumble in the sky above. And Joggi found that there was joy in the lightning and thunder.

And so it was that the porcupine who howled at the moon grew to be less afraid, as he remembered the way of the great silver wolf.

But that’s not the end of the story. For later, on a night when the wind blew strong under a full moon, Joggi emerged out of his hole. That night he planted his feet, his face in the wind, and looked up at the moon. As Joggi cried out his greeting, “hello, Moon!” he heard a faint echo, “hello, moon.”

Joggi looked around, and saw not too far away little Archie the Hedgehog. Archie was seldom seen; Joggi could not remember the last time he had seen the timid little animal. But there Archie was, a small mirror to Joggi, his paws planted firmly in the turf, his eyes to the moon and his nose touched by the wind, smiling.

And in the shadows of the forest, a great silver wolf, his eyes blazing with light, watched them both, and smiled.


(1) with gratitude to, and inspiration from, Martin Bell.
(2) “The Porcupine Whose Name DIdn’t Matter,” p. 113 of The Way of the Wolf by Martin Bell.


c.f.
1 Timothy 4:12, “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”
Titus 2:7 “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.”
Matthew 5:13-16

     “Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life. We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t.
“And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend in us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.
“You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think.”

-Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten

“Sacred” Music

We had a moment in worship this morning…

The Cornell University Glee Club visited Flagstaff and led most of our time of worship today. While I know they are capable – and have a repertoire consisting – of far more, they shared a number of selections of sacred music with us, drawing from pieces drafted across the centuries! Ancient Latin alongside modern pieces, all sung a cappella by 40 some male voices. As they sang, a few thoughts came to me that I thought I’d share…

cornellchoir

When I closed my eyes, the music seemed to surround me as though in waves. Maybe it is because of familiarity with the physics of sound being a wave, but I imagined the voices mingled together like the waves of the ocean  – bass voices flowing like the undertow of the beach, baritone the shifting swells of waves, tenor (or higher) like the waves crashing at the top. I could almost see the waves as they sang.

I could also picture some of the great cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe. I remember hearing some choirs rehearse in them as I wandered, decades ago; and the mixture of voices filling our worship space this morning were reminiscent of those choirs I’ve experienced, or of choirs innumerable through centuries of faith.

I was reminded that our ability to express beauty (not to mention divine reverence) in music is inherent, and not dependent on instrumentation. Long before there were base guitars, synthesizers, drums, pianos, organs, trumpets – there were voices. While I in no way want to denigrate instruments or musicians – especially because I hold many of my friends with such talent in such awe – the power of voice on display today was inspiring. Voices raised together in melodious harmonies, they transcend the individual and invite listeners in to a moving experience of community.*

So, today, we had a moment. 🙂


*A few years ago, a book came out titled “We are smarter than me,” which emphasized communal knowledge. Listening to the choir this morning, I was reminded a bit about the nature and power of communal worship; of the lifting power of community.

Peacemakers and “Core Values”

You probably already know Matthew 5:9, which in the more common NIV reads:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

But as I prepare for our 90 Days in the New Testament endeavor this spring, I’ve been listening to Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, as I drive. And I was struck by how he phrased the same verse:

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have already seen that in early December the LEGO Robotics team that I help coach – “R2-Determined,” from Thomas Elementary School – did well at the local regional qualifying tournament. Well enough that not only did the team advance to state competition, but they won the “Judges Award.” They did great!

Except in one area. As part of the competition, the team goes into a room with judges who give them a task to work on together, and then evaluate their teamwork in relation to a variety of “core values” set by the FIRST LEGO League. These are actually good behavioral values the students need to learn to do well in life… and in that room, that day, they did not do well. At all.

That particular failure was particularly crushing to me, even with the excitement of going on to state competition; given my vocation, how could I have failed so much to help encourage their positive behavior? (I will share that in the mean time, we’ve been working a lot on teamwork, and reflecting on how they work together.)

This week, Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ familiar “blessed are the peacemakers” opened the verse up to me in a new way. Of course, peacemaking is about more than just resolving conflict! Of course, peacemaking has to do with helping people cooperate and live and work together! And, yes! When I am faithful at pursuing peacemaking in this way, I do experience a degree of fullness; I do know a bit more who I am inside; I do experience my place as a child of God.

 

Another Dream

I have an active dream life, and often have vivid dreams, for good or ill. This morning (while I am on vacation) is an example, and I share it because I think it speaks to some of the greatest anxiety I have regarding both my vocation and our culture. So below is the dream, followed by some thoughts as I wake from it:

——

I’ve run into a colleague in a bar, someone I have been close to and know I can speak without being judged. He asks how I am. In my response, I share that it’s a challenge to be helping to lead an institution that is in decline, that is struggling and failing to connect with people my age or younger. Another colleague comes by and shares that his church is going gang-busters after initiating some particular ministry; the innuendo clearly being that anyone who isn’t growing or successful is doing it wrong.

I’m on a porch with Lynn when a group of about half a dozen seniors walks up to me, bypassing Lynn completely, and drop a large stack of papers on my lap. “What do you think of these?” one of them asks, gruffly. I look down at the stack and ask what they are. “Applications for the nursing home.”

The church also operates a nursing home on its premises. Turns out, as (one of?) the pastor(s), I’m responsible for selecting new residents and overseeing the nursing home. I express a bit of dismay that this is something I’m expected to do, as well. One member of the group expresses a bit of empathy while others demand my review of the papers.

Looking at the first one, the paperwork has been filled out with a large handed scrawl. “This is terrible,” I comment, “my fourth grader can write more neatly and spell better than this.” I drop that one. The next one is a “request for roommate” form, completed by two women. The form seems filled out fine, but another hand has scrawled hastily written comments in the margins and throughout the form. I put it on the bottom.

One of the group comments that they want a recording of a funeral from the other day. I indicate that I don’t record them. They are shocked. The empathetic woman suggests that she could record from her phone. “Of course,” I share, “you could record it, but I’m not able to.”

The next form seems to be standard, and I realize that the top of it reads “Expects An Invitation.” The next form isn’t a form, but several copies of newspaper articles about a high school cheerleader. Someone in a shaky hand has written in mostly unreadable cursive comments about the girl throughout the pages, including one that clearly reads “lift up her skirts.” The implication given is that surely because of her immorality the girl, or a relative of hers?, wouldn’t be allowed in the nursing home…

——

Do you sense the anxiety I felt (or did you perhaps feel some of your own) reading the dream?

Some days, I think we are, generally speaking, getting meaner toward one another. Maybe we’ve always been this way, and I’m just growing out of innocent naivety to see it. Or maybe people really are becoming more free toe express gruffness, meanness, assertiveness bordering on (or crossing into) arrogance, and self-righteous entitlement.

I’ve given my life to growing (and serving) in love for God and neighbor; in pursuing “holiness.” I constantly work with others, and sometimes see degrees of this meanness expressed around me. How do I reconcile my commitment with the seeming failure I see around me?

In the last few years, as I really contemplate what a life with Christ/God means, I have gravitated toward Galatians 5:22-23a being the best descriptive of what “holiness” means to me. Here’s an amalgam of several translations of the verses:

“The result of God’s presence in our lives is love and unselfish concern for others; joy and exuberance about life; peace, serenity, and perseverance; patience and compassion in the heart; kindness; goodness, generosity, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people; faithfulness; gentleness; and self-control.”

These “fruits of the spirit” are the aspects prominent in persons of character that I respect and respond to. These are the transformative changes I pursue through my faith in Christ, and genuinely hope to help others to know, experience, and grow in. While neither I nor others are perfect in them, my hope is that we hold them as the ideals toward which we aspire and live.

Finally, an additional word of encouragement I find comes from both Romans 12:8 and Max Plank’s poem The Desiderata:

Romans 12:8, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you. live at peace with everyone”
Desiderata, “As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.”

Words, words, words

A large crowd had gathered, most of them present to express their dissatisfaction with the leaders and their pending decision to approve a new, large complex of student housing. As the Town Council meeting was called to order, four NAU students were highlighted for winning an essay award, crafting their own versions of NPR’s “This I Believe” statements. These articulate young adults spoke of many things: the power of kindness, the deep and emotional impact of a loving dog, of fathers and mentors.

One young woman, drawing from her work with service animals, described Flagstaff as “one of the most community-driven, volunteer heavy communities I’ve ever encountered.” Another shared of difficulties in her journey, and opined that “kindness is more powerful than you can ever know.” Prior to them, the first essayist, a young man, “words are powerful.”

Moments after hearing from and applauding these articulate young men and women, the community was given an opportunity to speak. What followed was – to me, at least – so dichotomous as to be immediately jarring: whereas these essayists had shared with us words and perspectives both positive and hopeful, members of the community rose speaking with words and tone negative and cynical, harsh and nihilistic. The importance of kindness forgotten, the power of words was still readily apparent, as the Town Manager himself at one point insisted that the assembled body “show a little decorum, please.”

This recent night in November reminded me so strongly not just about the power of words, but our responsibility therein. In his epistle, James shares about this, likening a tongue to a fire-starter. Which can be both a bad and a good thing.

Several years ago, when Barack Obama was first running as president, I heard an interesting analysis comparing him with the Democratic candidate one election cycle back, John Kerry. It was the expert’s opinion, based on analysis of their speeches and patterns of conversation, that whereas Kerry had too-often dwelt on the negative, Obama was about hope. Regardless of what one thinks of him or his presidency, the rhetoric of his first campaign was one that recognized and harnessed the power of positive words, sharing hope-filled messages to many.

Having heard this “expert” analysis – and (as I remember it, anyway) a prediction, at that early time in the election, that he would likely overcome his opponent John McCain precisely because of this hopeful message – I was somewhat convicted. Were my words positive, hopeful enough? At the time, struggling in my own leadership, I was want to focus on what was broken, on the negative, on what I was lacking. I realized then how important it was that I be able to share hope.

I honestly don’t know how well I’ve done in sprinkling my words with the salt of hope in the 7 years since. This recent Town Council meeting served as a stark reminder to me of the importance and power of the words we choose to use. And at the front of my journal, which I often carry (even to Council meetings!), are two powerful verses that I would hope guide my tongue (and my life):

Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. (Eph. 4:29, CEB)

whatever is True, whatever is Noble, whatever is Right, whatever is Pure, whatever is Lovely, whatever is Admirable – if anything is Excellent or Praiseworthy – think about such things. (Phil. 4:8, NIV)

I believe words are powerful, and kind words even more so. Like Moses or Jeremiah, I wonder if I have the strength and ability for what I feel God is inviting (calling?) me to; but will trust God’s Holy Spirit. May my words be well-chosen, kind, and meaningful to those who hear.

Religion

Religion

I have, for some time, had a love/hate relationship with the word “religion.” I love what I have come to understand it truly means, and what it can refer to, but, along with others, I so often hate what the word typically conjures to mind. I have even, not all that long ago, preached and taught about the ostensibly meaningful (but, ultimately, false) distinction so many in my (GenX) and the Millenial generations make about being “spiritual… but not religious.” (You can listen to the sermon in 2 parts, here and here.)

I was first exposed to “spiritual… but not religious,” the phenomena that is now a seeming demographic inland of itself, when I read Catholic author Tom Beaudoin’s book Virtual Faith in January, 2000. So enraptured by the concept, I even bought the copy of U.S. Catholic that featured Beaudoin’s article sharing a title with and describing the then-emerging phenomena of “spiritual… but not religious.”

You can find much written about the phrase and what it means to various people of spiritual yearning. So I will simply summarize the outlook as follows:

The honest deep spiritual yearning of some for meaning, fulfillment, and even God, but who feel alienated from and averse to “religion” in so far as it is widely understood.

Those who identify themselves as “spiritual… but not religious” (I’ll use S…BNR as shorthand) perceive religion negatively, suggesting religion is the domain of out-of-touch religious institutions that are hypocritical, irrelevant to life, averse to science and/or modern though, inconsistent, and prone to power struggles (particularly struggles to create or enforce some “right” definition or doctrine).

I have returned to reflecting on the word religion most recently because of an interview that actor Daniel Radcliffe (aka. Harry Potter) gave to Parade Magazine just this month. When asked about his own faith, considering his own Catholic father and Jewish mother, Radcliffe replied with the answer:

My dad believes in God, I think. I’m not sure if my mom does. I don’t. I have a problem with religion or anything that says, “We have all the answers,” because there is no such thing as “the answers.” We’re complex. We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity.

I do not want to assume Radcliffe among the S…BNR, for his initial words in the above quotation actually suggest his being atheist. However, when I first read his response my immediate thought was that his definition of “religion” was, like so many others, founded on contemporary misconceptions that the Church – and I would include any denomination or “tribe” here – has helped to create! As words, “religion” and “religious” have come to inspire images associated with hypocrisy, judgmental attitudes, heavy-handed indoctrination, lifeless enforcement of particular rituals, and more.

In 2000, as a second year seminarian having just read and found in Beaudoin’s the first voice I felt to be a relevant prophet for my generation, I championed the need for change to reach Xers. I was, to a degree of current shame, rebelliously adamant for change and condescendingly critical of the existing structures or practices of the Church. I loved Christ and his Church – and also the Methodist Church – too much to allow, as I perceived it, the negative and irrelevance of the faith to lose a generation.

I’ve mellowed some over the years, in no small part because the more I have learned of Church history – and particularly about the renewal movement begun by the Wesleys in their own day – and the more I have encountered ancient, but often neglected, practices of faith, the more I have become convinced that true religion is not antithetical to spiritual yearning.

I understand that the word “religion” comes with baggage for many people today, and so I respect that it may be necessary to encourage S…BNRs toward growth in faith in other ways. And yet, at the same time, a part of me desires to reclaim the word in its positive sense.

I have come to believe that true religion is spiritual yearning. Perhaps it is the growing influence of the leader and mentor of my particular tribe, John Wesley, for whom true religion was a “religion of the heart,” an inner drive and desire for God. For Wesley (as I understand him!), there would have been no distinction between “spiritual” and “religious.” True religion is the drive to know the love of God, the experience of that amazing love, and the pouring forth of God’s love for others. Although true religion influences and leads to positive works, it is not dependent on any particular work or doctrine.

Indeed, I want to suggest that religion is not about a specific set of tasks or about knowing the “right” answers, rather religion gives form to our questions and our quest. Beliefs are a part of religion, but so are attitudes and practices. And for me, these are not about providing rigid intellectual frameworks, limiting human experience, or demanding obedience to some institutional power.

Rather, the ancient practices of Christian faith – reading Scripture (eg. Lectio Divina), quiet prayer (eg. contemplative prayer), community prayer (eg. The Lord’s Prayer), fasting or abstinence, Christian conference (eg. small groups), works of mercy (e.g. serving others), and even sacraments (eg. Eucharist) – are means by which we can positively engage our deepest yearning for God. And the attitudes of faith that I most earnestly seek – those “fruits of the spirit” defined by Paul (Galatians 5:22-23) as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness/generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – encapsulate a way of life that is both response to and part of our deep “spiritual” yearning.

So, to me at least, religion is not antithetical to one’s spirituality. It is a means – even a gift – by which I can allow the spirit within me to grow after and into God. Religion gives form and awe and mystery to my growing life’s experience of the numinous, of the divine.