Today has been another fantastic day. I think the heat is bearable (not that I like it!). I’ve stood in the shade, made sure to hydrate, and have spent as little time in the sun as possible. Today I have had the delight of a good cup of coffee, Mexican food, intercessory prayer, uplifting, encouraging, creative, and challenging speech, a restful nap, reminders of my lovely wife, and the blessing of God’s presence in his people and through his Spirit. I can count today among my blessings.
I’ve been updating my Twitter feed throughout my time at the Conference, and have made connections with a few others present here or observing from far away. I hope the information I’ve relayed has been encouraging and helpful. Richard Foster, during his talk today on Moses and the importance of words, warned against Twitter’s capacity to diminish the power of our conversation. This week, my friend Tim asked, via Facebook, if Twitter would further “colonize his attention span”. There is plenty to chew on both in Foster’s critique and Tim query, so check out my feed and be the judge. How are tools like Twitter both a blessing and a curse?
As for now, I’m happy to be wrapping up my day with a short decaf Americano from Starbucks. It looks like this:
That is the 8 oz. size they do not list on the menu. Try it sometime.
Emilie Griffin :: Session 1
OK, on to the events of the day. If you have been reading my blog you know that I was late to the first session, but arrived in time to hear from Emilie Griffin, an author who has deep knowledge of the spiritual classics, and is the editor of the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series. Emilie’s talk was on the person of Elijah. She remarked that “Elijah’s ministry is mostly about the undivided heart.” She expanded by saying that we should be persons who’s attention are rapt by the one who created us, that we should be captivated by God. However, she said, it is more common that, ”We want to take God captive…when in fact it should be the other way around.” She’s right.
My greatest insight during this session came from this remark by Griffin: “If we do not have desert in our own lives, we should make some desert spaces so that we can hear God speak into our lives.” We should, “Encounter times of solitude and search these out.” Knowing that we cannot all be like the desert fathers, Griffin stated that our desert could easily be a blank page of a journal, a place where we enter, explore, and allow the remainder of the world to fade away so that we can seek out and encounter God.
I have no problem with desert spaces. For too long, I have felt, I have been wading in the sand. But in these spaces God has strengthened me, taught me, spoken to me, instructed me, and urged me on when I have grown weary, providing an oasis at just the proper time, time enough to recuperate, be refreshed, and set out again on the journey. Griffin quipped that no one reads of St. John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul and says, “Yes, I think I’ll try that,” but when one finds oneself in the dark night, it is a place where we may be purified and may be prepared for a fresh infusion of God’s grace. These three days at this conference would not be so powerful if not for my experiences in what I described to Molly as “a wasteland” from which I have come. I have truly been inspired while here, and await my return home to begin putting the things I’ve learned into practice among those whom I journey with.
Printed at the conclusion of Griffin’s talk are these words, which I will pass on:
Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing; God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
-St. Teresa’s Bookmark
Workshop :: Apprentice Practices
We discussed these practices in our workshop today with Jim Smith:
- Creation Awareness
- Counting Your Blessings
- Living with the 23rd Psalm
- Lectio Divina
- Bible Reading
- Spiritual Biography
- Sabbath Keeping
- Media Fast
I can’t wait to further incorporate these practice into my daily walk.
Robert Gelinas :: Holiness and the Jesus Way :: Session 2
Unfortunately I arrived at the afternoon session about 10 to 15 minutes late. I missed out on the beginning of Gelinas’ talk, but here are a few quotes I jotted down that I found powerful:
- When God is like oxygen, prayer is like breathing.
- Jesus is the picture of holiness we are called to.
- Follow the way of winning by losing.
- Can you see in the cross a more beautiful way of life?
The first quote, “When God is like oxygen, prayer is like breathing,” followed after an exercise. Gelinas had everyone stand, and take a deep breath. We were to hold our breath, but when we began to breath again, we were to sit in our seats. Gelinas delineated between those things we ask God for that would be “nice” and those things that we “need,” and challenged us to advance in the spiritual life to a place where our dependence on God equaled our need for our next breath or our next heart beat–things we need, actions constantly ongoing, but not always consciously acknowledged.
Richard Foster :: Moses, WORDS, and The Jesus Way :: Session 3
Anyone wishing to save humanity today must first of all save the word.
Foster’s talk was the best thus far. Here are a few quotes:
- Words matter because they carry ideas, and ideas rule the world.
- The word is precious to us beyond all telling.
- Words in our day have been overshadowed by the visual. These things can shape us for good or for ill.
- Today, the fact that people have absolutely nothing of value to say does not stop them from writing books.
- Words have been trivialized in our day.
- When these things happen…we descend into Babel.
- We need silence to unplug us form the inanity of Babel.
- We need: Words grounded in silence (See V of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday).
- We need: Words that are significant in context.
- We need: Words that are crisp and clear and imaginative. ”Friends, we need to love God all the way down to our nouns and our verbs and our adjectives.”
- Foster told us that when St. Francis and St. Clare met for conversation, the house where they met glowed. He then said, “May our conversations generate heat and light and spiritual energy.”
- It isn’t how much we read, it is how much of what we read we are able to live.
Foster’s talk had power. He began by saying that as Christians, we are people of the spoken, living, and written word, and that those three facets of Christian character remain a source of power and vitality for us today. Foster then explored our context of today, which devalues the word, explaining first that the visual overshadows words in our day. He cited the 007 Bond films, which, as they have progressed, have emphasized dialogue less and less, and brought action and “the chase scene” to prominence. He cited Quantum of Solace as a prime example, and he is right. His critique was not meant to be a judgment on the power of the visual arts, simply a statement of how things are–a fact–of our present reality, and the challenge this presents to the word.
Foster then moved from the overshadowing of the word to the trivialization of the word, explaining how talk radio, the blogosphere, and even social media tools such as Twitter impoverish our conversation, and create occasions where people speak (or Tweet) even though they have nothing of value to say. He quoted Goethe, “To act is easy, to think is hard” to support his case that there are many today who are talking (as action), yet fail to think first. Further, he cited Pascal, who said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
As a final critique, Foster offered that words have been corrupted by the practice of doublespeak. Citing Orwell’s 1984 and other works of literature, Foster demonstrated how words no longer are allowed to hold their meaning, or they are given some meaning other than they might otherwise possess. He pointing to Orwell’s vision, where, when people read the word “peace” they meant “war” and when they saw the word “freedom” they understood “slavery.”
Foster’s response to the impoverishment of our words was threefold, and I have cited them above. He said we must ground our words in silence, and they must grow in silence. We must offer words that are significant in their context. And we must present words that are crisp, clear, and imaginative. I am certain he could have spoken at length about each of these ideas. I am saddened he did not have more time.
Some Concluding Thoughts
As I have already said, today I was blessed in many ways. Following the conclusion of our final session, I approached two intercessory prayer ministers and asked them to pray that God would make my path plain, that I would know where to go, what to do, and how to minister. I’m in a period of transition in my life, having space to dream new dreams, undertake new work, partner creatively with others, and serve in capacities I had not imagined. I’m eagerly awaiting, however, a time and place where I can serve using the full compliment of my gifts, and that from my service I might receive joy. I’m writing, I’m growing, I’m building relationships with others, and I’m encouraged by what God is doing in my life. But I sense there is something more. I’m excited about what waits around the bend.
Tomorrow is my last day at the conference. I’ll post my reflections upon returning home. In minutes I’ll return to my hotel room, call my wife, and then listen in silence.
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