Resting in God’s Presence and Mercy and Grace

Each year we begin our spiritual formation program by teaching our new students an ancient prayer discipline known as Lectio Divina.

This is a four stage process of using Scripture in your time of prayer. You begin by reading the text many times. Next you listen to how God might be using the text to speak to you in the situation of life that you are in. This part of the practice is really helpful in learning to discern what God’s speaking “sounds” like. The third stage is when you speak back to God your intentions about how you will respond to what you have heard from him.

The fourth stage in the prayer is a time of simply resting in God’s presence and mercy and grace. We are so busy doing things: for God, for others, for school, and for our career. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need to do things. It’s part of our call. [Read more…]

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To a New College Freshman: An Open Letter from the University Chaplain

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Dear Student,

This is one of the most exciting times of your life. You are moving out of mom and dad’s house. You’re done with answering to curfew. And you are meeting more new people and getting to know them better than you ever have.

But I know you are also really anxious. You’re afraid that you won’t get along with your roommate. You’re afraid you won’t be able to pay the bills. You’re scared that you won’t fit in. You don’t know what to do when your car breaks down, your bank account is empty, or even when your clothes need washed. Most of all, you’re afraid that you will disappoint people when you don’t live up to expectations.

[Read more…]

Learning to "Pray with the Church"

At the beginning of our spiritual formation classes at the university we always offer prayer in some form with which the students are not very familiar. A couple weeks ago I was preparing a brief service of Taizé-style prayer using Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro) as the primary resource as I had earlier decided to do. And then I read the reflection for the week:


“On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a mother has the legal right to end her pregnancy up until the point at which the fetus can live outside of her womb. We lament the death of each child lost to abortion. We pray for each parent who has chosen to terminate a pregnancy. And we commit to become a people who welcome life in a culture of death…

“Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century North African bishop, wrote, “The world is going mad in mutual extermination, and murder, considered as a crime when committed individually, becomes a virtue when it is committed by large numbers. It is the multiplication of the frenzy that assures impunity to the assassins.”

Now I don’t think I am prone to unnecessarily shy away from this issue. I have often told people that I think abortion should be illegal except in cases or rape and incest. And I’m still theologically working through even this exception. I don’t have a problem with the reflection offered for this day, except maybe pairing Cyprian’s comments on war with a reflection on abortion without explaining the contrasts.

But our normal mode of operation as an ecumenical campus ministry is to avoid emphasizing where various strands of Christianity would differ on an issue. We fully recognize that there are theological reasons for a variety of positions on this and other issues. Individual members of our staff might speak out on one or another of these positions. But rarely would we address these topics in worship because we hope for the worship that we organize to be a place where all Christians can gather together.

But that is one of the great formative aspects of “praying with the church.” That phrase refers to the practice of praying through a set of prayers and times that are handed down from the tradition. These prayers in many cases have been used for generations or even centuries within the life of the Church. In one sense, the practice of preaching the lectionary, the three year cycle of prescribed readings for worship, is another instance of this. Praying with the church describes a prayer life that is submitted to the Church’s tradition of prayer rather than following only the whim or desire of the individual who prays.

And this tradition will often bring us to those Bible verses or prayers that we would otherwise not read or pray. It brings us to those verses about money and judgment and purity that we would prefer to forget about. And causes us to say prayers of commitment and allegiance to those callings from God as well.

Many of us would much rather read just those parts of the Bible that suit us. We would rather pray in the way that is most encouraging. We want to practice those spiritual disciplines that are most comfortable. But to pray with the church says that maybe there is a more holistic way of being a disciple of Jesus. And if only I will pray along with the great tradition of prayer that is forged over time by a great many disciples under the guidance of the Spirit, then maybe I will become a fully formed disciple yet.

While I really like the prayer book that we were using (Common Prayer), I would really encourage you to find out what prayer guidance is offered from your tradition. Do you have a prayer list that is published by your denomination regularly? Do you have a daily liturgy and lectionary such as the Book of Common Prayer? Are you willing to submit yourself to the great saints of your own church to let them lead you in prayer? Do you trust these saints that much?

If you don’t have something like this in your tradition, then I would recommend the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office Lectionary that is available electronically here.

You can also get a hardback copy of the Book of Common Prayer very inexpensively.

I also highly recommend the book mentioned above, Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro).

Related Post: Words of Grace for Inadequate Christians

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She Said Yes! Why Mary’s Yes Makes Her A Model For Us All

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

This statement is the primary reason that Roman Catholic Christians give such high regard to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The situation was obviously a terrifying one. Engaged to be married and met by an angel who gives word of her pending motherhood. Surely no one would believe the story of an angel’s message of her conception of a child. Would they? [Read more…]

Karl Barth as a Spiritual Mentor

I am reading Hans Urs von Balthasar’s substantive book The Theology of Karl Barth for the first time.

But, I’m not reading the book primarily to learn what he says, though this book is part of one of my exams that I am taking next summer.  I’m reading Balthasar devotionally.  I know that seems a bit ridiculous.  Can anyone really read this kind of stuff as an act of devotion?

Well, I decided that I would try it for this nine months which I have committed to chaplaincy right in the middle of my candidacy preparation.  So, my “daily bread” right now consists of Augustine’s Confessions, William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence, and von Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth.  Of course the Bible is in there, too. As I read I am asking that God would speak to me through them.  I believe He can.

Here is what I learned today: Balthasar explains that Barth was trying to find a way in between what he saw as failures of liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Liberal Protestantism had taken up the method of dialoguing with all available interlocutors and working diligently to incorporate a variety of sources in a quest for truth.  Barth thought that his theological mentors had erred by trying to validate their work before secular sources which were unwilling to be only contributors to the dialogue. 

Catholicism, however, basically included the content which Barth thought most important, the centrality of Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  But the Catholics largely arrived at their doctrine through an over dependence on natural theology.  He had a problem with their method.

I am often amazed by the ways in which I am formed by the people I read, even when I think I may be disagreeing substantially with what they say.  Though I think Barth’s dependence upon the analogy of faith is basically good epistemology, I am not so opposed to the natural theology of the Catholicism he is arguing with.  One thing about Catholicism does bother me, however. The confidence with which Roman Catholicism speaks because of this dependence on a reliable notion of natural theology and an undue regard for the Magisterium of the church is problematic. 

Like Barth, I think the Church as a whole would do well to give Roman Catholic thought its proper due.  Catholicism rightly defends the centrality of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Word.  But they simply do not have a strong enough notion of the noetic effect of sin to suspect the doctrines of the church for my tastes.  I really do want to be always reforming.

So I don’t exactly agree with the problem that Barth had with Roman Catholicism.  But I do pattern myself similarly.  I like much of the content of Catholic doctrine, if we could simply reevaluate the ecclesiology. I don’t take that as a simple rejection of course.  I am still a pentecostal with a strongly congregational ecclesiology.  I am grateful for these differences of opinion, which Roman Catholicism has been more and less comfortable with at different times since the schism of the Reformation. 

But the reason I write this post is not so I muse endlessly on the relation of Barth to Catholicism.  It is because I was able to be formed today.  I had a revelation of sorts.  I can now name my problems with Catholicism and my appreciation of it.  And, when I name it, it doesn’t sound like all that significant of a difference.  Of course, my Catholic friends probably disagree.  But my ability to name these differences enables me to better engage my ongoing dialogue with Catholic friends and colleagues.  That is no small effect.  I want to be able to name our differences well, not to dissolve them but as a matter of discipleship.  Jesus told the disciples that people would recognize them by how they loved one another.  May I be regarded as a disciple.

May God continue to speak to me through these theological texts, they are not only academic considerations but also the mediation of the Rhema word of God.

Peace be with you.