Saturday, October 13, 2012

First cup--Saturday

I think everyone knows first person personal confessional autobiography is not a new genre. The use of prose and poetry to think and reflect on one’s life—a kind of public journal—dates back, at least, to Augustine Confessions. I think the first time I became really aware of this genre was when I read Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, although the writings of Loren Eiseley actually predate that.

Over the years, many persons have invited me into their lives and their reflections on their lives through such writings. I know that many novels are cloaked autobiography—sometimes it is simply easier that way. The facts can be bent and rearranged and it is always possible to say, well, no, it’s not my story; remember it’s a novel.

I think, however, that the 20th century has been full of such autobiographical and semi-autobiographical work. As I look over the shelves of my library, I see Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Dillard, Kathleen Norris, Fredric Buechner, Stanley Hauwerwas,Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Philip Yancey, Mel White, William Sloan Coffin, Barry Lopez, C.S. Lewis, Bruce Feiler; I remember clearly the moving reflections on life and science in the writings of Loren Eiseley; and, of course, there are the diaries of Thomas Merton—and his ageless (however dated) classic The Seven Storey Mountain. Don Miller’s books and Anne Lamott’s are recent additions to this list. There are more; too many to list here, although these are the writers whose narratives have moved and challenged and directed me on my own journey.

L’Engle’s Crosswick’s Journals came into my world at important points in my own journey and struggle. The Summer of the Great Grandmother came when we were working through the Alzheimer’s and dementia of my parents; her Two-Part Invention, the story of a marriage recounting her marriage and the journey with her husband’s death provided a profound means of dealing with my own grief at the dying of those same parents—and helped me, perhaps for the first time, to address my own mortality. The freshness of Kathleen Norris’ journey from Bennington to Dakota and into the monastic spirit helped me think about my own journey with the church and mental and spiritual health while I was walking my way to the light guided by my Mary. I don't think I could ever adequately explain the enlightening power of The Seven Storey Mountain—a journey so radically different from and, enigmatically, so much the same as my own.

In the last few days, I’ve added another to this list: Tony Kriz’s Neighbors and Wise Men, a book I might never have noticed had the author not been another of WPC’s “senior adjunct professors.” A doctor in spiritual formation, Tony’s journey from what I would call the dark certainty of fundamentalism to the light uncertainty of relational faith and the lightly held but no less deep convictions and practices of a follower of Jesus is a wonderful confessional journal. It speaks humbly and relationally and invitationally—I guess, I mean incarnationally.

So many people are confused about this idea of “hearing from God.” Many believe that God does speak—we confess it. Yet, frankly, so few understand how. By Tony’s willingness to pay attention to what is going on around him, to the words of the people who talk to him (whether Muslims in Albania or bartenders in Portland), to the stories recorded in scripture, and to what all of this stirs up in him—this latter is in many ways the most important. To not run from the discomfort, the anguish, the uncertainty; to not escape into the old and glib oh-so-easy answers and to, one step at a time, engage what is stirring. It is in such difficult and emotionally trying times that God shows up. One of the amazing biblical pictures of God is when God shows up in a whirlwind. Think about it: here is a man named Job whose life has gone completely and wildly out of control, even as he asserts again and again that the old verities do not explain this out-of-controlness. What is needed here is the God “who makes me to lie down in green pastures” and who vindicates me; instead: whirlwind. That’s the God we don’t like; the God we run from—the God who doesn’t remove us from “the valley of the shadow of death” but is in the valley with us and whose presence is not always comforting or comfortable.

This is the value of this book: unstinting courage in the face of God’s uncomfortable, enigmatically relational creativity; the God who is with us but not in the platitude, no, in the whirlwind. Tony’s honest journey with God and others challenges and inspires. The narrative heart of the book is found near the end of it in a description of another person—Bobbin: “He busted down the door. He busted it with silence, with listening, with humility, with contrition and remorse…at least for one conversation. And sometimes one conversation can change your life” (Kriz, Tony. (2012) Neighbors and Wise Men, sacred encounters in a Portland pub and other unexpected places. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 221).

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