abide {one word}

Yesterday I spent a quarter of an hour scrubbing the window above the kitchen sink.  I could go into great detail here - about the tiny, nearly impossible to plumb crevice between the back of the sink and the ridge of the windowsill, and how when the faucet leaks, it leaks into that crevice, and the mold that grows - or about how our hard water leaves a white film on everything, clean dishes, the innards of the coffee maker, and yes, on the window where steam gathers - but there I go going into great detail after all. Suffice to say, it needed to be cleaned.  

Cleaning the window doesn’t change the view: still snow, still fence, still wires and tree branches bare but for an enormous hornet’s nest.  But it does clear the vision.

That’s how I feel about New Year’s resolutions, too. For me, regrouping at the New Year is less about making a list of goals to eventually fail to achieve, and more about taking a minute (or more than a minute, but let’s be honest, I’ve got tiny children pulling on my legs) to reflect on who I am and where I’m going.  
What are my hopes and wishes? Do I need to change the trajectory of my life?

Cleaning the windows of my soul these past few weeks, the word that came to me was ABIDE.

I think I need to remain where I am, to sojourn here a while longer.

I need to abide with small town Indiana. You know me, I’ve been moving my whole life. I lived in four states before I was five years old.  In the last ten years, I’ve had seven homes, two of them overseas.  This staying put is foreign to me, and I get itchy to move on to the next thing. But it’s time to abide.

I need to abide to the end of things. I get excited about things at the beginning.  I get passionate and dreamy.  But I rarely follow through to the end of projects.  I put down the quilt pieces and start planning a gluten-free menu, which I abandon in favor of New York Times chocolate chip cookies, and then I think about how I need to knit a french press cozy.  Maybe now it’s time to finish some things, to abide with projects and ideas and see them through.

I want to abide with my kids, being more present when I’m present, and less distracted. I want to abide with my students and friends here in Upland, and with you friends on the blog (yes, I’m sticking with my blog, though still re-thinking some aspects of it all). I want to move a little more slowly through days, through books, through thoughts, abiding with them longer.

I want to continue on in the directions I’ve been traveling this year.

I think it’s time to sojourn here for a spell, here where life looks still, quiet, even boring and monotonous, because I think this is an underground year.  Verily, he says to me, unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. This is underground year, a die to self year.

After all, as NT Wright says in After You Believe, you can’t force changes in character on yourself.  They grow in subtle, quiet daily choices:

Character is a slowly forming thing. You can no more force character on someone than you can force a tree to produce fruit when it isn't ready to do so. The person has to choose, again and again, to develop the moral muscles and skills which will shape and form the fully flourishing character.

It’s a strange thing to me, to pick one word for a year, when really you have no idea what the year will bring. Can choosing a word change what the year brings to you? Or change the way you respond to it?  

Perhaps I’ll actually find that everything about my life this year will be overturned, and what the word really means for me is that Christ abides, and I abide in him, so I am unmoved.

Abide in me, O Lord, and I in Thee,
From this good hour, oh, leave me nevermore;
Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed,
The lifelong bleeding of the soul be o’er.

Abide in me; o’ershadow by Thy love
Each half formed purpose and dark thought of sin;
Quench ere it rise each selfish, low desire,
And keep my soul as Thine, calm and divine.

As some rare perfume in a vase of clay,
Pervades it with a fragrance not its own,
So, when Thou dwellest in a mortal soul,
All Heaven’s own sweetness seems around it thrown.

Abide in me; there have been moments blest
When I have heard Thy voice and felt Thy power;
Then evil lost its grasp; and passion, hushed,
Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.

These were but seasons beautiful and rare;
Abide in me, and they shall ever be;
Fulfill at once Thy precept and my prayer,
Come, and abide in me, and I in Thee.
-- Harriet Beecher Stowe

the sojourn is not a road trip

On long car trips, we’ve decided, rules go out the window.  Anything is fair game.  Limits on TV viewing are abolished; lollipops are introduced.  Ice cream is a possibility, and chicken mcnuggets, and  (this is serious) we’ll even allow “kids’ music” to be played until it drives us parents out of our minds.
Snowy Aurora Avenue (Route 99) & 130th intersection, action in the snow storm, night, cars and trucks, red arrow, street light, trees, wires, overpass stairway, Albertson sign, driving in dangerous conditions, Seattle, Washington, USA
CC image courtesy of Wonderlane on flickr

We live in farm country, middle america. Set your radius to 600 miles and draw a circle around us; all of our extended family members live outside the circle. So several times a year, you’ll find the four of us strapped in for 10-14 hour pilgrimages, usually heading south.  

After ten hours, even candy and kids’ shows lose their charm; for a solid hour at the end of the trip, our travel soundtrack transitions into screaming (Owen) and pitiful whimpers, wishes we had never left our sweet home (Rosie).

It’s a lot of fun.

Driving back to Indiana after Thanksgiving in Arkansas, I tried to think of how enduring the car trip, desperately waiting for it to end, could be related to the watchful waiting we practice during Advent.

I didn’t come up with anything.


The coming of Christ has a threefold meaning.  Richard John Neuhaus: “As then he came and now he comes and will one day come again, awaken us to the then and now and one day of his presence in this present moment.”

I used to understand only the first of these of these “comings” that we watch for during Advent.  I understood, of course, that we were remembering how Israel watched and waited for a Messiah, and how that waiting was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.  As then he came.

But my understanding of Christ’s coming in the now and one day was incomplete. I used to think that we were supposed to be watching and waiting for Jesus’ second coming, in the clouds, in glory, to rapture us all away from the earth and into heaven.  As for Jesus’ coming into the present moment, I suppose I would have said that was about waiting on him to accomplish personal sanctification in my own heart and life.  

The way I used to understand it, waiting on Jesus in the now and the one day was a lot like waiting for a dreadfully long car trip to end; someday I would be home and removed from the painful situation, and in the meantime there was not much to do but get a peppermint mocha and develop patience.

Thanks to N.T. Wright, my understanding of the coming of Jesus in the present and future has changed radically.  Advent's waiting is so much richer than just enduring present pain in hope of its eventual end. 

The sojourn of Advent, in other words, is nothing like a cross-country drive with preschoolers.

In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright asks (about death, heaven, and resurrection):
What are we waiting for? And what are we going to do about it in the meantime?

With his answer, Wright upended my understanding of the kingdom of heaven.  I began to understand “heaven” as more about Jesus returning to reign in power and glory in a “new earth” right here, and less about Christians being raptured up to the clouds.

Because the early Christians believed that resurrection had begun with Jesus and would be completed in the great final resurrection on the last day, they believed that God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.  It was not merely that God had inaugurated the “end” ; if Jesus, the Messiah, was the End in person, God’s future-arrived-in-the-present, then those who belonged to Jesus and followed him and were empowered by his Spirit were charged with transforming the present, as far as they were able, in the light of the future. (46)

If this is true, then waiting for Jesus in the now and the one day is about transforming the present in the power of the Spirit. It's about praying “thy kingdom come,” watching for the ways in which God is answering that prayer, and then joining his work.  

In the birth of Jesus, the new kingdom has already been inaugurated; Advent means watching for that kingdom to continue breaking out in our hearts and lives and world as we await the day when ALL things will be made new. And as we wait, Common Prayer says, "we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world."

ten nonfiction books that shaped my faith

In chronological order of when I encountered them...

1. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.  My youth pastor preached a series on a weekend retreat based on this book, and I later read the book itself.  The messages were some of the most powerful I had ever heard, about God's love, about art and faith, and about myself as the older brother.
2. The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer - this book was the first I encountered that addressed the kind of existential questions about faith that I began having in high school.
3. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris - Norris joins Madeleine L'Engle on the list of writers I would christen saints.  I love each of her books, but this was the first I found, and is probably the one that speaks most deeply to me about prayer, place, and the life of faith.
4. The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power by Richard Foster. Money has divine properties. We can serve money as god by giving it too much power, whether by extreme thrift or by extreme greed.  This book provided a deeper way for me to understand money, sex and power than the church was giving me at the time - especially on sex, where teenagers are pretty much just told, "don't do it."
5. The Hungering Dark by Frederick Buechner.  Buecher helped me know what to do with my doubts.  He said that every day I had to ask myself if I could believe in Jesus, and that some days the answer would be no, and that was ok.
6. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider.  I have a very uncomfortable relationship with American (and my own) prosperity.  This helped me begin to understand what to do about it.
7. The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard took me months to read, because I could only read about three pages at a time, and then I'd have to stop and think about it. So profound.
8. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright.  Heaven makes so much more sense after reading this.  I wrote more about it here.
9. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Ken Bailey.  When you grow up with the Bible, it gets hard to read the stories with fresh eyes.  This book allowed me to do that, and to understand things I had never gotten before. More about him here and here.
10. Daily prayer books.  For the last decade, I've done best praying with a guide.  The Book of Common Prayer, John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, Valley of Vision, and CommonPrayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals are the ones I've used most.

Have you read any of these?   What books have formed your faith the most?