These Thoughts are drawn from threads of a sermon preached at
Church of Jesus Christ, Reconcileryesterday:
For the past year and half I have lived in a small community, we live under a modified monastic rule, modified since we are not monks since the community is not limited to celibates and at the moment none of us are called to a celibate life, an understatement since I am married. Yet, we keep the Divine Offices, times of prayer, all are to gather for Morning and Evening prayer at least. We have been most consistent with evening prayer, I have prayed with varying consistency (and depending on work schedule) all of the hours except for the midnight and early morning hours of prayer. This has produced an intriguing thing in me: questions I held concerning certain traditional Christian teachings, like the virgin birth of Jesus etc., have become part of the back drop of my tapestry.
What is written here is so different than texts I would have written when in college or even seminary. During my time in seminary I spoke and wrote in favor of not only the right of a seminary student to ask questions about and doubt articles of faith, but also, that the seminary as a training ground of pastors should encourage such questioning by its students and future pastors (with slight modification I would still argue such if in a position where I needed to do so).
The question, the testing of the faith and its doctrines has been a key aspect of my faith since I was in high school. Now, I find myself seeking to affirm and even encourage this affirmation in others of these very same articles of faith I have questioned and tested for decades.
Yet, I also feel no compulsion to say that I was wrong all those years and now that I have come to the truer and more faithful expression of faith. I still read Derrida, still find him a good companion on this journey of faith. Nor is it that I have stopped testing and questioning. Rather I find myself questioning the division of Christianity into distinct groups, and the seeming endless mutliplicity of Protestantisms. I question the attitude of confidence in the new as well as a blind allegiance to anything that is old.
Yet, the context is different, for years my prayers were questions, a constant wrestling with God, the Church and Christianity. It's not that I started praying a year and a half ago. However, I lacked a certain understanding of prayer. I did not understand that prayer not only might affect and effect the world(though I often questioned this as well) but that it would form me. The reason for this I think was the form prayer took for me. It was individual and private, and I did not need the church or its structures and tradition to pray. But following the ancient and monastic hours of prayer (even in this admittedly limited and somewhat half-hearted way at times) is very different, and not what I would have chosen on my own.
Some who know me might think this is very much suited to me, as a contemplative person. Yet, my contemplative self, has always been more attracted to Buddhist meditation, though I did realize a long time ago that I could not simply meditate as a Buddhist if I was a Christian and did attempt to practice Christian meditation rather than Buddhist. Though, in the area of technique their is often little to distinguish the two.
The picture I hope that is forming is that I am praying in away that forms me, and suddenly the creed is itself prayer, as my friend Justin described as his own experience of saying the creed in church over the past few months. Such a prayer begins to form one, imperceptibly. And not just any prayer but prayer that ties one through its form to the Body of Christ the church. In saying this I might seem less and less the Lutheran, and certainly not sound very protestant or evangelical.
What I hope one can also begin to see here is that what you see now, the text(s) that you read, would be impossible without the journey of faith I have had: discovering Christian mysticism and Eastern Orthodoxy, through of all things sitting and talking with my Buddhist professor of Buddhism in the department of Religious Studies at CSU Long Beach. The years sitting half lotus in silent meditation. The years spent wrestling with a group of friends (ironically called the Society) in LA over issues of theology and philosophy, art and Literature. If all that struggle all those questions weren't themselves prayer, if I hadn't been faithfully in pursuit of God (who had claimed me as Christ's own in baptism long before I could assent to doctrine or creed or speak a word of prayer) in struggling with those questions I would not have found my way to this realization that praying the Hours is prayer beyond what I could have conceived.
In the end, though I do not follow in their footsteps, I am thankful for Bultmann, Barth, Tillich, F. Stanley Jones, Funk and the Jesus Seminary, Crossan and I could go on, I would not be here without them. I also would not be here without Dostoevsky, Lewis, Tolkien, Evdokimov, Colin Brown, Multmann, Kalistos Ware, this list could be endless. I list these names to somehow communicate that a life of faith is not necessarily a settled one without tensions and seeming contradictions.
Yet, "pray and do not loose heart." May you hear the invitation of faith.