One of the books we are reading together is titled This We Believe by Will Willimon, and we started with these words from the Introduction:
"Do not attempt theology at home! You can't do faithful Christian theology on your own— thinking about God is a group activity."
We spent some time talking through this thought in light of what we would be doing together each week in our training. It set the stage for a tremendous hour and a half of spirited discussion (and laughter, of course) around several different topics. I was buzzing with energy when we signed off! It is part of why I really enjoy working with young adults -- their energy, questions, and earnest hope is so contagious. And it definitely keeps me feeling young.
I thought of our collective exercise in God-talk as I spent some time afterward chipping away at a whole other book entirely, one that has really got me wrapped around its finger. It's called The Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. I'm quite positive I'll be writing more about this book soon. I cannot even begin to sum up what it says, and it would be a great disservice to try. I will say that Wiman is saying things about faith, doubt, belief, grief and God that I have never encountered. Part of it could be due to the fact that though this is a book of essays, he is primarily a poet. His gift with language is frankly stunning for me at times. It is both thrilling, and daunting. Take a risk and read it for yourself. I really don't think you'll regret it.
ANYWAY... these two statements from the book hit me tonight:
Solitude is an integral part of any vital spiritual life, but spiritual experience that is solely solitary inevitably leads to despair.
In fact, as I've said, this is how you ascertain the truth of spiritual experience: it propels you back toward the world and other people, and not simply more deeply within yourself.
Chew on those for a few moments.
Tonight, during our intern training, I mentioned that the plan to "think about God as a group activity" makes sense especially in light of the fact that the Bible is what I call a "plural document." In other words, the Bible was not written to individuals; essentially, all of the "you's" in the Bible are in second-person plural. It is a community document, to be read (and listened to) in collective worship and study. Certainly, we benefit greatly as we read the Bible on our own. But we can never forget that it is addressed, from start to finish, to the people of God. I illustrated my point by taking a well-known passage from Philippians, asking them to hear it as it was written, addressing the entire church at Philippi:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:3-6)
We all agreed that we have received those lovely words in a card or inscription in a book... and while they are personally inspiring, they take on incredible meaning when we think about them in terms of a community of believers. Because then, the inspiration comes in being so connected with God's people as he weaves and binds us together in this crazy process of growth and partnership. As Wiman tells us, we are moved from despair to truth, life and hope. Glory.