life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

journey (part one): following the flame...

Do you fantasize about being with Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness? I do. Yeah, I know. We’re wimps today compared with what they had to put up with. But still. Can you imagine waking up every morning not knowing which direction you are going, and there before you is a cloud leading the way? Or at night when you are dead tired and can hardly put one foot in front of the other, you look up and there is a bright orange flame out ahead of you beckoning you forward?

It’s a comforting thing to be led by the Spirit of God. It’s exciting! It's frightening and challenging, too. In fact, I would say it is absolutely essential, especially when you find yourself journeying on the suture zone.

Perhaps one of the things that has handicapped God’s people is the feeling that we are not on a journey. Instead, we have felt that we have arrived in the promised land. That has not always been true of my particular heritage. Early on there was a real sense of being pilgrims in a foreign land on the way somewhere. But somehow having gained a sense of respectability in the world (not to mention a higher socio-economic level denomination-wide), we lost that sense.

Moses warned the people when they were about to enter the promised land that they would have a tendency to forget how they got there and where all these milk and honey blessings came from. I wonder if we haven’t experienced the same thing in the modern church and are now suffering from the souring of the milk and the spoiling of the honey that Israel did. I know the promised land had to be a good thing. After all, God was leading them there on purpose. Somehow, though, it always appears the good that God leads us to eventually sours in our own hands. Perhaps it is better to always be pilgrims, always on the journey. I don’t know. But I get the distinct impression that Christians today are being called on a journey into the future, not to a comfortable place on the homestead. In fact, I don’t think we have much choice in the matter. God is on the move. Either we follow or....

Now, I’m not trying to romanticize wandering around in the desert. I’ve just driven through Death Valley this week for the first time. I know it is not someplace I want to be wandering around in any time, much less during the summer months. And I’ve been on some pretty long hikes when I was (much) younger. I’ve gotten my share of blisters and sore backs. The older I get, the less appealing sleeping on the ground appears to me. But like I said, I believe that God is on the move.

So where is the cloud and flame?

I believe that question is very much worth exploring for those of us who have ventured out, however gingerly, onto the suture zone. Personally, I’m not satisfied with the answers of my modern heritage. “The Bible is our guide. The Spirit speaks through the word. Just obey the word.” Well.... I’m not denigrating God’s ability to speak through what has been written down. I just don’t trust my ability to clearly see exactly what is being said. Nor do I trust the mechanistic means that my modern colleagues and forbears have used to "decipher" the text. And the word bears witness to the fact that God doesn’t abandon people who are looking to him and willing to follow. It says he's actively involved In their lives.

So where do we go? Where do we head next? Into what is Jesus leading us? How do we know how to follow?

Do we find God and his direction in the disciplines? Silence? Lectio divina? Centering prayer? Do we find it alone or in community? Do we seek the "still, small voice"?

More on the next post, with navigating the fog...

But feel free to share any ideas you have in the meantime.

Grace and peace!


Blogger miller said...


good thoughts.

two things... (1)what if we read "Jesus" rather than "scripture" in all of the places the greek logos is used... would it not certainly change the emphasis pe place on scripture to the place it really belongs...

(2) St. Symeon did some pretty good writing about the necessity of the disciplined pursuit of the virtues in discerning an experience with God. check out his ethical discourses on the mystical life. Vol. 2 on virtue and Christian life. (when you come ask me about the paper i just wrote on it.)


7:45 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Even Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, wrote, "Now I know in part..." Postmodern thinking has its excesses, but also has its validity: our inability to know perfectly should reinforce the primary virtue of humility (or so it would seem).

Secondly, I agree that my ability to read the Bible must necessarily be limited. God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh so that he wouldn't get a big head; it should not surprise that he would apply the same modus operandi to the church as a whole.

We need God. He would be foolish indeed to give us all the tools so that we might get by without him.

With that in mind, the notion that God would not allow the faithful to misread, or would not allow even the humanity of the biblical authors to intrude - these concepts are not in themselves biblical.

The essence of Christianity is perforce a journey; I agree, Owen. We seek, trust, and in the meantime love. "Not that I have arrived!" If we have arrived, then this must be heaven - God help us all!

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

One additional train of thought... Your questioning how we recognize the flame is very provocative.

I believe that I have experienced it a few times as a strong, sudden conviction that I have heard God's "voice." Sometimes this sensation has come while reading the Bible, sometimes while reading other materials. I have felt it at times in prayer, or sometimes just out of the blue.

In the weeks before Carol left, I felt it strongly twice. The first came in prayer, when I found myself studying my hands; I believed that I "heard" God "say," "I don't fumble." I remember thinking, "Yeah, I know. Why do I need to hear that?"

The second came when I was sitting on my bedroom floor reading. I can't recall what I was reading. Suddenly, mid-sentence, I felt the strong pressure of the mental words, "These mid-life crises will pass after the girls leave home." I was sort of stunned, and comforted.

I remember the words from both events exactly.

At the time, I didn't understand the need for the first event, and thought the second refered to relatively minor concerns - then Carol told me she was having an affair and my life collapsed.

I could never prove that God spoke to me. Such events, if genuine miracles, are by their very nature not subject to the scientific method. Both times, I didn't hear a voice that "sounded" like any other than the usual one inside my head. But both times the words felt as though they had an authority far greater than that of my usual "qua qua" (Samuel Beckett). And both, in retrospect, feel as they they came "at the right time," again in keeping with God's modus operandi.

I think that there is wisdom in learning to listen for the "still small voice." As I've stated before in my postings here, I find comfort and aid in the eastern notion of mindfulness, of sitting quietly in acceptance, not trying to fix or judge. I'm reminded of how Dan Rather once asked Mother Theresa what she said when she prayed. She, "I listen."

5:49 PM  

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