We can so easily be seduced by the new, the latest research, the cutting edge technology, the paradigm shifts. No one wants to be left behind in the frenzy of change that is all around us.
We can be afraid of being out dated, old fashioned or a dinosaur in a rapidly changing cosmos. Having our head in the sand or in the clouds are not places we need to be.
In my journey as a Christian, I want a foot in both worlds; listening and learning for the ancient and not so ancient past, while being open, flexible and alert the changing cultural climate and the new thing that God may be doing.
Christians are existentialists, in the sense we value the present, historians in that we appreciate the past and futurists in that we have a hope filled eye on the future.
I was reading one of my favourite authors the other day, Eugene Peterson. He describes in his book “the Pastor” how one day he walked into his study and removed all the academic diplomas from his walls. He replaced them with three photos of people whose company he wanted to keep in forming his identity as a pastor. It wasn’t that he was putting the world of academia behind him, indeed he was in demand as an adjunct professor and visiting lecturer. Rather he felt his degrees pointed to the world of the intellect, classrooms and libraries. While he valued these, as a pastor his world was more about “intimate relationships, a tradition of holiness and the cultivation of souls”. He was seeking to integrate learning into prayer and worship and the ordinariness of everyday living. His focus was not so much the lecture theatre or library but the sanctuary, workplaces and households that would keep his vocation local and personal.
The first picture on the wall of his study was that of John Henry Newman, who left the verified air of Oxford University for the rather polluted world of industrial Birmingham. While Newman lived nearly two hundred years ago, Peterson felt this Englishman with a sharp intellect and pastoral heart would be a good invisible companion in his pastoral journey. Newman’s influence in the Church of England was magisterial. For a while his was the name on everyone’s lips. Then he abandoned his elegant Oxford surroundings, with its intellectual prestige and religious influence and chose to be a Roman Catholic priest next to the belching steel furnaces and among children and adults who could not read or write. I find Newman’s story an inspiring voice from the past. So have others. Mother Teresa and the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity adopted Cardinal Newman’s prayer “Radiating Christ” as a daily community prayer. The first part of the prayer goes like this.
Help me spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your Spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through me, and be it so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.”
I treasure this prayer from the past and I am struggling to make it my own. How about you?