Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Elusive Text

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

During a six-day immersion course on Christian spirituality offered by the Spiritual Formation Program at Columbia seminary in Decatur, Georgia, last week, I had a significant dream. I found myself in a large and beautiful sanctuary, uplifted by a white vaulted ceiling and warmed by deep brown paneling and pews. I was to read a poem folded in a sheet of paper inserted in a book as the text for a sermon someone else was to preach. When I came to the pulpit, I opened the book and the folded sheet but could not find the poem.

I spent five minutes searching while the congregation grew restless with the silence. The text was familiar to me, I knew, so I tried to remember phrases. Unsuccessful, I gave hints to the congregation, hoping they could help me remember, as it was also familiar to them. But they could not help. As I came out of the dream, I tried in vain to remember the poem’s words or phrases, theme or gist. I knew it was familiar also to my waking self.

Regular readers of my books and blog know that I have such dreams. For a similar one you might check out my post, “A Theory of Everything.” I invite readers to comment on possible interpretations of this particular dream.

The context of the dream might help. On my own all of my life I have carefully read books on spirituality and attended similarly-themed lectures, workshops, retreats, and pilgrimages, not to mention college courses, divinity school, and countless worship services of various kinds. Many of my own books and this very blog are intended to encourage prayer, reflection, and meditation.

But I wanted to see what a course on Christian spirituality might be like. I read the required texts, then listened to various instructors describe Old Testament and New Testament spiritualities, then desert, monastic, post-Reformation, and contemporary spiritualities. We worshiped and journaled, walked a labyrinth, spent time in silence and spiritual practices. We also met in small groups and with a spiritual friend.

It turned out to be a healing experience for me. I felt like I was dipping my toe in baptismal waters again after some discouraging church experiences. Spiritual community does work when ALL are engaged, as were the participants, facilitators, and instructors of this course.

At the closing worship, overcome by emotion, I almost could not sing the final phrase of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”: “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” It reminded me of a United Methodist pastor who, ousted from his denomination, once poignantly confided that it had been a very long time since he had been, in Charles Wesley’s words, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Maybe the elusive text does not consist of words, but of feelings.

1 comment:

  1. Chris, It was a blessing to get to know you a little. Thanks for all the words of encouragement. I have, and will continue to pray for you - that you will find that healing community that we all so desire to be a part of!

    If I'm in town, I hope to take your class on Nouwen. I like the idea of an interactive class!

    Planning a retreat soon - which this class helped inspire me to do again.

    Blessings, Beverly