What if the Most Radical Thought is the Simplest: A Pre-Lenten Memo to Myself
Thirty years ago, I read an article about some youth groups of liberal Presbyterian Churches in the bay area. The teenagers stumbled upon the Jesus Prayer, silent devotion, lectio divina, and icons. Youth group meetings got very quiet. The parents became worried- was this some kind of cult the kids had gotten into? Suddenly traditional Christian prayer had an edge of rebellion, which only made it more appealing! And, even in that simpler age tech-wise, the young people came to enjoy the silence. Similarly I have heard of Catholic youth groups saying the Rosary as they meet in suburban Dallas- counter-culture of the best kind! What if the late folksinger John Prine had it right: his ‘blowing up our cellphone (back then, ‘TV’)’…and ‘finding Jesus (though not just ‘on our own)’ turns out to be the most radical and the simplest answer before us?
But of course, as is always true in the spiritual life, our witness is effective when it is aligned to our life. I have used the example before of my teacher in seminary, Henri Nouwen, who was a pioneer in the rediscovery of the contemplative life, even as he himself was restless and incessantly talkative. His gift was steering toward a port not easy for him to reach. Though I am here poaching on my friend Michael Smith’s domain, maybe I am then the right person. At the seminary I instituted a weekly service of intermittent Taize chanting and gazing on an icon of Jesus: when the faculty found me an implausible messenger, I suggested that, in some cases, they are the right kind.
Don’t just say something, sit there. And while you’re at it, say the Jesus Prayer, rinse, and repeat.. And let the not-doing and not- speaking be a witness to the sheer gift-ness of grace. And now, having said this to you all, I have my accountability group for the ‘one thing needful’ in my Lent! I invite you to find your practice, and your group, as well.