I’ve just finished reading two classic 20th century Christian books, Discovering the Depths by William Clemmons and The Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly. I feel like I have been swimming in the depths of Christian life. I have read some 15 books written about living a deeper Christian life this spring, but these two plus Frank Laubach’s Letters by a Modern Mystic have definitely invited me into the deepest of relationships with God. And they are reminding me of the saints of the church, those who have really lived the life, not just talked about their beliefs. That is my definition for a saint: one who believes in Jesus Christ, and whose life reflects his beliefs in everything he/she does.
Always first on my list of saints is Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Carmelite nun and author of several books, including her autobiography and The Interior Castle. It was in the 1980’s that I read her autobiography.
It was her metaphor of a garden in the autobiography that carried my spiritual life for years. She described four levels of prayer. In the first a person must pull water up from the well and carry it in a bucket to the plants. Very difficult. In the second level a person would fashion a sluice to carry the water to the plants, but still had to draw up water from the well to pour into the sluice. Still a lot of work. In the third level a river ran through the garden and watered the plants. Effortless. And in the fourth level the rains came when needed. Again effortless. The first two levels of detaching from our minds and the world are a slog, but then comes the grace.
The second saint I think of is Julian of Norwich, an anchoress who lived in a small enclosed room off a cathedral in England that only had a window in the outside wall where she could advise the people who came to see her. Starting with a severe illness in 1373 she had 16 visions of Jesus Christ. Plague epidemics were common at this time, but her faith in God was unwavering, as exemplified in this quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” She didn’t just believe that; it was her foundation, the trust with which she lived her life.
Third on my list is Catherine of Siena, an Italian woman, a mystic, a Third Order Dominican. She is best known for patching up the papacy when it had split between Rome and Avignon. She travelled back and forth between those two cities, seemingly restoring the papacy to Rome. That was in the 14th Century.
Moving to more modern saints of the church, those who knew the Lord and were totally guided by him, my next choice is Thomas Kelly, a Quaker teacher who bemoans the state of the modern church. Writing in 1941 he presents five essays that are deeply inspirational about the spiritual life. Harking back to the founding of the Quakers when they listened in silence and acted by the hand of the Holy Spirit, he talks of community/fellowship in its deepest form: “In worship we have our neighbors to right and left, before and behind, yet the Eternal Presence is over all and beneath all. Worship does not consist in achieving a mental state of concentrated isolation from one’s fellows. But in depth of common worship it is as if we found our separate lives were all one life, within whom we live and move and have our being.”
As for William Clemmons, he describes a deeply stirring picture of depth and connection in his book, Discovering the Depths. Listen to this quote deep in your soul: “We are to come to that moment when we serve God whether we feel good or not; whether we have a religious high or must continue out of faithfulness amid darkness, dryness and discouragements…The windows of heaven have been thrown wide open and now all people everywhere can know the secrets of God…God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share the glory of God…Union, therefore, is not for the few initiates, but for all those who will open themselves up to God in loving attentiveness to his every word.”(p. 134-5)
I can feel his call deep in my soul for me to go way deeper than I am into Christ and to live these words: “Union is not trying to get a particular experience or message that we want to hear out of God, but a waiting and listening in silence, a total disponibilita[availability] to God. It is a living with the mystery of the ways of God in this world…We wait in abandonment, emptiness and poverty of our own capabilities…We wait resting in His presence, seeking his face, knowing that as we are available, He comes to us in each and every circumstance of each moment of the day.”(p. 137) It matters not whether we are driving or doing the dishes or our work or what. We rest in his presence. He echoes another saint of mine, Brother Lawrence, of the 17th century, whose wisdom in written down in The Practice of the Presence of God.
Frank Laubach was a missionary to the Philippines in the 1930’s and 40’s. Called by God to the issue of literacy Laubach forged a system of taking a native language, breaking it down into the most common sounds, assigning each sound a symbol/syllable that could easily be learned, then putting together words from a combination of syllables. Using his technique someone familiar with a language could create a readable system that would only take a week for most to learn. And then Laubach built a printing press that published newsletters in that language, with Gospel readings and news, because the newly-taught readers wanted materials to read.
He was successful with native populations, because of another of God’s suggestions: if he wanted to reach the native peoples, he must get to know them and their religion. Many in the Philippines were Muslim then. So he got to know the Imams and their religion, he prayed for their highest good, he enlisted them in his literacy efforts. He got to know the people really well and what they needed. Over time many were converted to Christianity because of his efforts to teach them to read.
I have only touched on a few saints of the church whose devotion to God has touched my life. There are so many more, famous and unknown, who have inspired my relationship with God. I could mention Billy Graham whom I saw at Madison Square Gardens in New York City with my Aunt Grace when I was 16. He still calls me to Christ from my memories of him.
Reading these saints and applying what I have learned from them in my life helps keep me attentive to God and to what he is asking of me right now, opening myself up so that I don’t miss his call, his blessing or grace, his presence. What a way to live!!!!
Questions to ponder over the week: Who are your saints of the church, ancient or modern? How are you inspired by them and what do they inspire you to do? Are there people in your own church who inspire the deepest faith in you? Have you gotten to know them? To learn the secret of their faith? Are you inspiring others to deepen their faith in the Lord?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who never rest in needing God at deeper and deeper levels of our being. May we not ever be satisfied with the status quo. May we call on God to help us deepen our relationship to and dependence on and our trust in Him.
News from By the Waters:
All five of the videos about the Exodus story are up on YouTube, plus two more. Here are the url’s to access them:
Part I: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKfouN0PNH0
Part II: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyvRsnqYrdg
Part IIIa: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZU32Y09UN8
Part IIIb: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHqKay89kjE
Part IV: www.youtube.com/watch?v=84z7KF_uv7Q
God’s Invitation, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOkp_-wDKFo
The Heart of the Gospel, www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJJbPKSOACc
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.
If you want to read the entire post for this week, check it out atbythewaters.net/blog.html.