So he brought his people out with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations,
and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes
and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord!
I had the privilege of attending the
Rooted in Jesus Conference in Atlanta this past January. As a lay commissioned evangelist for our diocese my primary focus, of course, was evangelism. It was a great gift to participate in a number of workshops devoted to evangelism. The biggest surprise, and a strong take-away, for me was from the presentation
Why Monks Matter by Brother James Koester, SSJE (Society of Saint John the Evangelist). In speaking on specific aspects of ‘why monks matter,’ I was most struck by the idea of
enclosure. It occurred to me that a vital need for the future of evangelism in the Episcopal Church is enclosure.
So what does enclosure have to with evangelism?
Whether it is a monk in a Boston monastery, a family at dinnertime after a challenging day, or a group of Christians partaking of the Eucharist on a Sunday morning, enclosure is a necessary space for spiritual nourishment in a world that so easily leaves us malnourished.
I grew up in Minnesota and was blessed to have family supper together every night. My father commuted to and from work in downtown Minneapolis. Each night he walked in the door, kissed my mother, took off his work duds, and sat down briefly with the day’s newspaper. If it was Friday he would mix himself a brandy old fashioned. At 6 o’clock sharp our family sat at the table to eat. We traveled ‘up north,’ (as Minnesotans say) many weekends and holidays to visit my grandparents in farm country. Here we conversed, played in the barn, ran in the woods, hunted and fished… and most importantly ate meals as a family. Meals were sacred space, and still resonate deeply in my memory. My wonderful wife and two sons carried on this meal tradition, and I’m convinced it has been the greatest strength of our family. We didn’t always eat at 6 o’clock sharp, but we continue the nightly supper tradition of my youth. Meal time—family time—is protected. Enclosed.
Brother James spoke from a monastic lens. He related that enclosure is not a way to keep things out or exclude them, but as a recognition that some things are precious and need to be protected. Eden was God’s garden planted in the east. Here in the garden God set our first parents:
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
(Genesis 2.8-9 NRSV)
God created a place that needed to be enclosed and protected. Around this garden he placed rivers to give it shape, and space, and place.
At the risk of plagiarizing Brother James’ personal garden-duck-geese illustration of enclosure, I will speak from a similar personal experience. At our previous home in Philadelphia we had six chickens and a kitchen garden. The chickens were enclosed and protected—cooped up in the backyard. Not so that they could have supper together (although they did revel in scratching the yard together in their incessant search for bugs), but so that my precious fowl would not become supper to predatory animals higher up the food chain. Furthermore, my kitchen garden (also in the backyard) was enclosed to protect it from the desolation my chickens would have wrought if the garden were not fenced off. My garden and my chickens were both enclosed to protect their beauty and productivity.
Brother James stirred within me the realization that enclosure in its most holy sense is not what I or others might imagine at first glance, in or out of a monastery. Enclosure is not a denial of the world outside my family and faith community, but rather an affirmation and recognition of a holy space that can be held out so that the greater world might see and know that the space, and place and time that I inhabit in faith has been set aside for a purpose in Christ. Furthermore, God has blessed me, my family, and my faith community with precious gifts that need protection and nurturing, and enclosed space is necessary toward that end.
Psalm 105, quoted above, poetically conveys the Lord’s wisdom and promise to ‘take them out,’ to ‘set them aside,’ to ‘give them a land,’ and to ‘make them a nation.’ The promise was to Abraham and to Moses. Moses demanded that Pharaoh let the Israelites be separate
that they might worship. The Israelites needed enclosure to bring God’s love and mercy to bear on the greater world. This paradoxical lesson is tough to grasp not just for the Israelites, but for Christians throughout history and for us today.
Echoing Brother James’ teaching on enclosure, the fence that enclosed my kitchen garden didn’t say that my chickens were worthless to me. Far from it! They produced wonderful eggs, they were charming and entertaining company, and I protected them to the best of my ability. Similarly by calling Israel out of the world and bringing them to a promised land and making them a cherished nation, God was not saying that the people and places outside Israel had no value. Rather, the Israelites were being called out of the world by God to experience God’s deep love for them, and to be servants of God’s deep love for the peoples and nations around them, and for us today!
The necessity of enclosure—of protecting a spiritual deposit— abounds in our culture. How do you feel when you are in the middle of a conversation with someone and they pull out their cell phone? Or, how do you feel when a cell phone goes off in the middle of worship? How do you feel after you waste an entire night or weekend on a marathon binge session on Netflix? So many of our spaces, places and times are in need of rescue, protection, and transformation.
And what about the body of Christ—the Church? Seventy-three percent of Episcopalians are committed to the Christian faith but have many questions and “have not developed a personal relationship with God in Christ;” additionally, they “are highly dependent on the church and especially the clergy to help them grow in faith" (see end note). That is three out of four brothers and sisters! Seventy-three percent—living largely unprotected, and desperately in need of life-giving enclosure. Like Israelites enslaved in Egypt, Christians are living in spaces where they are spiritually enslaved by the desires of the world that run contrary to the will of God (1 John 2:16). This large majority in our churches does not engage in spiritual practices, and often does not know where to start. Their prayer life is minimal, and often non-existent. Time in solitude is absent. Engagement with Scripture (other than Sunday’s liturgy) is often nil. Any sense of Christian vocation is often illusory. A desperate need going forward is to foster havens of enclosure—e.g., family—where folks may engage in life-giving faith practices with one another for the sake of the world. If we want to share the mystery of the gospel—faith in Christ—we must first have a taste of it ourselves. We can’t share a faith that in many ways is virtually nonexistent.
In a similar vein, clergy and lay leaders cannot give what they do not possess. As clergy or a lay leader, have you protected in yourself what is most important? In your family? In your parish? If these precious gardens of life are not protected, we bring little to bear in our good works outside the body of Christ. We will have little good news to share if we fail to protect and guard the wellspring of life—our hearts, and the hearts of those nearest to us.
Israel needed the Promised Land to be a nation of faith— and enclose space where they would be enabled to discover intimacy with God. As a people set off and protected, they would bare all to God and the world, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Their highs and lows would be exposed—in writing! Their propensity for failure and sinfulness would all be for the revelation of faith in God’s profound and ineffable mercy to and for the world.
Healthy and holy enclosure creates the havens where hearts can be laid bare for God’s transformative power to work. Peter and his band had gone back to fishing after the crucifixion. The risen Jesus came to him, to a fireplace and a cooked meal. Here on a lonely shore Peter had a deep heart-to-heart moment with Jesus. Peter’s love for Jesus, his failure—all of himself was laid bare and confronted in this seaside haven. This is enclosure. Here Peter discovered true sacrifice and offering—a broken and contrite heart. If we flip the page from this story, we will find Peter in the book of Acts vivaciously sharing good news out from Jerusalem and to the greater beyond. Enclosure leading into evangelism.
A Samaritan woman retreated to a lonely well in the heat of the day with Jesus. She bared all. Here was a safe and intimate space with Jesus. The conversations were revealing. It was utterly cathartic! She partook a drink of the living well that is Christ, and became living water in the presence of others who didn’t just want to hear from her, but now wanted to see for themselves—enclosure and evangelism!
Paul, in hot pursuit of Christians, was knocked from his horse by the resurrected Christ. He made his way to town. He met with Ananias, who shared with him in this intimate and important space the good news of Christ! Immediately Paul got out of bed with renewed sight and began to proclaim Jesus. (Acts 9:20). Enclosure leading into evangelism.
What in your life and ministry is precious and needs to be protected? Not simply as a way to isolate or separate, but as protection so that what is precious, including your heart, may grow and thrive and be a light for others. How will you protect the blessing of God in Christ that is so very precious? For yourself? For those close and not so close to you? Dare I say, even your enemies?
Your heart, my heart, our hearts need protected space; they need enclosure. Many in our churches are starving and are in need of daily places of communing with God both individually and together in prayer, in engagement with Scripture, in worship, and opening our hearts in deep talks around a shoreline fireplace, at a well in the desert at midday, or simply around a family meal table.
Truly it is utterly necessary to go ‘outside the walls’ of the church, but at the same time we had better be allowing God to do the necessary heart transformation ‘inside the walls of the church,’ inside the enclosure of hearts of the people of faith. It is only in these intimate and protected spaces, places and times that our hearts can be exposed to light and truth. Here we clean the inside of the cup, and miraculously begin to discover the outside following suit. And what do you know; suddenly we become a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand in a dark world. And who knows, perhaps many of us will become evangelists!
Note: RenewalWorks: What We Are Learning
, white paper, ©"2018"Forward"Movement."
This is a critical and valuable resource for lay and clergy, and is available for download and reading--