A Life Giving Faith
+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What does a life giving practice of our Christian faith look like? Another way to put it would be, "What does a life giving Christian piety look like for our time?"
What does a healthy and life giving devotion to God look like in your imagination? How about in the lives of people around you? What does it look like in your own faith practices? Are you thinking about a personal piety or a communal piety? They are both important.
The word "pious" probably has more negative meanings in our language than positive. It is associated with "unthinking conventional reverence" (Google). It is related to the adjectives 'devout' or 'dutiful' (Wikipedia). Those are words that seem old fashioned and out of style in our culture's preference for what is edgy and swift change. In the Google chart of historical word usage "piety" is a word that has dramatically lost favor since my ancestors moved to the US from Norway.
During my sabbatical time I read many of the Scandinavian pietists in a couple of sources, primarily Mark Grandquist's
, Scandinavian Pietists: Spiritual Writings from 19th-Century Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland (Classics of Western Spirituality). I was trying to better understand this movement that shaped the early DNA of our congregations. For many of us these movements still impact our spiritual lives today in ways we sometimes notice and often in ways we are not even aware of as we practice our faith.
The movement shaped the trajectories of our congregations into the present even though most were formed over a hundred years ago. As you visit dozens of congregations and council meetings as a member of the synod staff you start to notice and even get pretty good at guessing the ethnic Christian spiritual roots of Lutheran congregations.
Beyond understanding the history, learning the distinctive language and themes of the pietists, I was also curious for myself. I wonder how engage in a life giving practice of faith that will guide me forward in the latter chapters of my life and also pass on to my children and grandchildren.
As I prepared to read and think about this during my sabbatical I noticed that we are quite competent at critiquing our pietist ancestors. I often do this with Hans Nielson Hauge who influenced my Norwegian pietist ancestors. We are less articulate in our talk about nurturing our spiritual lives in the current turmoil where so many things we have taken for granted for the decades of our lives now seem up for grabs.
I love to think about my faith but I think that it is the practices of faith that sustains our lives in the midst of serious challenges. Like my work-out tonight with weights, stretching and rowing shapes up my body, so the practices of our faith tune our attention to the Good News God is for us and working in our midst.
It is our encounter with people living their faith that is more powerful than Sunday School or Confirmation. We witness people we know and respect practicing their faith and learn from them and with them as we follow Jesus. This fall I want to lift up practices that deepen our spiritual lives. I want to encourage people to live their faith and watch for the mysterious presence of our Living God.
I like to talk about practicing our faith more than piety. Like a doctor or lawyer is never done practicing medicine or law, we are never done practicing our faith. I have been growing more curious about how to be constructive in our faith practices. In the weeks ahead I will lift up some of what I learned in my reading and in conversations with people who serve in a much more secular context than we do.
One practice that deepens our spiritual lives is prayer. In my younger years I had a prayer dot on my watch to remind me to pray a short brief prayer. I will be picking those up to share in the days ahead. This week I read an article from Pr. David Hanson lifting up the idea of setting your alarm to call you to prayer.
(Alarming Faith by Pastor David Hansen, Director for Innovation and Communication - LEAD
Originally published at digitalpastor.org.)
I like to pray in the morning as I walk on the treadmill after reading God Pause or the Moravian Prayer for the Day. Sometimes I like informal prayer. As I age I find the old poetry of the ancient prayers of God's Church nourish me. How does God open your mind and cause your heart to burn?
I invite you to renew or sustain your practice of prayer. It is a gift; this discipline that deepens your awareness of God's presence, grace and calls you and me into God's beloved world to serve.