|Praying, in Eldoret, Kenya|
Upon arriving I looked for a place to pray. I came upon a field that had a rusty, broken-down tractor in it. I walked to the tractor, climbed aboard, and sat. For hours.
I meditated on Scripture. When God spoke to me I wrote it down in my journal. And at times I wondered, "What the heck am I doing here. I could be xeroxing in the office. I could be "producing" something! Instead, here I am, "doing nothing!""
After many lengthy prayer times that have now extended to 30+ years, I began to see that nothing could be further from the truth. This time alone with God became my one thing, the wellspring of whatever spiritual life I have. It has settled into a good habit, with life flowing in and out of it. For me this is the God-relationship. "Ministry" without such a God-relationship is disconnected and therefore inauthentic and irrelevant.
It is my great privilege to teach the abiding prayer-life at some seminaries. This coming Monday Linda and I travel to Dayton where I will teach 26 pastors at Payne Theological Seminary. My hope is that pastors will learn how to abide in Christ. This word "abide" (also translated "dwell") connotes a length of time, not a little McTime with God. "Mc-dwelling" makes no logical sense when it comes to relational connectedness to God.
Every day, in addition to reading Scripture and soaking in it, I read out of devotional books. Two of them are collections of the writings of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who died in 1968. Merton had an unparalleled depth of wisdom and discernment that was cultivated in huge amounts of alone-time with God. Such spiritual wisdom and discernment cannot be acquired apart from that. Without much time and focus we're left with the Mc-wisdom that fills today's "Christian" literature and media.
Here's a clip from one of Merton's journals. Do not be deceived by the seeming ordinariness of what he sees. The point is, precisely, that there is a seeing and a hearing that only comes out of Christ-abiding and prayerfulness. Merton writes:
"In the afternoon I went out to the old horse barn with the Book of Proverbs and indeed the whole Bible, and I was wandering around in the hayloft, where there is a big gap in the roof. One of the rotting floorboards gave way under me and I nearly fell through. Afterwards I sat and looked out at the hills and the grey clouds and couldn’t read anything. When the flies got too bad, I wandered across the bare pasture and sat over by the enclosure wall, perched on the edge of a ruined bathtub that has been placed there for horses to drink out of. A pipe comes through the wall and plenty of water flows into the bathtub from the spring somewhere in the woods, and I couldn’t read there either. I just listened to the clean water flowing and looked at the wreckage of the horse barn on top of the bare knoll in front of me and remained drugged with happiness and with prayer. Presently the two mares and the two colts came over to see me and to take a look. The colts looked like children with their big grave eyes, very humble, very stupid, and they were tamer than I expected. They came over and nudged me with their soft muzzles and I talked to them a bit.
Later on I saw other interesting things—for instance a dead possum in a trap and a gold butter-and-egg butterfly wavering on the dead possum’s back. There are many Rhode Island Reds over in the southwest corner of the enclosure. When I was on retreat for ordination to the priesthood, I galloped to be at work on the roosts we were building for them then." August 30, 1949. (A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 4214-4219).
There it is. What appears to be time doing nothing is in fact the door to the fields of the Lord where his glory dwells and his presence is, personally and experientially, known. A life of constant distractededness dissolves and the glorious realities of God come into focus, the rebirth of a childlike wonder that got swallowed up by platoons of McTweets. Lacking this rebirth of God-awareness we are the hollow, anxious, searching, dissatisfied, lonely, incomplete people.