Sunday, August 15, 2010

Paying God Attention (thoughts on Soul Revolution)

Dear Reader,

This is a book review.  This book changed my life.  But first, an aside:

(I confess a predjudice when it comes to mainstream Christian books these days, especially those that appear particularly contemporary.  Along with that adjective sometimes comes what feels like an overabundance of branding and marketing that seem to undermine the rather diverse and organic nature of spirituality and relationships within the church. This branding/marketing phenomenon is often identified by such things as pictures of people with tattoos, ripped jeans, piercings, black-rimmed glasses, and (sadly) the absence of women and people of color as well as all people over the age of fifty-five.  Now, I like tattoos, piercings and ripped jeans, but they have become cliche as a marketing tool, to the extent that North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia, produced this video--a parody of themselves and other churches engaged in this type of sub-culture marketing--in which they coin the term "contemporvent," a marriage of relevant and contemporary.)

Now for the important part:  You can't judge a book by its cover.

While the cover of John Burke's Soul Revolution: How Imperfect People Become All God Intended has the markings of a "contemporvent" book (including a close-up of distressed jeans and inner-arm tattoos), its content is rooted in the centuries-old tradition of practicing the awareness of God's presence in our daily lives in the manner of Brother Lawrence and Leanne Payne.  I became enthralled with Burke's description of the "60-60 experiment," a 60-day challenge to check in with God every 60 minutes of the waking day. The experiment presupposes a belief in a God who is all-knowing and everywhere-present and is designed to assist the reader in fostering an ongoing recognition of that abiding force in our lives. By so doing, the theory goes, how we live in the world begins to change and that change is evidenced by our actions, decisions, service and love of God, others, and ourselves.

Burke recommends the reader go so far as to purchase a watch that will beep all day on the hour. If not that, notes up around the house or on the computer would remind one to pause and check in.  While I neither bought a watch nor posted notes, I did do my best to emulate Burke's experiment in my own organicky sort of way.  I began with moments of reflection in the empty spaces throughout my day, taking stock of what was happening around me in my relationships and duties and consciously reminding myself of God's presence in my life.  In particularly good or bad parts of the day, I would wonder what God's "take" on the situation was, and sometimes I would just go ahead and ask him, for the heck of it. I did not hear any audible voices or see any burning bushes in response to my prayers, but often I had the strong impression that God was answering, if not with something concrete, then with something a lot like compassion. I could almost feel him feeling my pain or frustration or longing or joy or delight.

There seemed to be cumulative effects of practicing this sort of awareness. By the end of each day I felt as if I'd had a real, back-and-forth dialogue with God: a prayer uttered in the morning met its consequence in the afternoon.  A question at lunch time found its answer by dinner. And by the end of the week, I felt a new comraderie with God--as if we'd been two pals at summer camp trading whispers back and forth from our bunk beds all week. Probably the most profound moment of this experiment came one day as I was on my way to a rather difficult appointment.  For weeks, we'd been watching lilies in our front yard climb feet in the air, reaching from the bulbs planted in the ground the summer before.  The stems shot up, the buds of the lilies formed yellow and pink, but they were slow to open. Each morning for two weeks I expected to see one of those lilies open and unveiled in full glory, but instead they just shimmered, closed up, ready to explode. 

That's how they looked on my way to this appointment, and as I backed out the driveway I felt as if God drew my attention to those flowers.  See those? I think he said.  See all that potential--how the lilies are on the cusp of bloom? Instantly I knew he wasn't really talking about the lilies but about the difficult situation I was facing, that it was something that had the potential to morph from something desperate to something redemptive and life-affirming. Well, I thought that's what God was saying, anyway, and the impression pierced me so deeply that tears gathered in the corner of my eyes as I backed out my driveway. Yet, I wondered if I was imagining things. Was that really God?   Imagine my shock when, on that same steamy July morning, I returned to the house an hour later, after the appointment, to find the largest lily of the bunch had petaled open into glowing pink radiance.

You can call me crazy and maybe you will. But sometimes it's the little things that make us sure the Divine is right within our reach.  I think Burke is saying, and I whole-heartedly agree, we'll see God when we pay attention.

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