The Way of Love LEARNby Fr. Joe Hudson on April 24, 2020
Good morning Good Shepherd beloved of the Lord!
I continue to trust that you all remain safe during our viral forced isolation. My talk with you last week centered on the practice of “TURN” in the Way of Love. In that letter I discussed the importance of turning again and again throughout the day to Christ – in our thoughts, words, and actions. This week I would like to discuss the second practice – LEARN. We LEARN through the acquisition and application of information. We gain information through reading, observation, listening, and experience. In seeking to live the Way of Love, we LEARN through various avenues.
First, and most purely, we LEARN through the life of Jesus. Jesus is our prime example in the Way of Love. And it is in the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke & John – where we read the stories about Jesus life. In discussing the practice of LEARN, our Presiding Bishop Michael Currey encourages us to spend time in the Gospels. So how do we go about this?
Here are some ways we can encounter the life of Jesus in the Gospels:
- If we attend Episcopal church services on a regular basis, we are listening to the Gospels being read, and preached. This is one way we may LEARN from the life of Jesus. But once-a-week attendance at church services is not much of a diet if we want to be sustained by the stories of Jesus life.
- Another addition to our gospel diet may be through the reading of a devotional book such as Forward Day by Day. The downside here is that you are only digesting one brief Bible verse every day; but a little bit is better than nothing.
- Another was to LEARN from Jesus life is to take one of the Gospels - let’s say Matthew – and begin to read it like we would any novel: page by page, chapter by chapter.
- Another idea, that has been very beneficial for many followers of Jesus, was introduced by Ignatius of Loyola who lived in the 16th Century. He introduced the concept of Gospel Contemplation. William A. Berry in his book “Finding God in All Things” explains Gospel Contemplation:
- Select a passage from one of the Gospels in which Jesus is interacting with others.
- Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar.
- Close your eyes and reconstruct the scene in your imagination. See what is going on and watch the men and women in the scene. What does Jesus look like? How do the others react to him? What are the people saying to one another? What emotions fill their words? Is Jesus touching someone? You may also place yourself in the scene, perhaps as an observer, as one lining up for healing, or as one helping others to Jesus.
- Once you have finished this time of imaginative prayer, take a moment to speak person to person with Christ saying what comes from the heart.
Becoming familiar with the life of Jesus, and how his life informs your life, is the most important step any of us can take as we seek to LEARN in the Way of Love. But there are many other avenues of learning that may assist us in this Way of Love. But there are also hindrances to our learning that we encounter. Sometimes our vision narrows. Sometimes our understand is limited. Let me give you a personal example of this. For forty-two years of my adult life I was part of various fundamentalist evangelical churches and denominations. This spiritual upbringing blessed me with a deep love for the scriptures. I read, and digested, and studied the Bible. I knew the Old Testament and New Testament stories intimately. If you are sensing that I am coming to a “But,” you are correct.
But, one of the downsides from that spiritual heritage was the limitations it placed on my learning. Growing up spiritually in that tradition I believed that it was dangerous and wrong to read from any tradition that believed and taught differently than our tradition. This included authors from either a mainline protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic tradition. And it was DEFINITELY inappropriate to read and study from other non-Christian religious traditions, or those who claimed no religious or spiritual faith.
Well, over the years, as I continued to LEARN and grow spiritually, I started taking the risk of reading outside my pre-established theologically approved boxes. I began reading more from the desert mothers and fathers, the mystics old and new, and other authors from Quaker, Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Buddhist, and other faith traditions. For me, this opened my eyes and heart. Seeing things in a bigger, more expansive, more gracious, more inclusive way, helped me understand our universe and our God better. And, it has helped me walk more boldly, gently, and compassionately in the Way of Love.
Let me share with you one more story of this broader way of learning from the example of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church – our parish. This is a story of allowing the Spirit of God to speak to us in new ways as we LEARN this Way of Love. The small group study that my wife and I facilitate are studying a book by a Quaker author entitled “If the Church Were Christian.” Some of this material stretches the comfort zone of members in our group. None of us agree with everything the author believes. But this book has been helpful in shaking us loose from some pre-conceived beliefs that were never questioned or challenged. It helped members of our group look at issues from a different perspective and with a different set of eyes. Doing this, I believe, has helped members of our group to live more fully in the Way of Love.
So, let me summarize my thoughts on this practice of LEARN in the form of a prayer for all of us:
As we LEARN from the life and heart of Jesus, may his Way, become our Way. As we LEARN from the many voices that have spoken down through the ages; voices familiar and some new; voices like us as well as those quite different from us; may we be open to their insight. May we allow their wisdom to rigorously dismantle any misconception, erroneous assumption, and false belief we hold that has hindered our love for God, ourselves, and all of creation. May we LEARN in the Way of Love.
Stay tuned for next week as I will be discussing the next practice – PRAY.