“Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn.”
“Take off your shoes,
for you are standing on holy ground.”
—Word of God to Moses in
Exodus 3:5 TLB
My personal spirituality is perhaps best expressed in the words of Christian writer/author Frederick Buechner who summarized his basic philosophy of life as “biography as theology.”
The fly-leaf of his book Now and Then states of its author:
“Searching through the events of his life—the crucial as well as the seemingly less important—Buechner discerns meaning in each moment, as he illuminatingly points the way for each of us to draw on our own experiences as bountiful sources of truth.
“‘Listen to your life,’ he advises; ‘see it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because, in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace [emphasis mine].”
In an interview in which he was asked about his book A Room Called Remember, Buechner went on to say:
“The title suggests a theme that runs through much I’ve written lately,
and that is the great importance for all of us, as I see it, of taking time to remember our lives, of straining our ears to listen back to our own individual pasts for what it is God has been saying to us. Nowhere, I think, does God speak more powerfully to us than through the events of our own lives, but more often than not we don’t take the time to listen. I think this kind of listening is closely related to prayer and that without it we’re not fully alive [emphasis mine].”
Finally, when asked about the inward journey, trying to get in touch with our own spirit and God’s Spirit, Buechner replied:
“Try this. Keep track of any event in the course of a week, a month, a year, that brings tears to your eyes. They may be happy moments or sad moments, moments that on the surface seem quite unremarkable, but in whichever case they are moments when you have been stirred to your roots, and it is there, at your roots, that God is at work in your life. Examine those moments with great care, ask why they brought tears, and you will learn much about God and yourself too [emphasis mine].”
That is what I mean when I say that “where you’re from is who you are” and that “the best thing that can happen to anyone is to be shaken (or stirred) to his roots!” It’s also why I refer to my own beloved Arkansas homeland—“the rock from which I was cut and the quarry from which I was hewn”—as “the Holy Land.”
My Personal Spiritual Pilgrimage
“The road to the future runs through the past.”
—Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith:
Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World
I wrote the above piece years ago after reading an interview with Frederick Buechner that appeared in a 1984 mail-out from Cokesbury, the bookstore of the United Methodist Church.
Intrigued by Buechner’s interest in topics such as memory, the past, roots, heritage, etc., which reflected my own interest in these areas, I was led to buy and read the books mentioned in this interview, especially A Room Called Remember.
Curiously, as a Southern Baptist at the time it was through reading Buechner that I was introduced to the books of Agnes Sanford, a former Presbyterian laywoman who was married to an Episcopal priest.
Intrigued by the fact that she was a Charismatic, I began to read some of her early works to learn how she, an Episcopalian, could have become involved in that movement before it was even widely known, much less before it became extremely popular.
It turned out that she and some other Episcopal ladies of the time had experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit within the Episcopal Church without even knowing what it was, which interested me even more since I had been editing for the Tulsa-area independent Pentecostal Charismatics for several years.
I wanted to learn how this woman could be both Charismatic and Episcopalian in a time when those two did not seem to have anything in common. The truth is that it was in searching for information on the renewal movement within the Episcopal Church that I discovered the Episcopal Church itself.
In order to buy Agnes Sanford’s books, I found that I had to go to the bookstore of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tulsa. When I drove up in front of St. John’s with its traditional English gothic church architecture, I was instantly drawn to it as though some “inner cords” of familiarity and past connection were being strummed. The sensation continued every time I went back to St. John’s to visit the bookstore for more books.
Eventually, I bought, read, highlighted, and made marginal notes in Agnes Sanford’s autobiography titled Sealed Orders. The more I read of her life and her association with the Episcopal Church, the more interested I became in both subjects. Gradually, I began to purchase and read books on the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism, and Anglican spirituality. Finally I became curious enough about what I was reading that I decided I needed to experience it for myself.
Since I happened to be working in Tulsa at the time as a copyeditor for an independent Pentecostal Charismatic publisher, on my lunch break I began to “drop into” the noon Eucharist services at downtown Trinity Episcopal Church, the closest Episcopal church to my workplace.
Known as “the finest example of English Gothic church architecture west of the Mississippi River,” Trinity’s magnificent cathedral-like structure filled with striking symbols representative of historic sacramental worship again “strummed all my cords.” The very first time I worked up the courage to walk into the nave (what we Baptists called the “sanctuary”) of that awe-inspiring edifice I was struck with the feeling that (if I had put it into words), “O God, this is where You live!”
Each time I visited the noon Eucharist, the same priest, one of several on the staff at Trinity, seemed to be in charge of the service. Since the number of worshippers was few, and since this particular priest seemed to be approachable (even to an insecure Baptist who was still not sure that all of these “Catholic” trappings and customs were “all right”), I finally asked if I could meet with him one day after services. He warmly agreed, and we began a series of one-on-one lunch-break interviews that in time led to my regular attendance at the main eleven o’clock Sunday morning services, even though I lived in Sapulpa, a thirty-minute drive away.
For a while I continued to meet with Mari at our “regular” church but also continued to visit Trinity and to learn more about it in particular and the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism in general. And I also began “passing on” much of what I was learning to Mari, usually while she was doing handwork and I was sitting opposite her in an easy chair with my Episcopal books, pamphlets, and prayer book balanced on my lap.
After a prolonged period of my persistent and incessant “catechism,” Mari finally put down her handwork with a jerk, looked me directly in the eye, and firmly stated, “Look, if you think I’m going to become a Methodist or a Presbyterian, you can forget it!” Needless to say, I inwardly thought, “Oh, darling, you have no idea!” Then I immediately said to God, “Lord, it looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us!”
Despite her initial rejection of my “message,” I did continue to talk to Mari about the Episcopal Church whenever I could get her attention. Eventually I even talked her into attending services with me at Trinity. Slowly she began to become more comfortable with both the Episcopal Church and Trinity and to want to learn more about them. Finally, after attending church services, Sunday school, and confirmation classes for several months, we were both confirmed at Trinity in January 1986.
Over a period of time we became more and more involved in the life of the church. We eventually served on several important committees, taught Sunday school, worked in Vacation Bible School, and engaged in other important activities such as the Every Member (stewardship) Canvass and several small-group Bible and discipleship studies. I once taught a special class on the spirituality of home, parts of which I have quoted in these writings, and co-wrote an amusing program called “Pearls from the Pew” as part of a fund-raising dinner for the parish. For eleven years I wrote a column in the Trinity newsletter on different members of the church and their individual ministries, was chosen three times as a delegate to the annual diocesan (state) convention, and was even elected to the vestry (the church board).
However, after almost twenty years we felt led to leave Trinity and the Episcopal Church and come back to Sapulpa to join a local church in order to be with our son Keiron and his family, especially since he was about to be deployed to Iraq. (He is now in his third overseas deployment, this time back to Afghanistan for the second time.) We have now been members of the First United Methodist Church of Sapulpa for about four or five years where we have taught the younger children’s Sunday school class (which included our own two grandsons), and Mari has served on several important church committees.
In describing my spiritual pilgrimage to this point in time, I say that I have a Methodist heritage and current membership, a Southern Baptist formation and education, and an Episcopalian affinity for liturgy and sacraments. (I now often refer to myself as a “Baptiscopalian Methodist.”) I also say that since I was a Baptist for forty years, an Episcopalian for almost twenty years, and an editor/writer for the Charismatics for twenty-five years, I am trilingual; that is, I am conversant in the languages of all three branches of the Christian Church: evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal.
I hope that all that exposure to the three main branches of the body of Christ has prepared me to continue to serve Him in whatever way He chooses for whatever time I have left on this earth. I also hope that publishing my writings on this site is a small part of that continued service and that it may encourage others to do as I am doing, and as Frederick Buechner recommends: to reflect back on their own life and to discern their own spiritual heritage and path.