Saving Me Now
I lead a weekly group on my campus. Actually to say I lead it is a little too bold. I certainly arrange the meetings. And they let me pretend to be the leader. The group begins early in the Fall semester and we continue through the school year until things are over in May. I have been doing this for nearly two decades. One woman has been in it every year we have done it.
When I first met her, she was working in one of the coffee shops on campus. I like to get to know people like her. My faculty colleagues are under the impression that we are the most important folks on campus. That’s not true! It is people like Suzanne who are the most important. Faculty don’t see people like her and the powerful, often invisible, ministry they do. Students see it and make use of her empathy and compassion. And sometimes she simply told them to knock it off and they complied.
She is now retired, but is eager to keep learning and loving. So she shows up every week. She joins others and me as we begin to read some contemporary book on some aspect of spirituality. The books are good, but it is not actually a book discussion. The book offers some starting place for us to pursue our own experiences. We share and learn from each other. We share and grow from the encouragement of each other. That group is like an ever-present oasis in the middle of the desert of life. Living waters are found there.
One book we recently took is An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. The book has a neat title, A Geography of Faith. I like the kinds of things Taylor does in the book. She is a good writer and offers insightful ways to see life and to engage life in meaningful and purposeful ways. She gives me and others a chance to be better. Let me share some early quips from the book.
One of my favorite lines comes in the introduction to the book. Taylor talks about being invited by a priest to speak to a church on one of the southern states. Like I would, Taylor asks the priest what he wants her to address in the speech. His answer blew me away. He told her to “Come tell us what is saving your life now.” When I read that, I nearly burst out laughing. I also have been invited to speak in countless contexts. But I don’t think I ever have been given such a challenging assignment.
It is a direct, open invitation to talk about something important in your life. Taylor shares over the next couple paragraphs how she processes the speech invitation. How she processes it is actually more important to me than the specific answers she comes up with and the speech she developed. I will share a couple of the processing lines.
The first sentence in her processing the invitation indicates the direction her speech will take. Taylor says, “What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth.” While that may not be an answer, it is directive in ways I find helpful. She becomes clear early on that what is saving her now is not theological doctrine, even if that is important. Church dogmatics are not the means to grace. God is the origin and giver of grace.
There is no spiritual treasure apart from our bodily experiences of human life. I agree with Taylor. What is saving me now has to be real in this bodily existence within my real world. This reminds me of the perspective of so many of my students. They do not find religion to be real. That is why they so often are looking for their reality in spirituality---even if they cannot tell you what that actually might mean. In their own way they need something to address their bodily existence in this human life.
This is exactly what Suzanne came to know in her life. She calls that something “God.” But her God is a living reality who helps her as she pushes into her eighties. Students and even I want the same kind of living reality. And we seemed to be joined with Barbara Brown Taylor in what she knows and shares.
Taylor offers me a very nice take on what is saving her now. She comments, “What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.” I know this might not be a very good answer to some church bureaucrats, but it is good enough for me. She aspires to become more fully human. Me too! I figure if I can become fully human, I will in the same process become fully god-like.
That was the creative design of God in the first place. To become fully human is to be all that God meant us to be. That means to live out of a loving place, committed to the work of justice and to make peace. That sounds a great deal like kingdom living! That is what is saving me now.