Tyrion’s Church Part 2: Word and Sacrament

May 30th, 2013

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Humans are shaped, formed, if you please, by all that they encounter even before birth. What we take into our minds, bodies and souls form the person we become we are. To have a healthy body, eat sensibly, exercise regularly, see the doctor annually. To have a healthy mind, read extensively, study assiduously, listen to people who are farther along than you are on any particular path. To be healthy spiritually, well, do all of the above. Spiritual formation is not feel-good fluff or esoteric mind games. We know how to go about spiritual formation. The church has taught and practiced intentional spiritual formation since its beginning. The first two steps are to pay attention to word and sacrament.

2. “A mind needs books like a sword needs whetstone.”

Living faith is not passive, by definition. Life must be thought out if it is to be more than a series of blunders leading to an all- too- early end. As noted above, with “Jesus is Lord” as our creed in essence, then we have a starting place to learn more about who we are, what we are to be about, and where we are headed. Those are weighty matters. We learn about those matters in a book, in our scriptures.

Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition know that John Wesley once claimed to be “a man of one book.” While Mr. Wesley did read extensively and in many subjects, he was grounded in the book that sharpened his mind like a whetstone sharpens a sword. Christians have maintained for generations that the Bible contains everything essential to be known for one’s salvation. The rest of society has known that the Bible contains such essential human condition stories that titles for some great writing come from the Bible. We need consider only “Lilies of the Valley” and “East of Eden” or “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Alas, Babylon.” Trivia buffs can reel off hundreds of popular expressions that originate in the Bible. We begin with the Bible. But there is so much more.

The writings of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila still sharpen the willing mind. John Calvin and Karl Barth take their place in the resources we use to keep our intellects keen so as to be “gentle as doves and sly as serpents.” Rob Bell or Timothy Keller can help us navigate the currents of the culture. Whether we read ancient texts that have stood changing climates, fire and sword and religious upheaval, or modern preachers and devotional writers who offer vital insights in modern language, believers need to read.

Words are necessary expressions of our thoughts, feelings, surface reflections and more. Words bring coherence out of chaos. Christians have known this from the start. One of the gospels even uses Greek style language and says, “In the beginning was the logos, the Word, the self-aware, creative force that calls all of creation into being.” Words matter. Words in books, long books and short books, books written for beginners and books for seminary professors matter. Without books that instruct, challenge and engage the mind, a person grows sloppy, unreflective and spiritually sleepy. Humans have a tendency to settle into a downward spiral in our enterprises. Books, reading, discussing, enjoying and being provoked by books are a needed way for us to stay alert, aware, and sharp as a sword. Of course, if books sharpen a mind, the means of grace, sacraments and more, engage the rest of the body.

3. Everything's better with some wine in the belly.

Well, certainly it is. Mere physical wine, though, can trick some people into seeing the world through Rosé colored glasses. Not a good way to go. Wine, though, is central to the sacrament of the Eucharist. Wine may warm the stomach of a person near frozen by the elements or people’s uncaring, start what someone once called a “warm glow of tolerance” to begin to spread, relieve heart ache, and provide rest. So, wine in this sense may stand in for all of the sacraments of the faith and all the means of grace of which believers avail themselves. The initiatory sacrament of baptism gives a believer family, companions, a place to stand, a home for nurture and instruction, siblings both older and younger. Isolation, anomie, loneliness are not present in a real community of faith. Other sacraments or the regular means of grace in which we can expect to meet God help us to mature. Service to those in need reminds us of the interrelatedness of humanity. Prayer offers the constant companionship of the holy. Constant conversation offers the present and tangible truth of the timeless company of believers, and so on.

The sacraments, the means of grace, provide a different place from which we view the world. We see that the deity has not abandoned the world. God is here and working in through and with us. If we are tempted to ask, “Where is God in this?” whatever the “this” is, the means of grace remind us that God is in us and with us and inviting us to cooperate with the holy to do what we can. The communal nature of most of the means also reminds us that we are not called don to save the world alone, in our life time and by ourselves. That realization takes an otherwise crushing weight off the believer’s shoulders. So, attending to the sacraments and the means, practicing them regularly, trusting in the grace they make available to us, is the reason why everything really is better with some wine in the belly. The sacraments and the means of grace also give direction and purpose to Christian living. Part three reflects on living the faith.


Next: Tyrion’s Church Part 3: Incarnate Life

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