The Heretical Meditating Father

I begin my day with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea and a bowl of yogurt, granola, and fruit. I stand in the kitchen because I wake up early and don’t want to slump over the table. I open my Kindle to the day’s reading of the Divine Hours and begin to meditate.

Since having a baby, it is much harder to find solid chunks of time to just read the Bible. Routines can change with sleep patterns, naps, and teething. I read the Bible in chunks when I can, but the Divine Hours provide a stability and rhythm that I need in this season of parenthood where no two days are the same.

The Divine Hours I pray have been derived from the Liturgy of the Hours that many would consider a Catholic prayer guide, but which has roots in the early church.

The early Christians continued to pray at times similar to those used by the Jews. By the 5th Century, the Liturgy of the Hours took shape and became more and more widely used.

This isn’t something that got popular because of the internet.

This wasn’t something that took shape in one denomination.

This wasn’t something that a single theologian figured out.

This isn’t a new kid on the block kind of belief like sola scriptura.

These are readings of scripture that have been used for meditation and prayer for almost the entire existence of the church.

These readings guide me each day. They are a bedrock habit that call me away from email, writing ideas in my notebook, and blog posts for clients. Big book projects have to wait when I stand at the dish washer to pray through the hours.

As I meditate on scripture, my mind often wanders. Most mornings I pray through them twice. Sometimes I need a third pass to find my way.

Ethan is often sound asleep while I pray the hours. I like it that way. I like to think that I’m setting my mind and spirit in step with God. I’m opening myself to the leading of the Holy Spirit for the day and that I can perhaps be a little more patient and kind, setting a better example of what it looks like to be a father who follows Jesus.

These simple practices of meditating on scripture and praying in silence have been labeled “outside the bounds of evangelicalism” by a certain blogger because they are categorized as “mysticism.” I assume this blogger has made a simple but discrediting mistake of not reading enough church history. He doesn’t have to look far to see how these practices of prayer and meditation—“mysticism… Ooooooh”—have been nailed into the identity of the church over and over again.

They’ve been part of following Jesus far longer than the Reformation.

I began this day by praying the hours, and I’ll do the same tomorrow.

I frankly don’t care that this blogger thinks I’m a meditating heretic who will one day teach his sleeping son the disciplines of silence before God, Lectio Divina, and waiting on the Holy Spirit. I just hope that others won’t let his condemnation keep them from experiencing God.

Mystical encounters with God can be unsettling. They call us beyond the printed words of scripture into a real life experience with THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. The way, the truth, and the life are a person—a person who is alive and well.

It is possible to study the scriptures diligently in search of life and to still miss out on the one who gives life.

It is a frightening thing indeed to gamble your authority, theology, and control by encountering a living God who doesn’t have to play by our rules. That encounter with God is where mysticism leads, and it’s rarely a tidy destination.

The scriptures are not the destination. They are the sign that we grasp for in the early morning light with drips of caffeine and squinting eyes. The sign is pointing us to an encounter with God that could wreck our theologies and undermine our leadership. It could even send us to the far corners of the world to declare what we have seen and what we have heard.

Like the first believers in the book of Acts, we are witnesses, and our testimony isn’t to what we have seen on the page. Our testimony is that the pages of a book have somehow come alive in us as we’ve encountered a crucified and Risen Lord who will one day return to restore his creation.

UPDATE: I forgot to credit Rachel Held Evans for bringing that blog post to my attention. If you want to learn a bit more about Christian mysticism today, check out Mystically Wired by Ken Wilson.

26 thoughts on “The Heretical Meditating Father

  1. Shawn Smucker

    Amen and amen and amen.

    I’ve been practicing silence and writing about it in what I hope will turn into a book someday. Practicing silence has literally changed my life.

    Posts like the one you mention are the reason I stopped participating as much in the online world. But then posts like yours keep pulling me back. Thanks, Ed.

  2. Cassie Chang

    It was only with liturgy that I have felt the most present since I stepped back into church, so Challies and his astonishingly arrogant dismissal of church history can stuff it.

  3. Trip Kimball

    Ed, it used to be that Christian mysticism was honorable, even enviable. Why has it gone out of favor? It’s almost like we’ve de-spiritualized Christianity for the sake of popular consumption. Sad.

    I’m not a liturgical guy myself, but can appreciate it as a discipline. One of my favorite words of Jesus is in Jn 5:39 to the Pharisees about searching the Scriptures (OT) as if they have eternal life in them, but they speak of Him. He goes on to say, “but…” they refuse to come to HIm and receive life.

    That, for me, sums up where I see evangelicalism in America in many ways. Well versed in God’s Word, but not so much in HIm. Sadly, we have exported this around the world (global missions) instead of developing disciples to Jesus.

    If you’ve become a heretic, well… I’ll still eat and drink with you whenever I might see you. 😉

  4. Caris Adel

    I just read that article and comments. Zomg. I really appreciate the book 3 Colors of Spirituality at times like these. There are so many different ways to experience God, and for the logical or doctrinal types to dismiss the liturgical or mystical types is SO FRUSTRATING. I just get flabbergasted when people dismiss Foster and Willard as dangerous. I can’t even.

  5. Nancy Franson

    Thanks for highlighting the Challies post and for your thoughtful response. As a reformed Presbyterian, I’m sitting here shaking my head. We really can get caught up in so much either/or thinking–Is you is, or is you ain’t within appropriate boundaries. Sigh.

    I think Challies undercuts his own argument when he says this:

    “We can undoubtedly all think of times that we have experienced some of the goodness, grace and nearness of God while holding a child in our arms or watching a sunset. Not all of our encounters with God involve an open Bible. However, this is consistent with sola scriptura if what we experience of God in that moment begins with, is guided by, or is interpreted by God’s Word. ‘So if in beholding the splendor of the sunset I find myself in awe of the goodness of God, the glory of God, or the power of God, I may rightly deem that an experience with God because the Bible tells me that God is good, glorious, and powerful.'”

    Of course my meditation is informed by Scripture. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Seems to me, from the pages of Holy Scripture, David did a whole lot of meditating upon and contemplating God’s magnificent works even while proclaiming, “Oh, how I love your law!”

    Much more I could say here, especially about how we reformed folks don’t really understand the work of the Holy Spirit in breathing life into scripture, but I’ll probably get myself into trouble if I say much more on the internet.

    1. ed Post author

      I love you comment Nancy and am so glad you stopped by. I want this blog to be a place where all faith traditions feel welcome… even if it may get them into a little bit of trouble!

  6. Abby

    Thank you, thank you. I go to Vineyard Columbus, and Rich Nathan has openly talked about his experience with Ignatian spirituality. I used to be cautious of mysticism because I went to a conservative Bible college, but when I tried it out for myself over the course of Lent, it undid me. I heard God speaking through Scripture and my mediations in an amount I hadn’t heard in a long time. And you know what I discovered? Mysticism isn’t really all that mystical! As a Christian, I actually found it quite practical, because my heart is drawn to the supernatural God of the universe, which in itself seems mystical in the first place. This fear people have of mystical Christianity seems to me to be a fear of the Holiness and Glory of God, wanting to see him in more natural, un-awesome ways. Maybe I’m wrong there, but that’s the sense I get.

        1. ed Post author

          It’s only two weeks away, but if you can manage it, we’re putting on a writing retreat in SW Michigan May 24-26. It’s going to be a great group of writers. Check out the Renew and Refine button in the center sidebar above.

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  8. Cindy Tunstall

    My life has radically changed by taking time to meditate on the Bible and sit still in His Presence. To be quiet and listen for His quiet whisper to respond to the longing in my heart. It is glorious! I enjoyed this post so much. Tempted to cheer at times! Awesome!

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  10. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Thank you, Ed! I begin my caffeinated, squinty-eyed day hunched over my bible and my Greek LOGOS lexicon, soaking in the rich meaning of the words as I comb slowly, slowly, slowly through the text. But I want to add this liturgy to my mystical meditations. I like encountering the God who can’t be controlled, the one above and beyond us. Being moved by his Spirit as he reaches down to touch the dark and hurting places within me empowers my faith.

    Any chance you can share the e-book link for download?

    1. ed Post author

      Do you mean the Mystically Wired book? It’s a mainstream book through Thomas Nelson, so it’s on Kindle, Nook, etc.

      1. Melinda Viergever Inman

        The Divine Hours mentioned in this sentence:
        “I open my Kindle to the day’s reading of the Divine Hours and begin to meditate.” The link pulled up the AA Vineyard Church. Is the link there or can I get it on Amazon?

        1. ed Post author

          Aha. I just refresh their divine hours page on my Kindle Fire. It’s a 3-volume work by Phyllis tickle. Not sure if it’s eboook, but if it is, it may be $$$. Just search Divine Hours Phyllis Tickle. But if you have internet, it works just fine at the AA site.

  11. Steve

    It seems to me that many people who are suspicious of ‘mysticism’ are likely unaware that some of their heros would fit into the category.

    If I understand correctly, when people object to mysticism they seem to be suspicious of spiritual disciplines as going against ‘grace’. However, we’re told to grow in grace, so it’s something we’re supposed to do. We don’t go it on our own, but no amount of tradition can alter that we’re being told to do something. We’re supposed to find ways of co-operating with God in becoming more Christ-like. God is eager to provide the resources we need in order to ‘be transformed’.

    I think we have it easier in the UK, there are some who like to condemn everything & everyone, but it seems there are less here than in the US, or maybe they’re not so vocal. But you are right not to be too concerned at the voices of condemnation. By experiencing God & allowing God to work you won’t be able to help but be an instrument for good.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy

    These simple practices of meditating on scripture and praying in silence have been labeled “outside the bounds of evangelicalism” by a certain blogger because they are categorized as “mysticism.”

    I believe in this situation a more accurate snarl word than “mysticism” would be “Romish”.

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