Just so stories
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
I remember an especially dark time of my life. One of my children was sick, and in my anxiety for her I was in my own way as sick as she was. Then one day the phone rang, and it was a man I didn't know very well then though he has become a great friend since, a minister from Charlotte, North Carolina, which is about 800 miles or so from where I live in Vermont. I assumed he was calling from home and asked him how things were going down there only to hear him say that no, he wasn't in Charlotte. He was at an inn about twenty minutes away from my house. He'd known I was having troubles, he said, and he thought maybe it would be handy to have an extra friend around for a day or two. The reason he didn't tell me in advance that he was coming must have been that he knew I would tell him for Heaven's sake not to do anything so crazy, so for Heaven's sake he did something crazier still which was to come those 800 miles without telling me he was coming so that for all he knew I might not even have been there. But as luck had it, I was there, and for a day or two he was there with me. He was there for me. I don't think anything we found to say to each other amounted to very much or had anything particularly religious about it. I don't remember even spending much time talking about my troubles with him. We just took a couple of walks, had a meal or two together and smoked our pipes, drove around to see some of the countryside, and that was about it.
I have never forgotten how he came all that distance just for that, and I'm sure he has never forgotten it either. I also believe that although as far as I can remember we never so much as mentioned the name of Christ, Christ was as much in the air we breathed those few days as the smoke of our pipes was in the air, or the dappled light of the woods we walked through. I believe that for a little time we both of us touched the hem of Christ's garment, were both of us, for a little time anyway, healed.
Richard J Foster
When I wrote the book on prayer [Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home], of course, it was a really intensive time. And I remember I wrote the last sentence on New Year's Eve. I got up the next morning, and I didn't want to pray. I was sick of it.
That week I met with my spiritual formation group. There were five of us. One of the questions that we would ask each other was, "What experiences of prayer and meditation have you had this past week?" So I had to tell them: "I don't want to pray."
Our rules for the group were to give encouragement as much as we could, and to give advice only once in a great while; we gave rebuke only when absolutely necessary, and we gave condemnation never. This was one of the times when they gave a little advice. They said, "We think you shouldn't pray. We will become your prayer for you."
They encouraged me to rest a little bit, to quit work a little early. And I did. There were some little lakes nearby at a county park. It was in the wintertime, January. I went and walked around these partly frozen lakes. And my spirit was renewed, and I wanted to pray again.
On the other hand, spiritual formation is life. And in one sense it never gets tiring, because we're working with people's stories and people's lives with God. And that's always fresh....
The Desert Fathers
There were two monks who committed a very serious sin when they went to the village to sell their wares. But they were wise enough not to let the devil trick them into discouragement and so they came back to the desert and went to the Abba to confess their sins. To ease them into their conversion, they were asked to go and live on their own for one month on bread and water, to pray and do penance. When the time was over, Abba himself came over to reunite them with the disciples. However he was very surprised because one came out grim, downcast, pale while the other was radiant, buoyant and brisk. “What did you meditate upon?” Abba asked. The sad monk answered: “I thought constantly on the punishment which I merit and the justice of God”. The happy monk answered: “Well, I used to remind myself constantly the mercy of God and the love which Jesus Christ had for the sinner.” Both of them were joyfully accepted back in the community but Abba remarked on the wisdom of the brother who kept his mind fixed on the compassion of God.
Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, "Wisdom is better than strength." But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
One day, when Luther was depressed, Katie put on a black dress. Luther asked her: “Are you going to a funeral?”
“No,” she responded, “but since you act as though God is dead, I wanted to join you in the mourning!”
A friend recently told me the story of his uncle who, on retirement, decided to read right through the Bible from beginning to end in a single year. Twelve months later, having easily achieved his goal, he reasoned that with all the spare time he had on his hands, he might actually be able to read the entire book in a single month. That was a considerably more ambitious target—but he did it.
And so he thought to himself, 144. There’s a Biblical number. Now if I read the Bible once every month for the next twelve years . . . . And that’s exactly what he did. Rarely has anyone been so immersed in the Bible as that man.
“And here’s the irony,” said my friend: “my uncle died shortly afterwards . . . the meanest, bitterest son of a gun you could ever wish to meet.”
It’s a tragic story of too many Christians and churches: soaked in Scripture, yet in the end completely untouched.
Marie, who is a Protestant, knows that work is also prayer. During the day she has walked the city streets, gathering up the newspapers from the refuse baskets on the corners to bring us - this is her contribution to the work of the paper. Now the singing is over. Marie picks up her broom and begins to sweep. Readying the room for tomorrow is her last act of today. She is always the last to leave. When her work is done, she pauses near the door, and then, with a little look around of satisfaction, departs.
Gerald Manley Hopkins
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should.
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”