Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Encounters

I spent the first three days of this week in Abilene at the A.C.U. Bible Lectures. I joke a lot about “beautiful Abilene” but this time the weather in fact was gorgeous and the town actually came close to being attractive! This was the first time the lectures were held in September, with the students on campus, and it was definitely an improvement over previous February lectures involving rain, snow, ice, or otherwise bleak winter weather.

I spoke as part of a panel discussion on the practice of “Lectio Divina,” which is an ancient practice of meditative/contemplative scripture reading that emphasizes stillness and “listening” for the voice of God. The four panelists were given a scripture (John 20:19-23) to focus on for the month leading up to the lectures, to talk about that experience with the audience, and then to lead the audience in the practice of lectio divina to help them experience what it is about.

I will tell you that the month of practicing lectio divina was a real challenge for me. You can imagine how hard it is to find the time and the will to “be still” for a period each day; I was not nearly as consistent as I would have liked. And yet I came to deeply appreciate the power of this kind of spiritual exercise. As I told the class, it is one of the few tangible ways we have in our multi-tasked and frenetic world to “establish a beachhead” of silence for the purpose of listening for God’s voice. Reading a short scripture aloud slowly three times (as is generally prescribed), ruminating on it, praying over it, and then listening for God’s voice is a marked contrast, and a healthy one, to our usual pace of living.

The Lectureship as a whole was terrific, excellent in every way, with all kinds of special venues (my favorite was a coffee house symposium on the music and spirituality of Johnny Cash). But I have to say, and I mean this sincerely, that the highlight of my three days on campus was my encounters with West Houston students. It was such a pleasure to run into, or be approached by, these smart, bright-eyed, sincere, friendly, sharp young people. Over the three days I had brief conversations with Emma Pierce, Julie and Katie Eichelberger, Megan Holland, Brad Fulfer, Caleb Gunter, Brian Leppla, Angela Dennis, Kelsey Confer, and Tyler Dickey. How ironic it is that in the course of “life at West Houston” I often don’t have much interaction with our teenagers, yet on a college campus three hundred miles away we enjoyed these friendly personal encounters. It is customary, and a bit trite, for an “older generation” to express worry about or disappointment with “the next generation.” My experience with our teenagers, and indeed with the college students I taught at Pepperdine and observed at A.C.U., fills me with confidence and even admiration. The future is bright for these young people and because of these young people. I take my hat off to you, West Houston parents, for the good job you are doing. And let me say to the ten young folks above that it was great to see you.

Next time I’ll treat you to a Starbucks if you’ll let me tell you about Johnny Cash. (9/24/06).

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