One of the subjects that came up at the Seabeck Missional Order Gathering on Tuesday (I think) was the question of language. In the formation of an order and the conversation around St. Benedict’s rule, some question was made about the language we use and how we express it. Before I left for the gathering, the question had been put to me by more than one person. After all, words like “rule” and “order” sound a little to the rigid or legalistic side. In the charismatic tradition, the verse that speaks of “a God of order, not disorder” is met with the challenge of what order might look like to God, and the fact that it might look very disorderly to us. In context, the conversation was essentially what we hope to achieve in the formation of an order… whether it’s done in an elitist exclusionary way, a legalistic fashion, or what. What does such an order or rule do for us, anyway?
I felt that the question was an important one, as it reveals a bit of how we approach this conversation of a missional order, and what it means to “belong.” Yes, in many ways it is a bounded set, even though the opt-in is wide open to all. Not unlike the order that a monk or a nun would join… free to all who wish to join, but not without some form of entrance requirement — after all, we need to share some basics in common concerning faith, practice, and the orientation of our life. (Hold onto that word for a minute or two.) As Al Roxburgh was summing up that part of the conversation, I took out a 2×4″ card and removed a navy Sharpie™ from a small bundle of five wonderful earth-tone colours (commented upon by the observant Russ Pierce) and wrote my own summation in a single sentence. (Just hold tight for a minute or two longer!)
On Wednesday afternoon, the session ended early at 3:00, leaving us about three hours before we assembled again for supper. Some sat and visited, some went for a walk (see photo above); I’ve no doubt that some prayed or read or caught a quick nap. I sat down with Len to discuss a book project (shh, don’t tell). That done, I got up to wander. I snapped a few photographs as I made my way across the bridge and highway in front of the conference center to “Uptown Seabeck”, as the sign on the blue building proclaims. I wandered into the general store (yellow building), bumped into Len again, browsed around to see how “general” it really was (pretty “general”, actually) and found a hallway at the back that adjoined Barbie’s Seabeck Bay Cafe, home of the now-famous pie and comparatively exquisite coffee. A local informed me as we were raving about the pie, “You should try the soup!” It’s that kind of place… in fact, it’s probably the local Third Space. The day before I had entered off the dock; the cafe has windows on three sides overlooking the dock and the bay. In any event, As I emerged from the hallway into the cafe, there sat (clockwise) Lori Bjerkander, Rickard Bjerkander, Pete Askew, John Gilmore, Jeanette Priddy, and an empty chair. (Uh-oh, I have this feeling I’m missing someone; a chair rotation took place at one point… sorry! Post in the comments who I missed!) Now, this was as clear a sign as I needed, and they urged me to try the pie.
We talked of many things, of shoes and ships and ceiling wax and cabbages and kings. Okay, not all of that stuff, but other equally diverse matters. We got onto the subject of the Daily Office, and of Pete’s order at Northumbria, a little bit about chaos and how disorderly an order can really appear. This brought me back to the conversation of the previous day and to describing the whole point of creating an order and a rule of life. We talked about orientation, about balance, about rhythm… whether or not we used all of those words. I brought up the Lectionary, and caught John and Pete exchanging a knowing glance (hey, I’m a recovering evangelical). The Lectionary helps order our steps, ensuring a balanced diet of scripture, leading us through the entire thing to prevent the scattergun tactic of continually returning to our 50 favorite passages.
On the subject of prayer, we talked about the Daily Office and about Jesus’ instruction to pray. I think I must have blogged this before, but when I read “The Lord’s Prayer” last year afresh, it dawned on me that Jesus actually meant we’re supposed to pray that prayer. He didn’t say anything about how someday Larry Lea would come along and explain how to unpack each phrase so that you could stretch out this single prayer and “tarry one hour” in prayer. I quoted from memory the introduction Jesus gave it: “When you pray, don’t pray like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words.” I marveled in front of the group, giving them my reaction from when I first saw this anew… which was, “How long has that been in there????!!!” It seems that Jesus taught us to be persistent in prayer, he gave us a sample prayer, and he told us not to use too many words. Hmmm. One begins to see how the Daily Office makes so much sense.
I shared with the little Barbie’s Cafe group the contents of my card from the day before, the point of the rule (reproduced here for your viewing pleasure). In fact, as I thought about spiritual disciplines in general, spiritual formation, spiritual practices, and generally, an ordered life, I began to see how these things are all interwoven. Their essential character is the same as that of The Rule of St. Benedict, which has really not a whit to do with describing the set of rules with which we must comply in order to achieve… well, anything. We do much the same with scripture itself when we approach it as a rulebook or guide, thinking it’s got ten hidden keys to whatever we want, and if we just follow the prescription, we’ll get there. It doesn’t work, and little wonder. None of these things are maps. There’s no “how-to” and there’s nothing earned by their observance. Treating them this way sets them up as the very definition of success, and turns the tools back on us to condemn us for our failure to match the definition. Condemnation is not a part of spiritual formation, for it does not produce change, but instead produces guilt and shame. Its exchange is the language of the Pharisee. It is not so for us who seek to be spiritually formed.
At one point at the gathering, the corporate discussion was around the phrase “Journeys Without Maps,” which Andrew Jones and I were talking about almost two years ago (the present #1 Google search result for the phrase, btw). We talked about the difference between a map and a compass. The compass helps us get our bearings, helps us keep to an unmarked (or nonexistant) path. This is is essential for us who feel we’re on such a mapless quest, a journey without maps. The call is upon us to be spiritual cartographers. We have the stars, we have some indicators, we have our blogs and journals, and we have our guide. Our compass is not only the text of scripture, but also the practices which surround the ordered life. Practices like the Daily Office, like the Lectionary, like dwelling in Luke 10. Like giving and receiving hospitality, and like speaking and sharing in peace to one another. Like the sacraments, including the sacrament of friendship administered to one another. The Greek word for “one another,” for those unaware, is allelon, and embedded in the word and its New Testament use is a guide for us (do the word study) for life together. The rule and the order — no matter what name we give it — functions in just this way, outlining the spiritual practices… disciplines, habits, call them what you will, that form a kind of compass. In this way, we perform regular compass-checks to keep our heart aligned toward that heavenly city. For the rule is there to keep us on the path, not to define the path.