Thin Places, Part 1

DSC_0176A few summers ago, my husband Tom and I were in Dublin for a week, and one day, we took a tour bus to two ancient holy places—thin places, the Celts would have called them: spots where heaven and earth are very close to one another, where the ordinary distance between the two collapses.

When I was an evangelical teenager, I thought the idea of thin places was sort of cool, another way to describe that feeling I got when I sat on the beach during vacation and saw an especially vibrant sunset, or stood on top of a mountain and spun slowly to take in the vista. The world was transformed in a moment of extraordinary beauty, and so was I, for a little while.

I felt close to God, closer than I felt singing hymns or listening to sermons. Church, in its very weekly-ness, wasn’t extraordinary like that. I’d never been one of those “on fire for Jesus” types, like my friends who raised their hands in worship, but when I felt that spark, I thought maybe for a while I was like them. [Read more…]

Dancing on the Way to Prison

By John Bryant

Worshipping HandsI’m standing in a circle with thirty singing and swaying old men and we hold each other’s hands because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and signal the presence of His Spirit by fluttering our fingers during certain parts of the song, the fluttering strange at first and then completely appropriate and satisfying.

There is an old man in front of me with wide forehead and dark eyes and he is bald and tall and strong and he is dancing. He shakes his hips and leaps on one leg and then the other in those impossible khaki shorts he wears in winter, and he looks like he would’ve been a murderer or bouncer or head of a biker gang if he’d not been made a perfect child and clown by the Holy Spirit.

We release hands and begin another song, and these strong old men fold their hands behind their backs like little children holding flowers for girls and they put their voices into the middle of the circle where the song gathers like a creature rising out from fire and for all their gruff, worn appearance the singing is impossibly loud, sincere, and generous. [Read more…]

How Much God Loves Us

By John Bryant
waterHe was born with cerebral palsy and he has it all the way up until he is completely underwater, when, he says, his whole body is pleasantly different, his limbs smooth and loose and elegant. I hold him under his arms in the pool and he can walk and tell me everything.

He takes three quick steps and can feel the surprise in the way I hold him, and his whole body shakes like a bird in your hand. I’ve never felt a whole body pulse with joy—all hair and fingers and toes—like he is still in the furnace of creation.

When he is done, we float him to the edge of the pool, and I leap out and dig under his arms and we lift him out into his great quivering weight and into the wind and the sun, and the length of his body contracts like a drop of water back into what is wrong. We lay him on his chair and towel, his great knobby knees and his furled, funny, complicated posture.

We push him in his wheelchair back to the cabin, wheels caught and muscling through gravel.  We feel him slip in his chair. We stop. My friend holds him at the knee, and I hold him from the back under the arms, and on three I lift him up to my chest, high as I can, up to the sun like an offering, then back into his appointed place.

I pause, take a step in front of him, just to see him. The sun is in his eyes. His face wide, flat, simple. I tell him we’re close and his spine curves out like a plant growing to the sun, leaving a hollow space between his back and the chair. I push him, tell him about my wife. He smiles, his head tilted at the crook in his neck, his eyes always turned up in reference to something coming up over the hill no one else can see. [Read more…]

Listening to Simone

By Christiana N. Peterson
lady-in-pewThe woman stands in the entryway of our common building just before Sunday worship begins. It’s not a sightly place, but it has every necessity for common intentional community life: a kitchen, a large meeting space, tables and chairs for worship and meals, a bathroom and a prayer room.

At first, the woman seems to fit right in with our unfussy crew: round spectacles, hair in a frizzy bob, a shapeless dress, oversized shoes. I immediately feel an affinity with her.

But I am also wary of her. Something tells me that she has intentionally obliterated anything outwardly lovely in her appearance. This both draws me in and annoys me.

Because I think I know her type. They come through intentional community sometimes: idealistic, stringent in their belief system, radically unusual in their dress. Community hoppers who bounce from church to church, intentional community to community, never satisfied with what they find and always criticizing. Not one of those again, I sigh. [Read more…]

I Come Not to Praise the Megachurch

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The church may have begun as a non-spiritual entity, a business of some sort that was judged insufficiently profitable. Maybe it was one of those sprawling climate-controlled storage facilities, for example, the kind assembled from pre-fab insulated concrete forms, crafted not for enlivening souls but for storing up the treasures that have no place elsewhere.

But likely it was intended as a church from the beginning, a box, yes, but a box whose utilitarianism is a testimony befitting the Horatio Alger genesis tale of the modern American church: We began in a warehouse; we began in a living room; we began in a movie theater. In the beginning we sat on borrowed semi-circled folding chairs and read the Word from our soft well-worn leather-bound Bibles and the Word was with us and the Word was us. [Read more…]


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