Third Way and Spirituality

Third Way and Spirituality December 31, 2008

Adam Hamilton has a way of grabbing his reader’s attention: in his discussion of the truth about the spiritual formation of most of us, he says this: some days are good but somedays are not — on those days you feel like this: “Your faith can’t move dust bunnies, much less mountains” (139). This is the subject of chp. 16 of  Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics.

Hamilton says something that I have wanted to say for a long, long time: “There are not secret truths” to the Christian life. As if you could read the right book, pray the right prayer, learn the right technique … and (to quote John Madden) Boom! it’s all clear and and you’re sailing on smooth waters forever and ever.

Most of us struggle; most of us have good days; most of us have bad days. Somedays we are confident in our faith; other days we have doubts.

He refers to a great poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I first read in college and it stunned me. It is called “Who Am I?” (from Discipleship

“trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation
weary and empty at praying
at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I?
They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

Hamilton ends with a timely reminder of messy spirituality: “There are no secrets. There’s struggle, and yearning, and doing the things we know we should do. And in the end, there is trust. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

In the end, we live by faith — in the good and in the bad.

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  • You’re right – that poem by Bonhoeffer is stunning. It is stunning in that it states what is often in my heart, and probably many others. My own questions, whether arising from modernity or postmodernity, sometimes mock me and my faith. Sometimes I am hesitant to share those questions with anyone because they seem inconsistent with faith. Bonhoeffer’s answer to the mocking questions is wonderful: although I sometimes don’t know what I believe, I believe that God knows what I am – his possession. Thanks for reminding me of this poem.

  • BeckyR

    I was thinking about this yesterday – abour how the Bible talks about peace and joy yet on the other hand Jesus says we’re going to be persecued for our beliefs. I wondered if maybe we pursue the peace and joy and that’s not what it’s all about, our persistence shold be elsewhere. Where I haven’t come up with yet. But what seemed to ground it for me was that in our talking of our faith and thining of our faith and living of our faith we must include that we live on this side of the Fall and so our christian life will be messy.Cracked eikons.

  • Yes, Yes and Yes! I’ve always struggled with many people’s obsession over being in “God’s perfect will.” As if we could know the exact mind of God… if there even is one. There is such an obsession on finding the “perfect will” so that you can have smooth sailing. The thing is that you live in such turmoil trying to live that way. I like that last statement, “There’s struggle, and yearning, and doing the things we know we should do. And in the end, there is trust.” When it comes down to it, we must live IN Christ and allow him to live IN us and then trust. God’s will is so much more than stiff choreography. It is a beautiful dance in which there are variations and dynamic movement.
    I can’t wait to jump into this book.

  • MattR

    Thanks Scot,
    Needed to be reminded of this!…
    In an ironic way, I think what shipwrecks the faith of many is the myth that if you’re a Christian, you’ll always be happy, always have certainty and clarity, and everything in your life will be OK. True, it is not often said aloud, just more subtly understood. And when it doesn’t happen, it causes one to question their faith even deeper… unfulfilled expectations.
    Bonhoeffer’s words are stunning… and get right to the heart of it.

  • David Kohn

    Spirituality and spiritual formation in general are tough matters in Christianity. There is not the “easy road” to walk. One of the keys to spiritual growth for all of us is to stay anchored in and focused on the Provider and Sustainer . . . the Rock of our Salvation. This is not easy, but it is possible. It is possible with God’s help. There are many ups and downs, which certainly include feeling strong and weak at times.

  • Those who discover “the secrets” of the Christian life are a carryover of the old gnostic heretics. Israel’s and the Church’s faith have always been public and accessible to all who enter the Story. The 70s and 80s were flush with *insider* Christian information, that is, various great “teachers” or Christ gurus called their devotees together. Great news is to be announced, not packaged as lessons for the elite.
    In Ukraine, John

  • RJS

    I think that we could go a step further than “most” – all of us struggle, all of us have good days, all of us have bad days, all of us are sometimes confident and sometimes beset with doubt, although I suppose it is possible that there are some not so afflicted.
    In “Life Together” Bonhoeffer discusses the importance of confession in the Christian life. I have come to think that confession, not just confession of sin, but confession of doubts and struggles, is an important part of our Christian life in community. Confession of doubts, discussion of thoughts and concerns, keeps us honest and keeps things in perspective. There is much good and much needing improvement in our church (generic) – but one of the problems with the secret truth, absolute certainty, perfect clarity approach to faith is the fact that it stunts growth by driving struggles underground where they grow and fester. It is not easy though, to find a community where confession is possible.
    Sounds like an interesting trip to the Ukraine – I look forward to more updates on your blog.