The opening words of the Prologue are as good a beginning toward a description of the book as any:
What began as a contemplative practice soon became a time of self-examination, and then an ongoing reading of the New Testament, followed by an aroused intellectual curiosity that led to research into scriptural exegesis, and finally, after years of repetition and reflection, to a satisfying experience of internalization.
Somewhere along the way I realized I was working on my own personal spiritual formation. This is how my alternative New Testament Lectionary came into being.
My "uncommon lectionary" is an invitation to a spiritual pilgrimage through salient selections of New Testament passages. For those involved in or interested in the Christian Movement there is no better place to dig deeper. The New Testament text is provided so one does not have to fumble around to find one's own copy.
After describing the evolution of the process, the book is divided into the seasons of the Christian Year. Each week correlates a Gospel Reading and an Epistle Reading. There is background material for each section, setting the stage for the specific season. The reader is guided through the reading in a lectio divina style, with variations to keep it from becoming too repetitious.
Unique to the book are some "gentle challenges" in each week's reading to help the reader press beneath the surface. These vary with each season, ranging from an invitation to record several "I Believe" statements about a particular passage to creating three handwritten, free-flowing "Lenten Pages."
During Holy Week one may be asked to practice one hour of "Sacred Silence." Pentecost challenges the reader to compose a Haiku based on the passages for the week. Missiontide presses for an essay of no less than three, no more than five sentences on each passage relative to the question, "What now is expected of me."
These "gentle challenges" are designed to lead one to deeper reflection and clearer focus on the lectionary passages for a given week. They help us to activate our soul's contemplative nature. They also encourage us to allow the key words in a passage to be formed into a personal prayer. I believe that serious reflection, focus, contemplation, and prayer can draw us along a path toward spiritual formation.
The Seasons of the Christian Year have a mystical correlation to the seasons of our own lives. To my mind, this book has an appeal to that general audience that wants to discover the deeper, more progressive aspects of the Christian Faith. For many in the general audience, SELECTIONS: A Journey Toward Spiritual Formation will be simply a book of daily devotions. I believe, too, that churches will find it helpful and effective in retreats, small groups, and class sessions. Many of my colleagues in ministry have expressed an interest in an alternative lectionary. They, too, would find this book very useful. I have tested it in all these ways with very positive responses.
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A Journey Toward Spiritual Formation
By John Winn
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 John Winn
All rights reserved.
RHYTHM OF RENEWAL
Long ago, it seems, I began a love affair with the Lectionary. To be more accurate, it was at first with the "concept" of the Lectionary: that there are germinal selections from scripture that both stimulate and respond to the rhythm of the Christian Year and correlate with the rhythm of human life.
Every life has a beat, a rhythm, a style. A well-conceived, disciplined study of scripture contributes to that style and even calls it to life. Since the Fourth Century, Lectionaries have been developed for the purpose of enhancing personal study and spiritual formation, as well as enhancing corporate worship. A Lectionary is a selection of biblical readings arranged in an orderly and meaningful fashion to expose the reader to significant passages of scripture for all or a portion of the Christian Year. An Advent Lectionary, for example, will deal with passages which have a bearing on Advent, the days leading up to Christmas and the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Read daily, the selections for each week come more and more alive and call the reader to Life—for such is the rhythm of renewal.
In broad strokes this rhythm has to do with Beginnings, Meaning, Meaning Threatened, and Meaning Renewed. Put another way, in more traditional theological terms, it has to do with a rhythm that Creates, Sustains, and Redeems.
Even a casual student of scripture can get the beat of this rhythm. Almost any degree of sensitivity allows one to sense the beat at the level of emotional process, "down deep within," where we search for and claim meaning. Certain words of scripture coming as they do, when they do, at significant times in the Christian Year, even at significant times in our personal lives, enable us to hear a word we cannot unhear. We try to re-hear those words in a corporate way in worship, i. e., we have a "re-hearsal"—rehearsal—of The Truth About Life when worship is at its best.
THE RESONANCE OF RHYTHM AND DRAMA
These are the elements I will tie together as we proceed. I will even mix the metaphor, rhythm, a bit by also seeing the Lectionary as a fleshing-out of the drama of the Christian Year as well as the drama of Christian Worship. So, rhythm and drama may not be so mixed as first meets the eye. It could be that they are the integral aspects that enable lectionary and life to resonate.
I found myself drawing on this even before I was introduced to a formal Lectionary. In my many years as a local church pastor with preaching responsibilities every week, I would plan preaching and worship on a seasonal basis. With no intention on my own part, it seemed, I was lured into the resonance of rhythm and drama.
To say the least, this was greatly enhanced as I became more and more romanced by the Common Lectionary. Soon I was using segments of all the passages for a given Sunday in various parts of the service. Not only did this bring cohesion to the Order of Worship, indeed, helping it become WORSHIP and not simply a "religious-sounding program," but it also brought added cohesion to my personal life.
My practice at that time was to read each day a different Lectionary passage for the coming Sunday. In fact, I would read it several times. I would "let it do its work on me." It would go something like this: Monday, the Psalm; Tuesday, the Old Testament reading and the Psalm; Wednesday, the Gospel, the Old Testament reading, and the Psalm; Thursday, the Epistle, Gospel, Old Testament, and Psalm.
All the while different passages would shimmer off the page and begin germinating as part of the Order of Worship, perhaps in the Morning Prayer, or as the text for the sermon. It was quite seductive. There was an unfolding nature to it, as in a drama. By the end of Thursday's reading, much of the Sunday Message and the spiritual formation of the Order of Worship had taken form. I will give examples of what I mean in the season by season chapters that follow.
Before "spiritual formation" became a buzz term, it was happening to me through the Lectionary. I have no doubt that I am not the only person for whom this is true. It is the nature of scripture. It is the nature of inspiration. It is the nature of revelation. Wasn't it Dwight Moody, of all people, who said, "It is not important how many times you have been through the Bible, but how many times the Bible has been through you?" All you have to do is supply the intentionality. If you do, you will be captured by the rhythm, drawn to the drama, and become more connected to the deepest roots of the Christian Faith.
To be sure, there were times when I departed from the Lectionary as a text for the sermon, but I would let it discipline my preparations nonetheless and its continued presence was evident in the Order of Worship as a whole. To date myself somewhat, my early ministry was largely defined by the civil rights movement. There were many Sundays that a topical message was what seemed paramount. Even so, because I had been living with the Lectionary so much, the substance of its rhythm and drama made it apparent that the text for that Sunday did, in fact, speak to the topic that was shoving its way into my heart and mind.
Along the way, while serving a local church in Shreveport, LA, I was also invited to teach Introductory Old and New Testament at Centenary College. I had been doing this for years in my local churches and the head of the Department of Religion there, Dr. Webb Pomeroy, knew this. My respect for the rhythm and drama of scripture and the substance of its message was further deepened through this experience. I knew then there was something more I was being lured into doing with what had become the nature of my own spiritual formation.
WHY NOT A NEW TESTAMENT LECTIONARY?
I had been working with the Common Lectionary for a number of years by then when I decided to put together my own Lectionary. Because I had a particular fascination for the New Testament, I further decided that it would be a New Testament Lectionary. Like many of you, there were certain passages of the New Testament that were germane to my understanding of the Gospel and I needed to deal with them over and over. A New Testament Lectionary could highlight those pericopes. Further, Luther was right, "Every Christian should memorize the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans." How could that become a part of a Lectionary?
Why not read most of Romans during Lent, pairing it with the Gospel of John? Rather than skipping around from Gospel to Gospel and Epistle to Epistle, I prefer living with them in consecutive weeks. So my Lectionary scheme engages a specific Gospel for each major season: Matthew for Advent and Epiphany, John for Lent and Easter, Luke for the first half of Pentecost, and Mark for the remainder, which I prefer to call "Missiontide." The Epistles and the Apocalypse are similarly paired with the Gospels.
Since I had always found Pentecost so long a season that it became monotonous, I divided it into two seasons: Pentecost to the last Sunday in August and, then, Missiontide, to the end of the cycle and the beginning again of Advent. I realize that I am not the first to think of this, having lived with Kingdomtide for a number of years. Actually, I felt it was misnamed from the outset. I have never been comfortable with dressing Jesus in trappings of royalty. That was simply not his style!
Inserting Missiontide has more to do with rhythm than with reason. It gives us a "break" or a "rest" from Sunday after Sunday in the Pentecost season, when there is no major Holy Day like Christmas or Easter to energize the chronos. No wonder it came to be known as "Ordinary" time. Think of "break" or "rest" in the musical sense, the change in rhythm and mood that a meaningful pause can be. Mark seemed to me to be the natural gospel to anchor Missiontide, as it is the oldest of the gospels, the one the earliest Christians first had in hand as their "Mission Statement."
A PATHWAY TO SPIRITUAL FORMATION
The Common Lectionary, or any other, was never for me "a way to get through the whole Bible in a single year." There are many Biblical treasures that every Lectionary misses. Nor was the Lectionary that was beginning to take shape in my heart about having a spring-board for a preaching plan for the whole year. Rather, putting together my own Lectionary became for me one of the most significant seasons of spiritual formation I have ever experienced. It became a pathway for me, far more significant in my life than a mere aid in sermon preparation.
To be sure, in wrestling with various passages and where they might, not only speak to my personal life, but also be a natural part of the rhythm and drama of the Christian Year, I became a better student of the New Testament. Without a doubt it made me a better preacher, too, because it made me a better person. For any serious Christian a lectionary is a rewarding way to live into the salient passages of scripture, internalize key concepts, and walk the pathway down which they lead us.
In the succeeding pages we will take a slow walk through the process, season by season. Not only will it include the Biblical selections, but it will also include ways to get at what the selected text is saying to us today. Once the lectionary was complete, I did, in fact, decide to preach it. Indeed, more than once! One of the challenges I put before myself was a commitment to use segments from Lectionary readings throughout the Order of Worship in as many different creative ways as possible. That helped maintain a balance between the text itself and my interpretation of it, as in the sermon, for instance.
To get started I spent some time recalling those passages from the New Testament that through the years had come to have special meaning for me. I began making a list of them, adding to it from day to day, as passages that long ago had spoken to me leaked out of the pages of the New Testament again and grabbed hold of me. Indeed, it became a way of experiencing grace. I found that at unexpected times a phrase from the New Testament would come to mind and I would make a note of it. Later, in my study, I would try to remember to find it in its entire pericope, its context.
I am not one prone to carrying around a notebook to jot down things like that, but for a long season of my life I did just that. The list grew and so did I. They became grace notes for me. How this happens for you may be very different. Grace is never "one size fits all." It is, however, all embracing.
These passages, or selections (i.e.lections), were those which in an ongoing way not only had pressed me intellectually, but also had reached me at the level of emotional process. In a meaningful way they coincided with the rhythm and drama of my own life. To be sure, I had the distinct advantage of a seminary education, a seemingly inbred interest in New Testament scriptures, and the responsibility to preach just about every Sunday. I had to be ready! Note, however, that this alternative lectionary and the process it leads one through is not just for those who are faced with preaching or teaching the gospel on a regular basis. It is for all of us who are faced with living the gospel on a day to day basis. The process, itself, becomes a pathway to spiritual formation and deepening.
Increasingly, this process informed my own self-understanding, my relationship to others, and the way I did worship in the local churches I served. Further, I sensed that there was a universal quality to these particular words. They were being experienced by other people in much the same way as they were by me.
There is one more element to this process that, for me, is indispensable. I needed some time apart on this for at least three reasons: first, to look at my "spiritual genogram," as a whole, so to speak. Second, I needed to plumb my own depths of emotional process. Third, I needed to research the validity of my ideas.
IN THE YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL LIBRARY
My first and most important step in this part of the journey came a number of years ago when I spent a part of a summer in a self-directed study at Yale Divinity School. Stimulating lectures and animated discussions pressed me to look at myself with new eyes and to hear things with new ears. My mentor there was the venerable Parker Rossman, who had the good sense to push me out the door each morning in the direction of the divinity school library.
There, to my complete surprise, I discovered that the first known Christian Lectionaries were New Testament Lectionaries! In a formal sense, at least, the Christian Year came into being as a result of the fourth century evolution of various feast days, which had been collecting from generation to generation.
By the end of the fourth century, evidence of Lectionary development is found. In Sermon No. 11 on the Gospel of John, preached in Antioch, about 389 CE, John Chrysostom wrote, "What then is it that I require of you? That each of you take in hand that selection of the Gospels which is to be read among you on the first day of the week, or even on the Sabbath, and before the day arrive, that he sit down at home and read it through, and carefully consider its contents, and examine all its parts well, what is clear, what is obscure...."
In another sermon (Number 1 on Acts) preached about 400 or 401 in Constantinople, Chrysostom refers to Acts as "a demonstration of the Resurrection." Augustine in Africa in Tractate Number 6 on the Gospel of John speaks of the custom of reading Acts in the season following the Passion. I was delighted to discover this, for in my own Lectionary, instinctively, that is where I had placed my readings from Acts, paired with the Gospel of Luke. Instinct cannot claim all the credit, however, for that is precisely where most of the readings from Acts are in the Common Lectionary and most other Lectionaries I have seen. My point is, we are dealing with a long and natural Lectionary history which has imbedded itself in the rhythm and drama of life.
It seems that for a time in Christian Worship, in Byzantium in the 5th Century, the Old Testament fell out of use. Late in that century or early 6th, that was also true in Rome. The Byzantine Lectionary, dated as early as the 7th Century, consists of Gospels and Epistles. Interestingly, it begins with Easter and seems to concentrate on the period from Easter to Pentecost and is built around the Gospel of John. From Pentecost to the first of September, Matthew is foremost. Generally, in this period there tends to be three structural types: one which begins with Easter; another which begins with Christmas or Epiphany; and a third which begins with Advent. It became clear to me that Advent was the obvious place for a Lectionary to begin, particularly one that was pointing down the path of spiritual formation, rather than being more like a "calendar" for sermon preparation. Advent speaks of a New Birth, a beginning, even a beginning again. I could sense this whole adventure becoming that for me.
A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE AND PERCEPTION
This was surely not the beginning of my "spiritual genogram," but there are times when one cannot tell when something is beginning or something is ending. Those days in the Yale Divinity School Library were charged with meaning for me. I had only recently been appointed to a church in the Northern part of Louisiana, a section of the state in which I had never served. It was very different from New Orleans where I grew up and was first appointed out of seminary some twelve years earlier.
When we moved, my wife, who was to live only a few years longer, had left her therapy group that had been so helpful to her. She "graduated," so to speak, as the years in therapy seemed to have strengthened her as a person, indeed all of us. For a while, she did well with her "new wings," but she was showing signs of losing the momentum she had fought so hard to gain. We had four children. All of them had made a remarkable adaptation to the new location, school, church, friends, and community. Our five years there would prove to be a prelude to an incredible turning point for all of us. My time at Yale was the first time I had been away from home and this dear family for any length of time.
Being away from home, however, was not a new experience for me. Indeed, a sense of apartness (note: not separateness) has played a significant role in my personal spiritual genogram. I have no doubt that it enhanced the charged nature of my short time at Yale. It also re-connected me to months in my childhood that I spent away from home, apart from my family. The time at Yale was actually the first time I had been away from home, alone, since several extended periods in a hospital a long way from home. Those years between 1936 and 1944 were very defining years for me, as was the time at Yale three decades later.
It was during one of those "apart" periods in the hospital in the 1940s that I first began to read the New Testament with any degree of seriousness. Until then my biblical reading was quite casual, done because I thought "it was good for me." I did not really try to understand it or dwell on what it meant. In that hospital setting, though, we read a New Testament chapter every night and in our juvenile way debated—no, argued—about its meaning. We all began to memorize short passages, even becoming devoted to some.
It is ironic that apartness, like that in the hospital, would take on a significant role for me, in that on the Myers-Briggs I am a rather strong "E," more often the extrovert than the introvert, usually gaining energy from interaction with people, rather than being fatigued by them. I am convinced, though, that it was not the apartness that opened me to the message of the New Testament, but the sense of community formed by those of us in the reading group in the hospital. We were adolescents, all many miles from home trying very hard to be brave. Memories planted in my deepest level of emotional process way back then have served as signposts that have brought me to this point in my journey.
Excerpted from SELECTIONS by John Winn. Copyright © 2013 John Winn. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: Rhythm Of Renewal.................... 1
Chapter Two: The Advent-Christmas-Epiphany Cycle.................... 10
Chapter Three: Christmastide.................... 26
Chapter Four: Epiphany.................... 34
Chapter Five: The Lenten Lectionary.................... 76
Chapter Six: Eastertide.................... 122
Chapter Seven: Pentecost.................... 149
Chapter Eight: Missiontide.................... 199
About The Author.................... 249