Subversive Spirituality

Subversive Spirituality


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Subversive Spirituality by Eugene H. Peterson, Peter Santucci, John Sharon, Jim Lyster

Subversive Spirituality is a gathering together of articles written by Eugene Peterson over the past twenty-five years. Made up of occasional pieces, short biblical studies, poetry, pastoral readings and interviews, this book reflects on the overlooked facets of the spiritual life. Peterson captures the epiphanies of life with the pleasing pastoral style and inspiring depth of insight for which he is well known.

Peterson describes his book this way: "The gathering of articles and essays, poems and conversations, is a kind of kitchen midden of my noticings of the obvious in the course of living out the Christian life in the vocational context of pastor, writer, and professor. The randomness and repetitions and false starts are rough edges that I am leaving as is in the interests of honesty. Spirituality is not, by and large, smooth. I do hope, however, that they will be found to be 'freshly phrased.'"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802842978
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 06/01/1997
Pages: 276
Sales rank: 267,495
Product dimensions: 0.62(w) x 9.00(h) x 6.00(d)

About the Author

Eugene H. Peterson was a longtime pastor and is professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. His many other acclaimed books include Tell It Slant, The Jesus Way, Eat This Book, and the contemporary translation of the Bible titled The Message.

Read an Excerpt

Teach Us to Care, and Not to Care (from pages 154-168)

I want to talk about our Christian vocation. After we become Christians, there comes a time, sometimes shortly after, sometimes long after, when we realize that something has happened to us that requires vocational expression.

We come to the place where it is not enough to be saved—we want to share the salvation life. We take on responsibilities inherent in the saved life and find ourselves assigned to positions in our neighborhoods, in our communities, where the ways of God and men and women intersect. People show up at these crossroads lost, discouraged, fatigued, and confused. The task of Christians assigned duty at these intersections is to give direction to people on the way, encourage and exhort them, provide information about the weather and the road conditions and serve up refreshments. It is an incredibly busy place, traffic hurtling this way and that, and there are a lot of accidents, a lot of injuries, and therefore much caring to be done.

It goes without saying that Christians care. Baron von Hugel used to say, "Caring is the greatest thing. Christianity taught us to care." Christians care and if they don't, they don't stay in business very long, or they don't stay credible very long. This word care is at the heart of our community traditions. Cura animarum, the cure of souls, is a phrase which occurs over and over again in our history. It combines meanings that have gotten pulled apart. If you live in a culture like ours, things fall apart, and this is one of the places where meanings have fallen apart. The word cura combines our words cure and care. Cure is nurturing a person towards health; care is being a compassionate companion towards a person in need. Cure requires that we know what we are doing. Care requires that we be involved in what we are doing. Applied knowledge is necessary, but it is not enough. Empathetic concern is necessary, but it is not enough. Cura combines both these dimensions, the curing and the caring. But getting this word right in a dictionary definition does not mean that we have got it, does not ensure right practice, which is obvious when we look around us.

There is a huge irony here. We know more about caring than any other generation that has ever lived on the face of the earth. We have more men and women professionally trained in the skills of caring and committed to professional lives of caring, and yet the reports coming back day after day from the field—people telling stories of what has happened to them in the hospital, church, with the social worker, at school—document an alarming deterioration of care on all fronts.

Instead of being cared for, people find themselves abused, exploited, organized, bullied, condescended to, ripped off. There is nothing new in this, of course. People in need of care show up in a weakened condition and are therefore vulnerable, and such vulnerability always seems to arouse the killer instinct in a few individuals, who use their professional roles as cover to indulge themselves in one or several of the deadly sins. For thousands of years now, bitter stories have been told of the rapacity of priests, physicians, nurses, and counselors, as they move smilingly through our communities in their sheep's clothing. Dante and Chaucer, between them, told the stories that pretty much cover the rascality dimensions in our caring work. So there is not much more to be said on those aspects of our care or mis-care and there is nothing much more to be done, except set a few watchdogs to see if we can catch the bad ones at it.

But I want to talk about a different part, a different aspect of the failure or the deterioration of care. It is not quite as epidemic, perhaps, as what we see in our culture at large. I want to talk about something more endemic to the Christian community, something more subtle and far more likely to involve the well-intentioned than the ill-intentioned. In order to do something about it, it is not enough just to get rid of people who do it badly. Something more like a renovation of our imagination is required, a revisioning of who we are and what we are doing when we care. We need to recover the largeness, the health, the essential sacredness of all of our vocational living, that is, this Christian life as it becomes lived out into the community in relationship to others.

Let me take a few steps back and get a running start on this from a different direction. I want to take a text from T.S. Eliot: "Teach us to care, and not to care." It comes from a poem that he wrote after his conversion, "Ash Wednesday." The prayer is imbedded in the experience of conversion to the Christian way. Eliot qualifies as a preacher to be reckoned with in these matters because he both lived through and articulated in prophetic oracle much of what we are dealing with. In the poem that made him famous, "The Wasteland," he showed the chaos and aridity of a world without God, without community, without traditions. It was the world that Nietsche campaigned for under his slogan "God is dead," but Eliot not only articulated this in his poem, he lived it. The wasteland was within him, as well as written out in his poem, "The Wasteland."

On this waterless, treeless ground, he lived day after day, year after year. His marriage consigned him to continual humiliation and guilt. His alienation from family and country cut him off from emotional nurture and an organic sense of place. And then he became a Christian. His conversion was a scandal among the cultured despisers, a betrayal of the new religion of sophisticated despair for which he had written the canonical scriptures. He worked his emerging Christian faith and hope now into new lines of poetry, even more skillfully than he had his un-Christian scepticism and despair. He wrote "The Wasteland" proclaiming the death of God and the emptiness of the world, was converted and wrote "Ash Wednesday," praying this prayer that we are using as a text, and then went on to write the greatest Christian poem of our century, "The Four Quartets," in which he gathers up the shards of experience, these pieces of truth and broken lives, and weaves them in poetry and prayer into a marvellous, powerful poem. He takes the experience of the street corners, where we have been assigned duty, intersections where all these collisions, accidents, wreckages occur among God-ignorant and soul-denying drivers, and he puts together a world which, because it is a world which God has both created and redeemed, is not a wasteland, but a garden, a rose garden, in fact.

A rose garden replaces the wasteland as the metaphor for the world in which we are living. No matter how frequently and learnedly the journalists and scholars report that the world in which we are living is a wasteland, it is not. It is unfortunate that everyone knows Eliot as the poet of "The Wasteland" and very few know him as the poet of the "Four Quartets." They want to skip his conversion; they want to leave all of that out. But if we submit ourselves to his prophetic-poetic imagination—there is a nearly Isaianic power in it—a power capable of shifting our perceptions so they can take in the reality of the world in which we are living.

The primary reason that we are in trouble in our caring, that our lives of caring are in a deteriorated condition, is that we carry them out on the mistaken assumption that caring takes place in a wasteland. If we are going to free ourselves of this mistaken presupposition, we must relearn the world. And since Eliot explored this wasteland as thoroughly as anyone in our century and in the process found his way through prayer and penitence into a garden, he seems to me to be the best of guides and his text a focused prayer: "Teach us to care, and not to care."

So, "Teach us to care." We begin with a realization of our poverty: We do not know how to care. What we have been prayerlessly engaged in and glibly calling care, is not care. It is pity, it is sentimentality, it is do-goodism, it is ecclesiastical colonialism, it is religious imperialism. Caring, noble and commendable as it seems, is initiated by a condition that can, and often does, twist it into something ugly and destructive. That condition is need. A child cries out, a woman weeps, a man curses, a youth, as we say, "acts out." More often than not, one of us—a Christian who has discovered a vocation to care, either professionally or amateurly, it does not matter—is there. We help. So far, so good. The child's pain, the woman's tears, the man's anger, the youth's confusion are all real enough and need to be responded to. If someone is there and willing to care it is sheer blessing.

But there is another element in this scenario that is frequently missed and when missed, silently and invisibly squeezes all the cure out of care. The element is sin. The child with a bruised knee is a sinner. The woman cursing her abuser is a sinner. The man lamenting his failed vocation is a sinner. The youth stumbling over the hypocrisies of society is a sinner. The condition that calls us into the action of caring, the condition of need, disarms us by its apparent innocence, since the cry, the curse, the tears, and the confusion are mostly uncalculated and spontaneous.

The urgency and innocence of the care-evoking situation obscures an element of the condition that we must not leave in obscurity and that is this: We human beings learn early and quickly to acquire expertise in using our plight, whatever it is, to get those around us to do far more than get us through or over the conditions. We learn how to use the conditions of need as leverage in getting our own way. Not our health, not our maturity, not our peace, not justice, not our salvation, but our way, our willful way. This impulse to make oneself the center, to shrewdly, or bullyingly manipulate things and people to the service of self is what we, at least in our theology textbooks, call sin. Incurvatus in se was Augustine's phrase for it, life curved in upon itself.

We are created to be open. To be open to God, to open out towards our neighbors. We can only be whole and healthy in so far as we do this. When we are in need, when first-hand experience documents our inability to be whole beings on our own, the first thing that can happen is that we will become more authentically human. Need rips gashes in our self-containment and opens us to the neighbor. Need blows holes in our roofed-in self-sufficiency and opens us to God. But not necessarily.

For the self-willed self does not give up easily. It makes a persistent and determined stand to use these need-generated openings not to move out, but to pull whoever is trying to help it, into its service, put the neighbors to its use. If unwary, the person providing care is co-opted into feeding selfishness, which is to say, sin.

There is a great irony here—that so much or our caring nurtures sin. The only group of people in our society who show any sign of acknowledging this is parents of young children.

Parents know that there is nothing less innocent than childhood. After a few weeks, months at the most, of responding unquestioningly to every sign of need, mothers and fathers start getting smart, start filtering the requests, cross-examining the wails. If they don't, they realize in a few years, and with a sense of dismay, that it might be too late to do anything about it, because as they have been bandaging knees, wiping away tears, buying designer jeans, running interference for break-away emotions, they have at the same time been feeding pride, nourishing greed, fueling lust, and cultivating envy.

But outside the circumstances of child rearing, there does not seem to be much awareness of this deviousness. The moment any one of us says, "Help me!" and discovers how quickly others are in attendance on us, making us the center and confirming our importance, a vast field for the exercise of sin—that is, getting our own godless and neighborless way—opens up. It is really quite incredible the amount of illness, unhappiness, trouble, and pain that is actually chosen, because it is such an effective way of being in control, of being important, of exercising God-like prerogatives, of being recognised as significant, without entering the strenuous apprenticeship of becoming truly human, which always requires learning the love of God, practicing love of the neighbor.

The reason the awareness of this deviousness is so dim among us is that as a wasteland society, we do not take into account the reality of sin. There is no sin in the wasteland. There is no God in the wasteland. There is deprivation, or poverty, or bad luck, but there is no sin. Christians have less excuse than others in being naive or ignorant about sin since we go through life with a book in our pocket, or at least within reach, that is both insistent and convincing on the subject. But no one has much of an excuse.

Sin is, as G.K. Chesterton once pointed out, the only major Christian doctrine that can be verified empirically. But because of this failure to take with full seriousness the nature and presence of sin, a great deal of caring is simply collaboration in selfishness, in self-pity, in self-destruction, in self-indulgence—all the seemingly endless hyphenations that the self is able to engineer. We wake up one morning and realize that we have poured ourselves out for these needy people and they are not getting any better. And we know that something is wrong in our caring, so we pray: "Teach us to care. I've been trying to care in a wasteland, and I've been doing it all wrong. I need to learn it all over again. Teach us to care."

As Christians who begin to sense a vocation, a reaching out, knowing that this life matters now to other people, the most central thing that we are doing is to teach them to pray. This is our genius as Christians, this access to God, this life of intimacy with God. This is why we are Christians, to live in this healed, loved way. If we do not use the occasions of need, of caring, as a school for prayer, we abdicate our most central concern. None of us can do this all by ourselves; caring is a community act, a lot of people are involved.

Caring is complex and we need all the help we can get, but the Christian presence needs to be a praying presence, and when we pray "Teach us to care," the reports that start coming back, the lesson plans that start coming back, all have to do basically with prayer. This wound of the self that calls for help, this self that is closed in upon itself and now is open just a little bit, is an opening through which we can listen to and answer God. For the wound is more than a wound. It is access to the outside, to God, to others. The Christians standing at the intersection where all this carnage is going on are the ones who know that this wound is more than a wound, it is access. The wound must not be bandaged over as fast as possible; it is there to be a listening post, a chance to exit the small confines of a self defined world and enter the spaciousness of a God-defined world.

I do not mean simply praying for people, although that is involved. I mean teaching them to pray, helping them to listen to what God is saying, helping them to form an adequate response. Teaching people to pray is teaching them to treat all the occasions of their lives as altars on which they receive his gifts. Teaching people to pray is teaching them that God is the one with whom they have to deal, not just ultimately, and not just generally, but now and in detail.

Teaching people to pray is not especially difficult work—anyone of us can do it, using a few psalms and the Lord's prayer—but it is difficult to stick with it, for we are constantly interrupted with urgent demands from family and friends to, as they say, "do something." And it is difficult to get the person who has asked for help to stick with it because there are a lot of other people in the intersection, offering short-cut approaches for providing care, short-cutting God and promising far quicker results. It is difficult for all of us to stick it out, for often in the confusion and noises of wasteland traffic, it is hard to stay convinced that sin and God make that much difference.

But difficult or not, this is our calling. Whatever else we are doing is with our hands, with our feet, with our minds—bandaging, directing, giving. This is the core of what we are doing, getting them in touch with God, with neighbor, receiving love, grace. If we do not use these occasions of need to teach people to pray, we cave in to the pressures of care in which there is no cure.

Sometimes one incident becomes pivotal in your life to wake you up to these things. For me it was Brenda. She was in the hospital; I was her pastor. I went to see her. She was a social worker, mother of two sons, wife, faithful in her worship. I had been her pastor for five or six years. I asked her what brought her to the hospital. Well, she was in for tests, things were not going right, doctors could not figure out what was going wrong. I prayed a perfunctory prayer and left.

I came back a few days later and asked her what had happened and she said that the tests didn't show anything and the doctors thought she ought to see a psychiatrist, they thought something other than her body was causing the trouble. She said, "I think they're probably right." Following my usual script, I would ordinarily have said, "Brenda, would you like to talk to me about it?" Along with many pastors of my generation—this was the sixties, the decade of counseling and psychology—I had received good training, found I had an aptitude for it, and loved the dynamics of the therapeutic encounter.

There were no psychiatrists or therapists in our community. I was soon counseling not only my parishioners, but many of their friends as well. It was good work. I found I liked being valued by the community in ways I never was as a mere pastor. But the work was also exhausting. At that moment beside Brenda's bed, I did not think I could handle one more set of complex emotions. I knew she expected me to express my care for her by being her counselor, but at that moment I was just too tired, and I ducked. Instead of offering myself as a counselor to her, I used prayer as an escape hatch and got out.

Then I began feeling guilty. I had let her down. I did not care. After a couple of weeks, my guilt got the better of me and I called her and said, "Brenda, this is Pastor Peterson." We exchanged a few commonplaces and then I said, "Is there anything I can do for you?" There was a fairly long pause that made me really nervous. Then she said, "Yes, there is. I've been thinking a lot about it. Would you teach me to pray?"

That was the last thing I expected. I had been a pastor at this time for seven years, and it was the first time anyone had asked me to teach them to pray. I had expected to do this when I became a pastor, but when no one seemed interested, at least not to the point of asking, I began to respond to what they were asking. They were asking me to help them with their marriages, their kids, their emotions, their parents, questions about the Bible, and so I did. I was caring for them on the terms that they set for me. God was not ignored in the work; I offered prayers for help and healing, but the problems of these people, the needs for which they requested help, needs which I often helped them identify, became the agenda. Need-oriented, problem-driven, solution-expectant. And I was usually able to work God in somewhere or other. But more often than not, I was entering and accepting the world as a wasteland, a world where need, not God, was sovereign, and had become an unwitting collaborator in reinforcing their self-centered worlds, amnesiac on the nature of sin. Since they were not sinning conspicuously—stealing, committing adultery, robbing the bank—I dropped my guard.

Brenda's request, "Would you teach me to pray?", returned me to the country of my origins; God-oriented, mystery-attentive, obedience-ready. My central task among these people was not to help them solve their problems, but to help them to see how their problems could help solve them, serve as stimulus and goad to embrace the mystery of who they were as human beings, and then offer to be companion to them and teach them the language of this world in which we are God-created, Christ-invaded, Spirit-moved, the language of prayer.

I have given you a story from my own life, but pastors have no corner on this. This is the Christian vocation; this is what Christians do. The prayer in our text is "Teach us to care." Brenda asked me to teach her to pray, and by doing so taught me to care. When care is restored to our lives in its true and proper context, the presence and the action of God, our caring then becomes an extension of our prayer, instead of just being tacked on to our caring. When this happens, our caring is detached from the controlling context of sin-twisted needs, self-serving ploys, this cultural-spiritual wasteland that Eliot describes so well, the wasteland that drains all the cure out of care.

And, "Teach us not to care."

The prayer, "Teach us to care" is balanced by the prayer "Teach us not to care." In the business of caring there is something we need to learn how to do, but there is something also that we need to learn not to do. What we learn not to do is just as important as what we learn to do. A major contributing cause to this deterioration of care that we are all part of is the widespread refusal to learn not to care by accepting limits and respecting boundaries.

All through the traditions of caring (this is not only in Western, but also Eastern cultures) there are frequent counsels to reticence, to detachment, to holding back, to letting go. "Don't do too much." But our times do not honor such counsel. We have so much knowledge to apply and so much technology with which to apply it, that not to use it, not to exploit it to the hilt, is unthinkable. We are hell-bent on ploughing full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. We are so sure that a little more knowledge will make us more effective, that a breakthrough in technology will usher in a new level of competence, that a larger budget will provide the resources for success, that to not do something when it is possible to do anything at all, escapes our imagination.

But the reason for the counsel to reticence is that the act of caring, responding to a person in need, takes place in an environment that is already surging with life, prodigal with energy, vitality, beauty. This life, creation in all of its aspects, is exceedingly complex and far past the capacity of our understanding. You realize that we are far more ignorant of the world than we are knowledgeable of it. Despite all of our explorations and discoveries, all this information that is before us, all this understanding of how it works, there is still far more that we do not know than what we do know. And of all the parts of the creation we have come across in our travels, this part we call human is the most marvelous, most complex, most mysterious.

We know a lot about our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our souls, digestive systems, guilt and forgiveness, kidney functions, love, faith, moral strength, schizophrenia, growth hormones, growing in Christ, fetal development, character formation, synapses in the brain, lesions in the heart, but when we stand before the human being, any human being, most of what is taking place is beyond us. And for that reason, we had better not start poking around in what we do not understand, lest we destroy something precious. There is much that is wrong in the world and in the people around us, but there is far more that is right. Everything wrong takes place in an environment that is incredibly, dazzlingly alive, stunningly beautiful.

The primary act of the Christian in all of this is to worship. When you and I go to church on Sunday morning and hear someone say to us, "Let us worship God," we stop in our tracks: sit down, stand or kneel, and shut up for an hour, except to sing a few hymns, or say "Amen." We are worshiping, becoming aware of what we have been in all the time, but were too busy or distracted to notice.

No one as far as I know has ever commented on the incalculable good that is done every week by thousands and thousands of pastors calling people into churches and saying, "Let us worship God," and getting people off the streets for an hour. Crime rates plummet, accidents decrease, pollen diminishes just because we quit caring for an hour. We are not doing anything, we are not in charge. That is most significant in worship: our eyes open, our mouths drop, we just look and listen. We are not exactly catatonic, we say, "Praise God" or "Thank you," sing a little. But there is no usefulness to any of it, we are not doing anything. As William James once said, "There's no cash value to it." We are not caring, we are responding to Eliot's prayer, "Teach us not to care."

So we enter places of worship from time to time, weekly usually, places of not doing, not saying, not caring, so that we can see what is going on, hear what is being said. The most important thing going on right now is what God is doing. We get in the way, we talk too much. The most important thing being said right now is something God is saying, marvelous things are being done and said right now. Look. Listen.

We Christians are scattered through the society, standing on street corners, intersections, all over the place. We are the ones who have a chance to say, "Oh, look. Listen to that." If we just barge in and start doing something or other, we only contribute to the noise, the frenetic activity. What God has done and is doing is far more significant than anything you or anyone else will ever do. What God has spoken and is speaking is far more important than anything you or anyone else will ever say.

If we are not constantly brought to an awareness of this huge God-dimension, trained in attentiveness to this immense God-presence, we will act and speak out of context, as if we are in a wasteland. But there is no wasteland. We are in a garden, a rose garden. No matter how purely motivated we are, we will finally do more damage than good if we do not operate in response to God rather than the environment. We live on holy ground. We inhabit sacred space. This holy ground is subject to incredible violations. This sacred space suffers constant sacrilege. But no matter. The holiness is there, the sacredness is there. If our lives, and in this case, our caring lives, are shaped in response to the violations, to the sacrilege, and not out of the holy, our lives are shaped wrongly. We are responding to the wrong environment, a false environment, a wasteland environment. We are called to be gardeners, not garbage collectors.

A number of years ago, my wife and our three children were in Yellowstone National Park, the first of our national parks. I often think of our parks as sanctuaries, parallel to our churches. The churches are sanctuaries for the cross, the covenant, salvation. The parks are sanctuaries for the creation. They are places for protecting creation from exploitation, places we can look on the earth and the fullness thereof, be in adoration of the Creator and in awe of his creation. Yellowstone was the first place on this continent to be set apart in this way.

I have always felt a personal involvement in the formation of this park because Cornelius Hedges, a Montana lawyer, was in on it. It was his idea, in fact. He got Teddy Roosevelt to come out and see the country, camped with him on a little triangle of land, a little island between the Fire Hole and the Madison Rivers, and convinced Roosevelt that this had to be done, that it was important to preserve its wildness and naturalness against chainsaws and bulldozers. As a schoolboy in Montana, I attended Cornelius Hedges School. Through the years with this story in my imagination, I took on the persona of Cornelius Hedges, who took great pride in forming this creation sanctuary.

As my family and I were walking in a mountain meadow in Yellowstone Park, there was a little boy of four or five about 30 yards out in the meadow picking fringed gentians—exquisite alpine flowers. Now you know that it is against the rules to pick flowers in national parks. My children knew this; they had learned the Sierra Club motto: "take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints." They knew that verse as well as John 3:16 (one of them told me a few years ago that he used to think it was from Scripture). So here is this little kid out in the meadow, picking the flowers; I see him and I'm outraged—sacrilege taking place on holy ground. I yell at him, "DON'T PICK THE FLOWERS." He just stood, wide-eyed, innocent—and terrified. He dropped the flowers and started crying.

You can imagine what happened next. My wife and children, my children especially, were all over me. "Daddy, what you did was far worse than what he did! He was just picking a few flowers and you yelled, you scared him. You ruined him. He is probably going to have to go for counseling when he's forty years old." My children were right. You cannot yell people into holiness. You cannot terrify people into the sacred. My yelling was a far worse violation of the holy place than his picking a few flowers. Later I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on this, reminded, as I frequently was, by my children.

I do that a lot, bluster and yell on behalf of God's holy presence, instead of taking off my shoes myself, kneeling on the holy ground, and inviting whoever happens to be around to join with me. Plato insisted that all authentic philosophy—and we can extrapolate to theology—has its beginning in a sense of wonder. Existence is vastly beautiful, wonderfully good, majestically true. We can only get off on the right foot by beginning in adoration. All authentic anything has its beginning in a sense of wonder. And caring must begin with a sense of adoration and wonder. If we do not begin in adoration, we begin too small. If we begin by formulating a problem, by identifying a need, by tackling a necessary job, by launching a program, we reduce the reality that is before us to what we can do or get others to do.

If we measure the world and the people in it according to our knowledge of it, we leave out most of the data. The most significant data is the God-data. How can we hope to do anything that is healing and whole and blessed if we are out of touch with our environment, unaware of the real world?

So in embarking on our tasks of caring for these troubled souls, these sick bodies, these disordered communities, we need frequent interruptions, someone to say, "Let us worship God" or some equivalent of that, calling us to attention before the environment as it really is, the environment we have ignored in our hurry to get across the street while the light was still green. We begin paying attention to the God-created dimensions in the people around us that we missed in our determination to make them socially acceptable.

"Lord teach us not to care so we can see and hear what you and some of your servants are doing and caring." There are no holy places in the wasteland. That's a given. If we think we are caring in a wasteland, we are going to go at it with everything we've got, all the time. There is nothing to wonder about. In a wasteland anything we do is an improvement on what is there. But if we are in a rose garden, this garden created by God, no matter how dishevelled it is, no matter if beer cans have been thrown into the rose bushes, it is still a rose garden, and there is more to look at than will ever exhaust our wonder and our adoration.

So as Eliot leads us through prayer and poetry into the rhythms of God's creation, a redeemed creation, a creation which is always being shaped by these powers of the cross and a sacrificed Christ working his will in the world, we begin to look around. We do not quit doing things, but we are not so quick to do them on our old presuppositions. God is gracious and gives us responsible tasks to carry out in the garden. But if we lose our sense of the holy, if we lose perception of the sacred, we will only contribute to the deterioration of care. The sad thing, the alarming thing, is this vast deterioration of care which takes place in Christian communities. We have lost the sense of prayer, lost the sense of the sacred. We have gone to work with the best wills in the world, but ignorant of our environment; we think we are working in a wasteland when we are working in a rose garden. Instead of making things better, we are trampling the roses and making things worse.

Teach us to care, teach us to use all these occasions of need that are the agenda of our work as access to God, as access to neighbor. Teach us to care by teaching us to pray, to pray so that human need becomes the occasion for entering into and embracing the presence and action of God in this life. Teach us to care by teaching us to pray so that those with whom we work are not less human through our caring but become more human. Teach us to care so that we do not become collaborators in self-centeredness, but rather companions in God-exploration. Teach us to use each act of caring as an act of praying so that this person in the act of being cared for experiences dignity instead of condescension, realizes the glory of being in on the salvation, and blessing and healing of God, and not driven further into neurosis and the wasteland of self.

And, not to care. Teach us to be reverential in all these occasions of need that are the agenda of our work, aware that you were long beforehand with these people, creating and loving, saving and wooing them. Teach us the humility of not caring, so that we do not use anyone's need as a workshop to cobble together makeshift, messianic work that inflates our importance and indispensability. Teach us to be in wonder and adoration before the beauties of creation and the glories of salvation, especially as they come to us in these humans who have come to think of themselves as violated and degraded and rejected. Teach us the reticence and restraint of not caring, so that in our eagerness to do good, we not ignorantly interfere in your caring. Teach us not to care so that we have time and energy and space to realize that all our work is done on holy ground and in your holy name, that people and communities in need are not a wasteland where we feverishly and faithlessly set up shop, but a garden, a rose garden in which we work contemplatively.

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood.
Teach us to care and not to care.
Teach us to sit still, even among these rocks. Amen.

Table of Contents



Saint Mark: The Basic Text for Christian Spirituality
Back to Square One: God Said
Spirit Quest
Writers and Angels: Witness to Transcendence
The Seminary as a Place of Spiritual Formation


The Holy Stump
Jeremiah as an Ascetical Theologian
Learning to Worship from St. John’s Revelation
Apocalypse: The Medium Is the Message
Resurrection Quartet


Holy Luck


Poetry from Patmos: St. John as Pastor, Poet, and Theologian
Masters of Imagination
Sheep in Wolfe’s Clothing
Kittel among the Coffee Cups
Mastering Ceremonies
Teach Us to Care, and Not to Care
Unexpected Allies
Novelists, Pastors, and Poets
Pastors and Novels


A Conversation with Eugene Peterson
Subversive Spirituality
On Pentecostals, Poets, and Professors
Of Passion, Prayer, and Poetry

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