Saturday, November 12, 2011

Faithful Presence

In the last third of his 2010 book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World James Davison Hunter develops an alternative approach to our dominant secular culture, one that is not adversarial. He advocates “faithful presence” and argues this is the model most appropriate for our current historical context—which he calls exile. He cites Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the Babylonian Exile as relevant to us. I would also point to Joseph’s service to the Pharaoh in Egypt. Like those Israelites we must seek to bless those of the dominant culture while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of our own spiritual calling. Hunter develops and emphasizes the concept of shalom, drawing on both the Old and the New Testaments. We are to be representatives and transmitters of the shalom of God—the harmony, wholeness, beauty of God—seeking and sharing God’s shalom with all others to the fullest extent possible.

To effectively develop and share God’s shalom, we must first be faithfully present to God and then faithfully present to fellow Christians. Only if these first two sets of relationships are real and active can we be effectively present to those outside the church. All these relationships need to be incarnated in genuine, actual practices.

Clearly the first and foremost relationship is with God. If this relationship is not vibrant, then all our other relationships will not be as they should. To practice being faithfully present to God, Hunter identifies these kinds of disciplines: “participation in the sacraments, collective adoration, repentance, contemplation, intercession, devotion, and service” (244). In terms of individual devotion, he specifically mentions “prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, and solitude” (244). Unfortunately many of these practices are not emphasized in contemporary circles. Enthusiastic worship and eloquent preaching are often promoted, but meditation, solitude, interior silence, and the like are given only lip service at best, at least in most circles, perhaps piously encouraged, but if so, only in vague, non-specific ways that fail to challenge and/or actually help most believers develop in-depth spiritually.

But in fact these practices are central, core. As Hunter says, "It is important to remember that Christianity – in its beliefs and practices – is defined from the center out" (281). If instead of making God and relationship with him the center, we make “a certain understanding of the good in society the objective, [then] the source of the good – God himself and the intimacy he offers – becomes nothing more than a tool to be used to achieve that objective” (285). When this happens, as it has numerous times in Christian history, the results always include the tragic and grotesque. In contrast, our lives both individually and as Christian community, need to be expressions love, beauty, and harmony. My prayer is that God will indeed help us to be faithfully present to him and to one another in these ways.
--Rickey

4 comments:

Paul Corrigan said...

What Hunter has to say is beautiful and gets at so much of what is central to Christianity. Thank you for sharing this with us. I pray your prayer with you.

Kait said...

Amen to your prayer. I may look into that book as well.

Anna Cotton said...

Rickey, thank you for this clear, meaningful expression of "faithful presence." I particularly like these two sentences: “We are to be representatives and transmitters of the shalom of God—the harmony, wholeness, beauty of God—seeking and sharing God’s shalom with all others to the fullest extent possible.” And “To effectively develop and share God’s shalom, we must first be faithfully present to God and then faithfully present to fellow Christians.”

Amen. What a gift for our community to be able to grow together in practices that support incarnating our hearts' desires! I’m so grateful for the life we share.
--Anna

Daniel said...

Rickey, what a beautiful reflection! If I may be forgiven for jumping in on an old post, I really appreciate Hunter's warning against confusing our priorities, reminding us that our faith is "defined from the center out." It reminds me of your proverb to "keep no-thing at the center," a sacred space for God to inhabit. This, too, is my prayer.

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