Tour of Sacred Spaces: Seminaries, Monasteries, and Writer’s Offices, oh my!

I took my annual “pilgrimage” to Atlanta this past week and spent time contemplating sacred spaces. Although the first stop on my tour led to my old seminary whereby I attended a preaching conference, my time began at an interfaith prayer labyrinth we commissioned several years ago.

I remember the commissioning like it was just last week: the CBF Baptist-Muslim task force and the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University partnered in building and dedicating the garden. I read a prayer of dedication that day.

When I arrived on Mercer’s campus this past week, I walked the labyrinth and sat on one of the benches for 30 minutes. That was 30 minutes . . . without reaching for my phone. Without getting bored. Without becoming restless or distracted. Thirty minutes of just sitting, contemplating the importance of this place–a center of a labyrinth, which required me to walk in and from among the margins to the center, which takes about 10 minutes.

I mean, you can easily walk through the labyrinth, bypassing the zig-zagging stone “walls”, which means walking about 14 feet from the border to the center in about 30 seconds, but that would be cheating.

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But a pilgrim walks in prayer and contemplation, which includes 4 circuits towards the center, away from the center, around, and back again.

My walk burdened me with the importance of pilgrimage and sacred spaces: We come to the center to really come home to God. This, my seminary, and this place–Atlanta–is my home of homes, I’m convinced. After all, I got two post-grad degrees here, raised my children here, pastored my first church here, and made life-long friends.

But I can’t stay at the center. No one can. Its only half the pilgrimage, and God sends us out into the world.

I come to Atlanta twice a year for this reason: There’s always a preaching conference, a day pilgrimage to a monastery in Conyers, and time with our good friends. Then I go back to ministry, family, and my beloved church in Florida. It is a circuit following the Holy Spirit to the interior places of my life, in-and-out, and back beyond the border to the exterior places where I do business, where I am learning to transition my children to adulthood so they can leave home and go into the world on their own.

It is ironic, by the way, that this year’s preaching conference welcomed theologian Miroslav Volf who lectured on home and the significance of God making God’s home among God’s people.

God builds homes and welcomes us; we come home and then are tasked with welcoming others; and then we go forth and build other homes in order to welcome the world.

I decided to do a few videos on the pilgrimage this time around, which you can find here. Entering and exiting these two locations– the seminar and the monastery (and out again) –have become as natural and invigorating as breathing, like a breath of fresh air, or coming up for air.

But now my week is coming to a close, and I am ready to dive deep into the world for another season of ministry to which God calls, from deep to deep, so I can show others how to be pilgrims too.

Hungering for Righteousness…

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In his 1969 devotional, Think on These Things, Norval Pease provides a compelling thought about righteousness.  It is a reflect on  the beatitude in which Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6):

Certain attitudes and practices ruin the appetite for goodness… Just as children aren’t hungry at mealtime when they have eaten too much candy between meals, so preoccupation with the follies and pleasures of the world may ruin our appetite for the things God has for us.  Sensational fiction may cause us to reject the Bible.  The theater may dampen our desire for the church.  Excessive concern with sports may make serious Christian service unappetizing.  Only when we keep our appetites healthy will we desire the things we need most.

For what are we hungering and thirsting?”

These words, penned so many years ago, seem as if they could have been recorded today.  What is the object of our hunger and thirst?  How do we fill our insatiable appetite, and how do we try to fill up on things of this world?

Although I am one for a good movie, a moving piece of fiction, and a Braves baseball game, at what point does our preoccupation with entertainment become an idol and act of “corporate worship”?

Jesus promised that his presence is sufficient, and that his Spirit will fill us.  We need not look elsewhere–Jesus is all we need.  Drink deeply, and meditate on his character, his person, and his presence.  Thirst for the things of God: justice, peace, love, faith.  Desire God’s will, and “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these shall be added unto you.”

What is more Important: Bible Study or Prayer?

According to Donald Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word.”

Put in context of his writing, Whitney asserts that reading the Bible is the most important spiritual discipline for Christians.  I have some other ideas–namely, that prayer is the most important discipline.  Its important to read about God in the Bible and to learn from God’s Word, but is that more important than talking to God directly?

What do you think?

Comment below!