Simple Free does a book study group on Wednesday nights at upstream brewery downtown. We’ve been reading through 131 Christians, which gives you brief accounts of the lives of various Christians. This week was “inner travelers” which covered early desert monks up to Oswald Chambers– pretty diverse.
Many of these figures are refered to as mystics– which can mean that they have extatic experiences of God’s presence, such as visions, etc. These Christians try to help nurture that sort of experiential awareness of the presence of God in various ways. I found these figures really remarkable, and personally Brother Laurence, Andrew Murray and Oswald Chambers have had a huge impact on me– I read them constantly along with Watchman Nee when I was 12-18 years old.
The earliest figure we studied was Anthony of Egypt 251-356 We know of him from hagiography by Athanasius, an early Church father. Anthony become a lover of God by resisting the Devil and Yielding to Christ: “the mind of the soul is strong when the pleasures of the body are weak.” He lived for times near the tombs, then in a deserted roman fort for 20 years. Some of his preported sayings are in Apophthegmata, a collection of sayings of desert fathers and mothers
Second was Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179 who thought her visions and interpretations were from God. Born in Germany during first Crusade, she was given as tithe to God (youngest of 10)Joined a Benedictine convent, she was controversial, but respected because she was always pushing for holiness and reform. Scivias is her best known work.
Catherine of Siena 1347-1380 at age 7 saw vision, and her parents gave her basement room as hermitage (whether this was because she was a brat or because of their respect for he vision, who knows). She was #23 of 25 children. Helped with black plague (1348-1350) with a Dominican “third Order” who helped poor. She was known for her feisty personality, and exemplary sanctity and Spiritual marriage to Christ. Tirelessly cared for poor. Exhorted pope to return to Rome in 1377 and leave the corrupt French situation at Avignon. (Gregory XI) Died at 33, made doctor of church in 1970.
Thomas a Kempis 1380-1471 wrote the Imitation of Christ. Early he joined a Dutch Augustinian monastery: Brethren of the common Life. He had many good quotes, such as, “The only man who can safely appear in public is the one who wishes he were at home. He alone can safely speak who prefers to be silent.”
Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 Was a Carmelite (nun) Mystic. Waffled spiritually at a convent in early years. Convicted by God, she began to establish simple Carmelite convents, and worked to reform. She had three works: Autobiography, Way of Perfection, Interior Castle, in which she spoke of progressive disengagement from things of this world. “Rest, indeed! I need no rest, what I need is crosses.”
John of the Cross 1542-1591 Was aSpanish mystic who heaped suffering on himself. Kidnapped by church authorities, put in a cell too short to stand up in. He wrote the Ascent of Mt Carmel, and believed that messages of the senses distort the reality of union with God.
Brother Lawrence 1611-1691 Was an example of simplicity and humble grace: he understood the holiness available within the common business of life. His famous short little work ins “The Practice of the Presence of God” in which he encourages believers to seek God in the simple day to day tasks, and worship as you live normal life. Poverty forced him to join army. But his experience looking at a barren tree—realizing the hope of summer abundance despite the current dead appearance– inspired him to seek God in the everyday. Joining a monastery, he was assigned to the monastery kitchen. Speaking of all the various disciplines of monastic life, he said, “Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” Common business is for Laurence the medium of God’s love. Love of God made every detail of his life of surpassing value.
William Law 1686-1761 said “So far as you add philosophy to religion, just so far you spoil it” Having little patience for theoretical religion, he wanted concrete personal devotion, and stirred up readers to renewed moral vigor and holiness. His most famous work is “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”
Andrew Murray 1828-1917 Was Dutch Reformed who said that the basis of Christianity is continually casting oneself on Christ. “May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence” For him, obstacles to a meaningful life were half-hearted surrender to God, lack of confidence, skepticism about prayer. “With Christ in the School of Prayer” and “Humility” are perhaps two of his most powerful books for nurturing spiritual discipline.
Oswald Chambers 1874-1917 Converted under Charles Spurgeon. Realized that “God has no respect fo anything I bring him. All he wants from me is unconditional surrender” Chambers believed that spritiual mediocrity was often the result of mental lethargy. Called his listeners to live aggressively for God. God’s will can be found in any circumstance of life, so long as individuals abandon themselves to Christ. “When he brings us to the venture, we take it…” His MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST is a classic Christian devotional– helping one to take their faith more seriously. One year at Bethel I bought a copy for each of my students– all 120 of them. I know that mom and dad started using it when I was about 8 because, according to them, I was bored with ‘our daily bread’ devotional… 🙂
I was especially challenged by these thinkers, their lives, and especially their seriousness in putting aside all pursuits but to seek God. Some, like Anthony, did that by leaving the world behind and being in isolated solitude, but most of the others did that as they worked to change the world and the church and bring about reform and spiritual renewal right where thery were– even in the monastic kitchen as they peeled potatoes!!
I hope we can all find ways to focus our attention on what really matters throughout our days. The writings of these Church pillars can help us to do that, if we put forth the effort to pursue it…
May God have mercy on us all…