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I come from a tradition that is suspicious of written or scripted prayer, believing that spontaneity is a sign of sincerity and casting askance glances at those who must borrow the words of others in order to talk to God. Then I became a mother and realized that not only were my own words in prayer untrustworthy at times, but there were also events in life for which words would not come. Praying the examen of conscience at the end of a day has often given my tired brain a place to go and an outline to guide my conversation with God.
Light When It Comes by Chris Anderson is a guide book for the practice of “paying fierce attention” to life in order to enhance one’s prayer life and to ensure that we catch all the stories that matter. At the end of the day, it is helpful to me to remember that I have an audience with God and to review the events of the day with thanksgiving, paying attention to emotions, to the ways in which guidance has come and miracles have happened. It is also a time to offer up all the failings and disappointments for forgiveness and grace and to make plans for a more Christ-centered tomorrow.
In the midst of this reflection, I find that life distills down to a series of moments.
“The only place I can be is the moment.
Everything else is an abstraction.” (25)
Chris Anderson intersperses his teaching on joy and prayer with vivid re-tellings of moments from his own life in a way that I found to be jarring at first: a story about a yellow warbler calling “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweeter-than-sweet” jostles around between a vignette from a funeral and a description of the sound of his son playing the harmonica with a Bruce Springsteen CD. Eventually, though, these disjointed stories began to “appear in their real potency,” just as the unsettling stories of Scripture do when we let them speak for themselves and to communicate beyond the stained glass and the flannel boards.
Reviewing the events of the day in the presence of God is an opportunity to face the darkness as well as to remember the joy. This too is part of the paying attention, part of the humility that acknowledges that “God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things“– including the things we wonder about.
The author examines servanthood from his perspective as a church member and a deacon, acknowledging his own mixed motives (the only kind of motives available to humans), and the thirst that tries to satisfy itself with something other than Living Water (Praise? Order? Certainty? No, these do not quench the thirst . . .)
He portrays service as a learning process:
“Whatever else it is, the story of Jesus is the story of letting go and the giving up we have to do every day of our lives.” (86)
This paying attention to life means that God shows up in surprising ways: in the midst of confusion, on the days when I don’t like myself, when what I really need to do is to stop analyzing and to start trusting. It is a recognition of the humility of a simple “and” when viewing the pieces that make up the mosaic of our lives, not striving for or forcing our way into “thus” or “therefore” before light has come, but offering up the individual events, both good and bad, so that the creation of the mosaic is, in the end, left to God.
Pay Attention to the Moments
Chris closes with two premises that bring the pieces together into a joyful whole:
- “God is present in every moment and in every molecule. His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.
- The love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, [and] there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them. No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second. Yes, we should strive to be better, we should strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.”
Having said all that, it is not in premises that Light When It Comes urges us to find our life, but rather in the blessed randomness of holy joy that flows into the wildly disjointed pieces of our moments and our days, making of it all a gift.
This book was provided by the William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”