Tim Keel, Henri Nouwen, Immagination, and Solitude

The past weekend was an amazingly busy mix of activities where I saw God at work in my life and the world around me. The first was the event hosted by Emergent Pittsburgh on Saturday which was led by Tim Keel, pastor of Jacob’s Well, talking about leadership in the emerging church. Sarah Louise talked a little bit about the day on her blog and included a link to an article by Henri Nouwen that Keel recommended. Nouwen’s article, titled “Solitude to Community to Ministry articulated much of what I’ve been feeling this year as I’ve been so busy with seminary, church work, and the stresses (and joys) of living in community. As Nouwen’s article articulates so well, we need time alone with God, to hear God’s voice telling us that we are the Beloved, before we can function appropriately in community and ministry. As an introvert, I have discovered this year just how much time I need to spend alone with God in order to maintain my sanity. What I am discovering now, though, is that frustrations with church, with housemates, with school, and so on, are all tied to the fact that I so often fail to listen intentionally to God in silence and in solitude. Silence and solitude. Over spring break I also finished reading 12 Marks of the New Monasticism, the final chapters of which convicted me strongly that I am not disciplined enough in my own “devotional” life. My morning readings of scripture often devolve from times of prayer into times of study, turning my quiet time into just another seminary exercise. My prayer life has grown dry. Altogether, I need to return to a more disciplined time of spiritual formation. I need to create a place where in silence and in solitude I can learn to listen to God’s voice. Incidentally, this makes me think I need to read more Nouwen and Merton, but I’m honestly too wary of buying one more book to clutter my nightstand or interrupt the readings I have to complete for school.

And there’s the rub: I am being convicted of the fact that I have neglected spirituality and imagination for the sake of the academy, but I won’t let go of the academy. Either way, I need silence and solitude, places where I can hear God’s voice so that I can stay nourished in lives of community and ministry.

The other point that Tim Keel made which struck me the most was the need for imaginative leadership. I used to be a creative writing major in college, but my love of poetry and fiction has been sapped by dense theology books (which I honestly do also love). I need to seek new ways of opening my imagination up to be creative again. I need to learn how to think in terms of narrative and use narrative in my preaching. I need to reawaken my right-brain.

And again, there’s the rub: too many first person singular pronouns.

This need for creativity and a reawakened imagination is obviously tied to the need for more intentional spirituality. I can do none of these things by my own effort, but only by the work of God in me and through me. And that is best realized (at least for me now) in practicing silence and solitude. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to ignore my wife or housemates or go join a monastery – it means that I need to change the wake I approach spirituality, the way I pray, read scripture, think and live, both in community and alone.

Tim Keel of course had many other valuable points on Saturday, many about church organization, the story of Jacob’s Well and his own time at Denver Seminary. Another point which struck me was the idea of stability – but that will be covered in another post. I thank God for this weekend and for the Holy Spirit’s work in all of it.

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2 comments
  1. Sarah Louise said:

    Dude–you didn’t read 12 marks of Monastacism by yourself, did you??? That book is crazy–there should be a label on it: “This book is meant to be read in community.” Because otherwise, you’ll get a HUGE inferiority complex (or you’ll get one anyways.) (I did!!)

    I really liked Tim Keel though. It was nice to hear about “Emergent” from an introvert.

  2. John Garofalo said:

    Chris, I just fell upon your writing from last year, and I have to say that I so well understand the struggle for prayerful solitude. I too struggle yet so well remember from my olden days of seminary and spiritual training that putting oneself in the presence of God is not a doing, but a being. So much of your writing is a wrestle it seems to do, rather that just be. I agree that acquiring that additional book on prayer is just another text on the night stand. God doesn’t require any prerequisites to be in his presence. Simply closing off the stream of noisy preoccupations, or as St. Francis called it, those selfish miseries, and create moments of stillness where our creator and lover can make himself known to us. Just some thoughts. I would appreciate yours as well. Blessings! John

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