To see God
Contemplation and meditation in active, others–focused ministry
As a colonel in The Salvation Army, Samuel Logan Brengle wrote an essay entitled “The Mystic, Wondrous Universe in my Backyard (for tired and retired officers).” He opens with words from poet Robert Browning’s “Saul.”
“I but open my eyes—and perfection, no more and no less,
In the kind I imagined full fronts me, and God is seen; God
In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul, and the clod.”
Brengle writes on, “I am discovering a universe in my backyard. I am not sure that I have lived so intimately with my darling little wife as I have for forty years lived with St. Paul. Far more constantly and intimately than he lived and travelled with his friend Barnabas, and his young lieutenants, Silas, Titus, Epaphroditus, and Timothy, has he lived, travelled, slept, and talked with me, only I did the sleeping. I never found him napping. At any hour of the day or night he was waiting wide–awake and ready for me.”
The Gospel, and the ministry that comes with it, doesn’t sleep. In the words of a recent red kettle campaign, “Need Knows No Season,” there’s always more to do. There’s always another sermon to write, another list to make, another project to plan, another budget to complete, another report to compile, and another looming deadline.
For people in ministry, the temptation to “work ‘til you drop” is real. All too often that temptation comes with expectations, either from within or from the administrative layers and leaders above. In his essay, Brengle writes about a “whirlwind schedule” including long hours of travel in Chicago, New York, and a trip to Texas. By the time he reached there, he had suffered an utter physical and emotional breakdown that left him bedridden for three weeks. Upon returning to New York, a doctor ordered six months of rest, which led to Brengle writing the article.
Brengle vulnerably admits in his article that, throughout his life, he may have lived more intimately with his study of the Bible than with his wife. As he discovered, we must break the work cycle before it breaks us. Don’t wait 10 or 20 or 30 years to discover the universe right in your backyard. Let us pray that we would know Scripture intimately, but not at the sacrifice of ourselves and our relationships. Does one truly know the Gospel if that knowledge comes at such a great cost?
This month, take time to slow down and see God. As one rabbi put it, “Take Sabbath or Sabbath will take you.”
by Chris Stoker
“I have labored for souls, sung and prayed and preached in crowded, steaming, ill–ventilated halls, pleading with souls and dealing with penitents in an atmosphere so depleted of oxygen and poisoned that every pore of my body, every lung cell and red blood corpuscle cried out for fresh air, and now I have turned to my backyard to get what I need. It has been waiting for me for ten years.”
—Samuel Logan Brengle, “The Universe in My Backyard The Staff Review” Volume V Number 2 (1925): 142