Eric Wilson is a man who leads by modeling. To serve under his leadership means to be challenged, supported, encouraged, and fed spiritually. He fights for what is right no matter the cost. He works to see racial reconciliation become a reality in his lifetime. I am so honored to call him my friend and one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. He left a void behind when Pepperdine University stole him away to be their Associate Chaplin where he has served for almost a year now. Eric is an award winning playwright & theatrical director; he is also a religious blogger for the Huffington Post. God is doing amazing things through him, and I’m so grateful he’s joining our conversation today. Welcome, Eric.
That early in the morning you wouldn’t expect the air to be thick with humidity and the call of the cicadas. Even at five in the morning the atmosphere in the boot heel of Missouri is redolent with teeming things. As night gives way to day space is filled with condensation, promise, and the possibilities of what can be. This was my granddaddy’s time of day. The time he and God did business. An aluminum lawn chair with frayed green and white plastic webbing perfectly placed under a generous pecan tree was were they met. My brown boy eyes spotted them from a screened in window held open by a spinning box fan. I saw them. I saw my grandfather and God meet. It was 5 am under a pecan tree next to a dirt and gravel drive way on my family’s farm. He met God there daily, sitting on that beat up lawn chair with the day and his Bible opened for the meeting.
Whether it is studying the Bible, meditation, silence, solitude, worship or any other spiritual discipline, the need for modeling is essential. Our faith is shaped by the faith of others. It is a tried and true dynamic. The counter-cultural move toward pushing against the ideational wave of cynicism, selfishness and apathy is far too difficult without seeing others doing it. To be blunt: You can’t teach spiritual disciplines if you don’t practice them yourself. Or as the great R & B band Earth, Wind and Fire once sung, “You can’t give what you never had”! Modeling is key.
Modeling was the way of Christ. Modeling was the way Jesus equipped the next generation of believers. Jesus invited others into deep relationship where He modeled what kingdom living looked like. His apostles learned how to pray by watching Jesus pray. The 12 learned how to pull away in silence and solitude by watching Jesus do the same. They learned what compassionate serving looked like by observing Jesus touching the leper, tending to little children, and wiping tears of harlots and widows.
It is vitally important for us to participate in the spiritual disciplines we would like our loved ones to learn. When we participate in these activities ourselves it offers us credibility when we ask others to try. There are many great by-products of living within the milieu of spiritual development and formation. One of them is spiritual attractiveness. When we immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of formation we gain a depth, light and joy others see and long for. This is spiritual attractiveness. The energy derived from your active engagement in the things of Christ naturally produces a magnetism that draws others into asking, “What do you have that I don’t and better yet how can I get it?” Whether it is your children, loved ones or casual acquaintances our participation paves a way for their connection.
One of the great metaphors of spiritual growth and development is the pilgrimage or journey. We ourselves are on a circuitous path leading to the deepest part of ourselves, which in turn leads us to the deepest part of the heart of God. Each turn on that path is fraught with problems and at the same time possibilities. And we want to be able to assist those we encourage as they bump into the twist and turns they will naturally encounter on their journey inward and upward. Our success or failure in this endeavor is determined by the amount of time we have spent on the path laid before us by our spiritual disciplines.
Rounding the corner of my hallway, I saw a half opened door to my youngest son’s room. His bed was an island, swimming in a sea of cluttered clothes and old 5th grade assignments. The sheets and blanket made up the scattered mounds and dunes of this landmass that was once a made up bed. Everything around this boy was a chaotic mess, except the boy himself. In the middle of the bed was a kid, sitting, still and silent. My first inclination was, “what is wrong with the boy!” So I asked, “Son… are you alright?” After a brief pause a voice of resignation came from the depth of his small boy frame saying, “I’m fine. I was just meditating.” He closed his eyes again and entered into a peace that surpassed all the messiness of the room. I saw them. I saw my son and God keep company together in that cluttered room. My well-worn brown eyes saw their divine encounter. It was an encounter that may not have happened if my son had not seen me do the same so many times before. Seeing silence and solitude in action is now a seemingly familiar thing in the household.
We pass on our practices. We hand them down like heirlooms. These disciplines are our inheritance taken and given. When I’m up at 5 am with my Bible open in my lap I know this is a legacy I’ve been given. When I see my son sit in silence I know this is a heritage bestowed. This places us all in an ever-flowing stream of formational activity that will ultimately lead us all to the deepest part of the heart of God.