There was nothing particularly unusual or newsworthy about my father-in-law’s death at age 84. Even so, it was unsettling, given that until his diagnosis of stage four cancer on March 1, he had been living alone in his home and was seemingly healthy—and that despite his doctor’s prognosis of having several months to live, he died after only three more weeks.
One night over burgers and some libation, a seminary classmate declared, “Theology and exegesis won’t matter once you’re in the parish. All that will matter is whether you work hard, and whether they like you or not.” The rest of us scoffed, but now that I’ve been doing parish work for 25 years, I sometimes suspect that he’s right.
As a lectionary preacher who works mainly on Sundays, I have spent much of my preaching life grazing the well-fertilized pastures that my tradition has laid out for me. Sometimes I press up against the fence, drooling over an especially tasty-looking morsel from 1 Chronicles or 2 John, but on the whole I stay where I am supposed to stay.
What prompts our fascination with Lincoln? Perhaps it is our frustration with the quality of current politicians. Our political climate seems to favor self-absorbed spin doctors rather than people whose judgments are marked by reasoned reflection and courageous action.
When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).