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Through conversations, non-fiction, poetry and music, this Forecast explores various dimensions of Christian worship. The main part of the episode is an interview with Will Shine about his studying worship, theology and the arts at Fuller Theological Seminary, California. Host: Josh Seligman
Outline of today's Forecast, including links
'Two Things Have I Heard' by Josh Seligman
A non-fiction piece about worship (from today's Forecast)
My toes, legs, and knees were shaking. Although I was standing on warm stone, I felt the wind could have lifted my feet and poured me over the edge. In the distance, red tables and towers of stone stood crooked over the Arizonan desert. Twenty feet below, the bright river was foaming and hungry.
'Do we go head first?' I said.
'No, you’ll want to pencil it.' Dustin held out two fingers pushed together pointing down.
We counted from three and jumped.
Like a pencil, I thought.
My feet smacked blue, and I slipped into the shadows of the Colorado River, the waters surging around me, first cold and then warm. I felt like Jonah must have felt just before being hurled out of the great fish. I pushed my arms down and surfaced, we made some kind of sound like laughter, and the wind was strong against our faces.
Ten years ago, I began attending a Quaker graduate school. I hardly knew anything about Quakerism before I studied there; my main reason for going was because they had a unique programme in writing as a form of Christian ministry. However, it was fascinating to learn about Quaker theology and especially how this played out in their worship.
Quakers believe the light of God shines in all people, and if we listen with discernment, we can hear God speaking to us. Quakers listen together through a form of worship called 'open' or 'waiting worship', in which a gathering of people sits in silence waiting for the Spirit. When someone believes God is giving them a message for the group, they are encouraged to stand and speak.
During my first semester, when I began sitting in waiting worship, memories of jumping into the Colorado River would come to me. Only now, the river I was looking into during worship was darkness and silence.
Although I tried listening for God’s voice, I would often wonder what God sounded like. For instance, how could I distinguish between God’s words and my own thoughts? Later that semester, I read a story that helped. It’s about when the prophet Elijah heard God’s voice.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11–13, NIV)
Once during waiting worship, I thought I heard God speak. A paraphrase of a verse from Psalm 62 swirled in my mind: 'One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O Lord, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.'
Is this God? I wondered. Should I stand and speak this? I reasoned that among the three others in the room, probably none of them needed to hear it.
During my inner wrestling, someone walked out of the room, and then the prompting left me. I felt like Jonah might have felt when he was swallowed by the great fish.
In the ten years since then, I’ve participated in a variety of other forms of worship. I now worship regularly with Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox Christians. I’m thankful for what I experienced among Quakers of contemplation and silence – and I no longer have flashbacks in the middle of services of cliff-jumping into rivers.
But if I did, I imagine I would recall the events surrounding the second time I ever cliff-jumped.
It was the summer after visiting the Colorado River. I was in Kansas celebrating a wedding, and for the bachelor party, about eleven of us drove to Two Buttes, Colorado, where apparently we were going to jump off a cliff.
'There's different ledges', said Erik as he drove a carful of us between corn fields into the sunset. 'You can jump it from thirty feet, forty feet, or even sixty feet. But we'll only jump from forty feet.'
Someone asked about the possibility of rocks.
'An underwater current connects the lagoon to the reservoir, so there’s no bottom', Erik said.
Tall trees loomed over the campground. At the end, shadowed by cliffs, black ripples shimmered beneath a large moon.
One by one, the guys swam to the other side, where they heaved themselves onto a bank, climbed a cliff, and jumped into the darkness. I couldn’t see them; I could only hear feet scraping dirt, a stretch of silence, and then a deep splash. Afterwards they yelped to let us know they made it.
Along with a few others, I didn’t jump the cliff that night (I did the next morning, though). One guy’s ankle was sprained, making it risky. Another said, 'There’s no way I’m jumping off that.'
As Quakers say, Friend spoke my mind.
When we returned to the campground, Erik invited us to climb the nearby Two Buttes. We all drove a few miles away and parked beside a field of shrubs and rocks. Two silhouettes of stony, sandy pyramids rose skyward. We hiked around cacti and clambered over boulders.
When we reached the top, we each found a spot on which to rest. Some guys shouted. The land stretched before us like the ocean. We could barely see our cars parked below, beside the wiry road. Beyond them, red lights from steel towers pulsed.
Up there, the wind was almost as strong as water. At one point, I stood with my arms sticking out, leaning into the wind. Then for a few moments, we sat and stood, facing the moon and wind in silence.
Josh Seligman is the founding editor of Foreshadow and a co-host of its podcast, Forecast.