Copy of an email sent tonight (Saturday) to my spiritual director. Lightly edited in the interest of making sense and removing obvious illiteracies.

Hi Sister —

Just a quick note — quicker than usual this month — to confirm that unless I hear otherwise from you, I’ll be calling you Monday at 2:30 p.m. for our July spiritual direction session. 

The notes are quicker than usual because I’ve been otherwise occupied. At the beginning of July I was notified my proposal was accepted for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s fall conference on Illinois history.. So I have to write the durn thing, and I’ve been crashing a 12,000-word draft ever since. Finished an Anne Lamott-style draft earlier today, in fact, but it’s as rough as a cob and will require extensive editing. This is a major undertaking.

I guess it’s kinda, sorta, maybe a little bit spiritual — working title is “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Lutheran Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860,” and it’s about one of those interminable 19th-century theological disputes that make me glad I live now, even in the middle of a global pandemic.

But I won’t bore you with it.

When I wasn’t churning out the draft paper, I did get to put a few journals up on my blog. If there’s a common theme to them — and looking back over them, I think maybe there is — they relate to a growing sense I’m getting that my spiritual life is going to have to center more on reading scripture than it was before. Especially when I’m not able to attend church in person, The first one came from a book review I saw in Christian Century (kind of a mainline Protestant equivalent of Commonweal or America). It brought up the idea of scripture in a new way, and it got me thinking.

1. — (June 24): “Phillip Cary on Luther — sola scriptura with a twist of performance anxiety”

Instead of quoting from my journal, I’ll quote from Philip Cary, a college teacher who wrote the book that was reviewed:

In fact, in a sermon on Christmas Day, 1519, Luther comes right out and says the Gospel is a sacrament. It has the same structure and operation that Catholic theology finds in all the sacraments, which are external signs efficaciously conferring the grace they signify on those who properly receive them. Luther simply adds: The proper reception of the word of the Gospel is faith alone. Hence in the sermon he says that “all the Gospel stories are a kind of sacrament, that is, sacred signs through which God brings about, in those who believe, whatever the story designates.” This is why the story of Christ differs from every other history we might study. Even in the four gospels, the life and deeds of Peter, John, or Mary offer us only examples of righteousness and virtue to follow, whereas the story of Christ actually gives us the righteousness, virtue, and salvation it signifies, just as baptism gives us new birth, because what we receive by believing this story is Jesus Christ himself. On Christmas Day we can come to Bethlehem and find a tender maiden with a baby on her lap and say, “Mother, this baby is mine also.”

The next post is more a collection of notes to myself for future reference, when and if I get back to the idea of the indwelling of Christ through faith

2. — (begun June 29, finally uplinked July 10): An unfinished outline on a Finnish theologian: Mannermaa, theosis and Lutheran-Russian Orthodox dialog

I’ll just give you my headnote:

NOTE: This is something about Luther’s concept of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that I was working on last month, before I learned my proposal had been accepted for the Illinois History Conference sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum — and my priorities changed! Now I have to crash my paper, another real spellbinder on creolization in Swedish Lutheran immigrant congregations from 1848 to 1860, and I won’t be able to get back to Luther and the Holy Spirit till later. In the meantime, I’m going public with my preliminary notes and links so I’m less likely to forget about them altogether.

… and a quote from Luther himself that I want to follow up on, in an article by Jane Strohl in the _Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology_: 

We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbour. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbour through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbour. [Strohl, p. 365] (The Freedom of a Christian (1520), WA7.69,1-6; LW 31.371

Deep stuff!

Finally, at the beginning of this week, I got around to writing something on the lectionary readings. We’re doing Zoom sessions on them every Thursday in my parish, and it’s getting a little better every time we do it — this is the third or fourth week now — and really valuable in helping me feel connected to the church.

2. — (July 13): “A parable of sowing the word of the kingdom of heaven on YouTube and Facebook (for Pentecost VI)”

This gives the gist of it, and my main takeaway (this time in my words):

Martin Luther, who may have been the last Lutheran to be comfortable with emerging technologies when he mastered the printing press in 1517, no doubt would be relieved. The word, according to Luther, is the law and the gospel. And the church — well, at least according to the Augsburg Confession, in which Luther had a hand — is “the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”

There’s something else Luther said that I’ve been thinking about lately. In an offhand remark in a personal letter, as translated by Jaroslav Pelikan, “we are Christs — with and without the apostrophe (Christi sumus in nominativo et genitivo in Luther’s original Latin). In other words, we belong to Christ and we do Christ’s work in the world.

Part of that work, part of our vocation as Luther would say, is proclaiming the word. And that we can do online. Hear it and proclaim it. With and without the apostrophe.

Wow! Luther, Luther, Luther. Well, he was all about reading the bible. Sola scriptura, and all that. Before COVID-19 came to town, I had been experiencing the presence of God primarily through the sacraments and in other people. Now that I’ve been in quarantine for four months, I have less opportunity to do that — or it’s moved online — so, anyway, it seems like a good idea to step up my game with scripture. Certainly those Thursday morning bible study sessions on Zoom are a good start, and maybe now that I’ve at least churned out a first draft of the paper, I’ll have time to get back to lectio [divina] and the other spiritual exercises. And, you know, actually *read* the bible.

— Pete

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