The Receptive Life

"We are beggars; this is true." (Martin Luther)

The Receptive Life Goes to Africa

Sometimes you find a book and at other times the book finds you.

Two found me.

The first, “A Minister’s Prayer Book: An Order of Prayers and Readings” by John Doberstein, introduced himself to me at a retired pastor’s library book sale on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary. It was 1987, the first week of seminary. I was young and passionate, full of idealistic notions about the pastoral office. The prayer book was old and seasoned, well worn but not worn out, still full of wisdom for anyone who would take the time to listen. Most days over the last 25 years I’ve listened. Sometimes, to my regret, I didn’t.

When I listened, Doberstein introduced me to a few of his friends. I count two in particular as close as, or closer than, a brother. Both of them are from the family of Martin Luther’s writings. The first spoke of the formation of a pastor and was entitled “Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio:  A Right Way to Study Theology” (p. 287).

Here’s part of the conversation from Luther:

Moreover, I want to point out to you a correct way of studying theology, for I have had practice in that … This is the way taught by holy King David (and doubtlessly used also by all the patriarchs and prophets) in the one hundred nineteenth Psalm. There you will find three rules, amply presented throughout the whole Psalm.

They are Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio. (John Kleinig writes more about this concept here)

The second friend Doberstein introduced me too was a little letter that Luther wrote to his barber, Peter, to teach him how to pray. He entitled it “A Simple Way to Pray: For Master Peter, the Barber” (p.437) Here’s the introduction to his letter:

Dear Master Peter,

I’ll do my best to show you how I approach prayer. May our Lord God help us all to do better in this regard. Amen.

First, sometimes I feel I am becoming cold and apathetic about prayer. This is usually because of all the things that are distracting me and filling my mind. I know this is a result of the flesh and the devil always waging war against me, trying to prevent me from praying.

When this happens I like to take my little book of the Psalms and sneak away into a little room, or, if it is the right time or day, I like to go to church with other people.

First, I read and consider what God is teaching me. Second, I turn to thanksgiving on account of what God has done. Third, I confess my sin based upon the text. Fourth, I use the text to say a prayer for strong faith.

I’ve spent many hours with Doberstein and company and they’re the ones responsible for the core ideas of The Receptive Life.

The second book that found me was “West With the Night” by Beryl Markham. Ernest Hemingway had this to say after he read her book:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book “West With the Night”? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. If felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever what was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But she can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.” (West With the Night, from the Introduction)

A friend of mine, Ken Gire, introduced me to her at a writing seminar he was teaching in Colorado Springs. During one session he walked us word by word through the first two paragraphs of Chapter XII, “Hodi!” It was like an artistic docent leading the way through the Louvre. Here’s one of the sights along the way:

The trees that guard the thatched hut where I live stand in disorganized ranks, a regiment at ease, and lay their shadows on the ground like lances carried too long. (page 119)

When Markham told her stories, they were more than sentences about a place or a recounting of events, they were a song. Her words and phrases and pace and descriptions all had the right rhythm, an elegant tone, a sweeping melody. Every note was in the right place. (Much like the scaling horns and rhythmic drums I now hear in the background).

Markham spoke of Africa, a place so near in words but far from visiting.

Until now.

And so, together with my friends from 25 years of ministry, off to Africa we go.

“I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of firstborn adventure.” (West With the Night, p. 7)

Post Note:

If you’d like to follow the work my family and I will be doing in Africa, you can go to the “Lutherans In Africa” website. I’ll be posting some guest blogs over the next couple of weeks. You can also follow the Lutherans In Africa FaceBook page.

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