Life on the Edge

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Recently, my thinking has been pretty edgy. By that I mean that I have been thinking about what it means to attend to life’s growing edges. “Living on the edge” is not a lifestyle that appeals to me. It conjures up the image of driving along a narrow road that drops off down a massive cliff. One accidental nudge of the wheel or tap on the gas and you will be falling into oblivion. Some call this risky behavior “thrilling”; I call it “terrifying” and “moronic.” No, I am more of a center person. I prefer the place of predictability and safety. My personal axiom is “consistency is the spice of life.” Even so, I have recently felt spiritually lured toward the edge. What is luring me there?

1.) Jesus lures me there.Jesus was always centered in God and rooted in his Judaism but he definitely spent a lot of time around the edges. He was constantly crossing social, geographical, and spiritual boundaries. And he taught his disciples to do the same. Recently, I have been addressed by those gospel passages in which Jesus invites his followers to walk forward into new spaces of life and ministry:

Take heart; get up, he is calling you. –Mark 10:49

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. –Mark 8:23

Rise, let us be on our way. –John 14:31

But he had to go through Samaria. –John 4:4

Let us go across to the other side. –Mark 4:35

I have not been called to move geographically but to be mentally and spiritually stretched, to enter spaces of ministry that are new. Recovering Abundance has been this kind of experience. Since this ministry is not based in a particular faith community and I don’t have as many models as I’d like, I have had to strengthen new ministry muscles. It has required that I develop a kind of entrepreneurial spirituality. This means that I may be called to follow Jesus not into a church (though surely through or from one) but into new forms of public ministry and community care. After all, doesn’t most of Jesus’ ministry in the gospels take place outside the synagogue?

2.) Celtic spirituality lures me there.

In October, I read a new book called The Soul’s Slow Ripening which explored practices drawn from the Celtic Christian tradition. One insight that caught my attention was how the Celtic monks were drawn to edge places. The Celtic Church was born at the edge of the Roman church and European civilization. In the seventh century, St. Columbanas described his people as ultimi habitatores mundi–“inhabitants of the world’s edge.” They were fascinated by threshold places, where new and old, beginning and end, Earth and Sea, this world and the next meet together. This social and geographic consciousness is reflected in the spirituality of the place and its people. The Irish word for contemplation is rinnfheitheamh, which means literally “at the edge of waiting.” What an evocative description of prayer and meditation. Contemplative practices allow us to stand at the threshold, at the borderlands, and wait for the holy whisper. It allows us to keep watch and keep our eyes open for the call that moves us further up and further in.

3.) Advent lures me there.

I know, I know. It’s not Advent yet. Wait until after the parades, feasts, and food coma naps during the football game. Maybe its the winter weather but I already feel drawn into the Advent narrative. Advent calls us to new ventures and adventures. It is about the arrival of God and welcoming the new into the world. It is about attending to the growing edge. One of the quotes that has shaped my thinking about Advent and spiritual formation in general is one by the spiritual teacher and civil rights leader Howard Thurman:

Look well to the growing edge! All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and [people] have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge! 

It sure seems like we live in a time when “people have lost their reason” and many systems are “out of joint.” What do we do in such a time? We embrace life and attend to the growing edge. This invitation to “look well to the growing edge” has been a clear and searching one in my life of late.

4.) The prophetic tradition lures me there. 

I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but I have been shaped by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. They remind us that God is often found on the margins. They also remind us that true prophetic ministry takes place on the “inside edge,” not from the outside judging those inside or from safely in the middle of the system. It was the author and priest Richard Rohr that first taught me about this prophetic position:

Prophets, by their very nature, cannot be at the center of any social structure. Rather, they are “on the edge of the inside.” They cannot be fully insiders, but they cannot throw rocks from outside either. They must be educated inside the system, knowing and living the rules, before they can critique what is non- essential or not so important. Jesus did this masterfully (see Matthew 5:17-48). This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught the United States, what Gandhi taught British-occupied India, and what Nelson Mandela taught South Africa. Only with great respect for and understanding of the rules can a prophet know how to properly break those very same rules—for the sake of a greater purpose and value. A prophet critiques a system by quoting its own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside.

This is an important insight. It’s rare these days to find people who position themselves in that prophetic space of the “edge of the inside.” It seems that so many people are choosing one of the two extremes–either embracing the safety at the center of their system or standing outside of it completely, lobbing stones of grievance and judgment.

5.) My rural community lures me there. 

Many rural residents and communities feel like they are located on the edge of our country’s reach. It’s no wonder that recent elections have political analysts claiming that many rural folks are feeling “on edge.” There is a sense of being forgotten, ignored, disconnected, and insignificant. Many feel as though they are in the center of the country but on the margins of its political and economic systems. After all, the cities are our centers. The cities and surrounding metro areas are where the important events happen and important decisions are made. Those of us in rural towns are familiar with how we have to describe our home in relation to a city. For example: I live in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, about 40 miles north of Columbus. Mennonite pastor Brad Roth summarizes it well:

Cities are capitals. Cities are centers. All roads lead to Rome…The centers of cultural gravity and attraction are urban. The framework for our thinking and the universities that foster it are urban. In this long-running narrative of the West, civilization is urbanization. Cities are like Nirvana: the enlightened go there…There’s energy and innovation and that magic elixir: youth. 

The wisdom of the world may be that all roads lead to Rome but not so in the logic of Spirit. Not so in the commonwealth of God. For those who follow Christ, the road may very well lead to small towns and rural villages in flyover country. Maybe to start a mission; maybe to start a family. The good news is that Christ promises “Surely, I will be with you always”–and everywhere–“even unto the end of the world”–and the edges of society.

I love my rural hometown. It hides many gifts and I want to see it thrive. But sometimes I want to be elsewhere, where things are happening and people are different. But more than that I want to be rooted. And I want to see what the Living Christ is doing around these edges. Maybe I will even get to join in the work. There is certainly work to be done.

We can do it together. We can do it in many ways. Outside the church, outside traditional centers of power and knowledge. But also inside the church. Again, Roth says it best:

The rural church is a sign of the universal church’s identity, for the rural church reminds us that Christ’s Body is always off-center, always called toward the margins, always skeptical of the claims of the dominant culture. The rural church represents Christ’s commitment to be among all people everywhere, regardless of the value attributed to them by global centers of power. Christ orients the church toward the edges of society.  

Have you ever been lured to life and leadership on the edge?

Are you being called to attend to your growing edge?

How does prayer and prophetic ministry move you to the edges of life in the Spirit?

In what ways is your community at the center or the edge of society?

One thought on “Life on the Edge

  1. Oh my Andy….I will need to think on this commentary. It does resonate with me. We have just returned from the city and I am exhausted. I will have to get back to you on this. I just wanted to let you know that I read this and it seems to be spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

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