By Steven Norris
Who among us had failed to witness the roller coaster of outrage and emotion present in our current cultural context? Too often, in an attempt to get noticed, news headlines trot out the bright shiny object of the day. What are we supposed to be outraged about today? What is the latest fashion? What is the hot new gadget, movie, or song?
Short of just pulling the covers back up over our head and refusing to get out of bed, is there a different way? How do we maintain our sanity and balance in such a world? How do we keep our focus on what is truly important in life?
I have found value in taking time each day to converse with saints. I don’t mean engaging in some strange seance with dim lights and soft, repetitive chanting. I mean engaging and investing in reading the rich written resources that they left behind.
Practically, this involves “active” reading — talking back to the saints, wrestling with their ideas, and filling the margins of my books with notes and my own “push back.” This kind of interactive reading creates a dialogue that challenges me to bring their deep insights into my contemporary world. By annotating books in this way, I can go back and see the movement of the Holy Spirit in my life over time.
These conversations have also revealed a few things to me. First, saints don’t care much for headline news. They aren’t interested in flimsy musings on the latest fad or fashion, and they aren’t interested in quick fixes. Second, saints are focused on the slow, ongoing work of shaping my soul and awakening me to the presence of God in my life and in my world. They are invested in the things that truly last. Third, I have found that the saints are fully and inexorably human. Despite our tendency to place saints on a pedestal, I have found that their writings reveal lives sunk deep in the soil of everyday living with all its opportunities and temptations.
Bernard of Clairveaux revives my passion for the love of God. Francis of Assisi revitalizes my heart for simple obedience and service. Theresa of Avila fires my imagination for the depth of communion in prayer. Thomas a Kempis reminds me of the importance of becoming like Christ. Augustine of Hippo grounds me in complete surrender to God. These conversations have been a healing balm. They keep my feet on the ground and prevent me from being carried away by the shifting wind of daily spectacle.
If you are interested in having some of these conversations on your own, but aren’t sure where to start, let me suggest a few books I have found to be helpful: Devotional Classics and Spiritual Classics, both edited by Richard Foster; Walking with Saints by Calvin Miller; and A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, published by The Upper Room.
However you choose to access these writings, I encourage you to take an intentional step away from the undulating spectacle that is modern media this week and ground yourself in something substantive, something with deep life-giving roots, something that will last.