Thursday, October 1, 2009

Done Better Elsewhere

Holy Fools: Following Jesus with Reckless Abandon
by Matthew Woodley

Holy Fools is a look at the early desert mystics and the way faith permeated their entire existence, rather than being a dusty, boring faith that sits on a shelf until Sunday morning. It's worth reading, but Rowan Williams covers quite a bit of the same material in his book Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. It's not that Woodley doesn't have good information, but he seems to have a little more personal ego involved than Williams does. Sometimes a writer protests too much, if that makes sense. He refers over and over again to his own brokenness, and makes the point with tiresome repetition that even as a clergy person he is constantly in need of grace (duh). I am all for humility, but the paradox is that when someone overdoes it, it becomes it's own kind of ego thing. "See how I flagellate myself...see how humble I am...truly I am prostrated at the foot of the cross." Really? Also, Woodley just is not the writer that Williams is. His sentences are not poetry disguised as prose. They do not sing.

Having said that, and in spite of that, Holy Fools has got some good stuff in it. His chapters on surrender and discernment are especially engaging. I like his summation of the early desert fathers' approach to discernment: "Their sense of discernment was informed by two very earthy qualities: God-given common sense and humane balance." Hear hear. Sometimes I encounter people who seem to think that the option that fills you with the most dread and despair must be what God is calling you to do, because after all aren't we supposed to surrender our desires to God's? While I would agree that the road to which God calls us is often not the easiest one, or the one that is initially the most attractive, I also do not think that God wants us to be miserable. We need the balance that Woodley writes about to find the middle ground between our own gifts and affinities and the place where God needs those gifts and affinities. Where those two things intersect is probably the point to which God is calling us.

Woodley's writing is characterized by a gentle humor, which reminds us that joy is supposed to be a major piece of this journey. Lots of his material has been covered before, but some messages bear repeating.

Reverent Reader


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