This reflection is part of a collection of responses to the theme: “On Civility and Tolerance: What does theological education entail when worlds collide?”
By Hazel Johnson
“I am always impressed by the fact that it is recorded that the only thing that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to do was to pray.” ~Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit, 88
There are many “practical” skills and disciplines one needs to stand at the intersection where worlds collide. I am always moved, however, by Thurman’s description of prayer as such a discipline. It’s a gift to understand prayer as moving toward God and readying oneself for communication with God. I want to share a story I heard about prayer because I think it relates to the “readying” process Thurman talks about. Brother David Vroyorf, a monk in the Episcopal Church, shared this story of his understanding of prayer. Brother David is a musician and when he was learning to play the clarinet his instructor would play an audio recording of the clarinet repeatedly. She would ask him to familiarize himself with that sound. Over time, Brother David‘s music instructor played music that included a few more instruments and she asked him again to identify his instrument. By the end of his final class, Brother David‘s music instructor played a soundtrack from an orchestra and asked him to identify the clarinet. This is the discipline of prayer – listening deeply to the sound of God, familiarizing one’s self with that sound, and preparing the spirit to encounter God.
Thurman’s understanding of prayer as a spiritual discipline is, I believe, the foundation of what theological leadership entails when worlds collide. We must be spiritually grounded and always ready to encounter God in one another. Where worlds collide, there is an opportunity for community. At that intersection, building community takes immense courage. This is not the “I’m here to save the day” kind of courage, but the courage that understands the risk and takes it anyway. This leadership requires a deep commitment to self and other and demonstrates a leader’s ability to enable others to achieve purpose. This risk requires faith. It requires the belief that, even in the midst of uncertainty and fear, this is the way forward. It is faith that life is constantly realizing itself and we have the responsibility to nudge that realizing to a level of deep community. It is this faith-driven courage that not only recognizes the other people standing where the worlds collide, but calls forth the God in them. We must engage the collided worlds in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons for the points of collision, but invites an opportunity to receive the other as an integral part of our own living fully in the world. This is community. This comes, I believe, through moving toward God and readying oneself for communication with God. When worlds collide, God is there. We must be ready, so pray.
Hazel M. Johnson is a Nevada native in her 3rd-year as an MDiv student at the Boston University School of Theology. Her areas of focus include ethical leadership and supporting marginalized groups within society, churches, and higher education institutions.