The Morning Watch

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Preparing for the Visitation

We never come to thoughts. They come to us.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

 

And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind . . Romans 12:2 (King James Version)

This morning, I am opening a vein on this blog. Allow me to be frank: I am turned off when I read blogs telling me what I should be doing if I plan on being successful in my endeavors. But on the other hand, I feel drawn in when I feel the blogger is pouring out his/her heart in the written piece. I assure you that the only reason I am posting the following remarks is because I feel compelled to do so; I want to share this most intimate part of my life, but don’t wish for anyone to think I am prescribing or selling.

Though cold and rainy and dark outside, this interior room is glowing as is my own spirit. Forty-eight years ago, I came across a practice that I have not given up though much has changed throughout my life’s odyssey. This practice I call a “morning watch.” My best days begin with this practice, and I am going to try and share it with my readers, hoping to do it justice. I have a watercolor beside me, waiting for today’s work, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet, because the morning has been too good to rush into the practical work. I hope to blog the watercolor later today . . .

Forty-eight years ago, as a freshman in college, five hours from the home where I had been nurtured, and with no car, I was planted in a dormitory from where I walked daily to classes and to a Baptist Student Union as scheduling permitted. From my new friends at the Union I learned this practice they called “Quiet Time.” Since those days I have entered and exited the university, the seminary, the church, the police department and finally the public school. Now retired, the only thing that has changed has been this—I don’t have to be somewhere at 7:15 to report for duty. I don’t leave this quiet to find myself in a noisy room filled with empty words. My days are planned as it suits me, and the sweetness of the start no longer has to end after ten minutes or an hour. A friend once told me upon my retirement that “every day is Saturday when you’re retired.” He’s right. And I am so delighted with this chapter of my life.

How does the day begin? With French-pressed coffee. This is a ritual for me that I enjoy, and it will take about ten minutes to complete. As four cups of water are waiting to boil, I am turning the crank on an antique coffee grinder, having learned that the coarse grind from this instrument is just right for French press. Turning this crank, my thumb is anchored in the depression in the wood of someone’s thumb grip from the ancient past, and I muse about the stories that person could tell. Was s/he standing in a farmhouse kitchen, looking out a window across pastureland? Was the person dwelling in a city, listening to white noise while turning the crank in the morning? My imagination always goes down that road during the minute or so that I grind. By the time the grounds are poured into the boiling water, my mind already is moving. In the earlier days of the stove top percolator, I loved the metaphor of my mind percolating about the same time the coffee did.

Next, I have to select my special cup for the day. I have never counted them, but I know I have far more than thirty, because I used to crate them to take to school on special days when I made coffee for my philosophy and art history classes. I probably have over fifty coffee mugs, all of them packed with their own location memories. This morning I am drinking from the Bodes mug I purchased at a rustic store established in 1919 in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Once the coffee is poured, the best part begins. This morning watch, forty-eight years ago, began with prayer, and I guess that is still happening. But my prayers are no longer the ones uttered in those ministerial days. Rather they are similar to the ones mentioned in Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. Professor Max Gottlieb was suspected by his pious students to be an atheist. But in the midst of an argument, one of them stressed that the professor’s late nights in the laboratory were a form of prayer. And that is the nature of my own morning prayers—the journal is opened and I begin sketching, collaging, drafting and designing the first page. Then I pour out my thoughts in the journal. This could be a single paragraph or as many as ten pages. But once I feel I have exhausted my own thoughts I then turn to something of quality to read.

I always have a half dozen books with bookmarks in them as my reading is always divided among several works at the same time. If I don’t open one of these, then I turn to a library of over 2,000 volumes and pull something that strikes my fancy. And I begin to read. I am looking for an oracle, a direction, a guide. In the early days of ministry, I opened the Bible, believing that God would speak to me if I read prayerfully and listened. I now am convinced that revelation can come from many sources, and when something finally seizes my imagination, then I feel held, embraced; I feel I have been grasped by Something greater than I. And then I resume my writing in the journal, and many times the ideas that come to me are carried to the blog. That is how I start my days. The mornings are the freshest and best, holding out possibilities.

So, what did I read this morning? Romans 12:2. But when I read, I dialogue with the text and shape it to help me in my search for meaning. To borrow the words of Harold Bloom, I begin to overhear myself as I think over the text. Not wishing to sound like a pompous snob, I stress that when I turn to the New Testament, I read the Greek text. That is one of the few things of worth my seminary training provided. I spend hours poring over this text, though there is no longer a pulpit waiting or a class. Why do I do it? For the same reason I read daily—I am seeking a Word, an oracle, some kind of governing dynamic for the day’s journey. And on rare occasions, I will place these thoughts in a blog entry.

What I found this morning: Paul urged his readers not to be shaped, modeled by this world. The Greek word “world” is better translated “age” and this particular word in the Greek New Testament is pejorative. The first century Christians regarded this world as ruled by demonic powers, and a new age was desired. Few readers of the English text notice the multiplicity of references to “this world” in the New Testament, and the sentiment is similar to that of today’s racist when referring to “these people.”

I have felt that sentiment much longer than the past forty-eight years. In “this world” I have never truly felt at home. My childhood was spent living in an isolated house without a neighborhood. I didn’t play with others, and my brother, four years younger, didn’t fulfil the companionship need. Once at school, I didn’t know how to connect and didn’t have my own “crowd” till I was a senior in high school. Then it was off to university, five hours away, where the Baptist Student Union embraced me, and I finally felt I had found a home. That lasted a semester. Then, by an unusual twist of circumstances, I was called to “serve.” I began pastoring a church of mostly retired farmers fifteen miles away. There was no one in that congregation my age with whom I could bond, and I lost my connection to the Baptist Student Union because I needed to be on the church field, working, instead of “fellowshipping” in the Union during the evenings. I’m starting to ramble . . . just trying to say, “this world” didn’t really provide me with a community. And since that day in 1972, I went to university, seminary, then to work, and finally to a public school, and though I was surrounded by multitudes, I never really felt I belonged.

But there is something more pressing to me as I look at Paul’s use of “this age.” A good word, I believe, to describe the Christian perspective of that first-century darkened world, is Zeitgeist—the Spirit of the Age or Spirit of the Times. And in 2020, I certainly do not feel a part of the spirit of our times. And I refuse to be shaped and modeled by those forces. In my reading, I find more nourishment from the New Testament, or Emerson, or Nietzsche, or Tillich, or Goethe, than I find in social media or news media. So, to address the negative, I choose NOT to be conformed to this age.

Resuming Paul’s text—“but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Transformed is the Greek word where we get “metamorphosis” and it was the same word used of Jesus when he became radiant before his inner three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. That glow is what I feel this morning as I write this, and I feel on many mornings when the “watch” has gone well. And finally, that word “renewing”–I like the word Renaissance. So I translate the passage in this manner:

. . . and don’t be shaped by the current Zeitgeist. Instead, be reconstructed by the Renaissance of the mind . . .

Thanks for reading, and please know this is not intended to be a prescription, just sharing what’s on my heart this morning. And now, I am ready to paint . . .

Shultz on website

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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