“Can you teach us to memorize something?” It was not a question I expected. My inquisitors were two fourteen-year-old boys who earlier that morning had been jumping off large rocks with sharp sticks in their hands and antagonizing a bees’ nest. This is my summer job, guiding backpacking trips at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. The boys had earlier been acting exactly as one would expect fourteen-year-old boys to act, but this next moment they were asking questions about the Trinity and the Incarnation and then to memorize Scripture. Perplexed but elated I spent the next three miles of the day’s hike doing a call-and-response memorization of the prologue of John. And they loved every bit of it.
It was a teaching moment I could never have predicted, would never even have dared imagine in my wildest dreams. But it was also a learning moment. The paradox that these boys embodied—that of both jumping off rocks and crying out to the Rock—struck me then and now as nothing short of beautiful. Is this what it means to be truly human? To engage our physicality and also our noetic capacities? To be abundantly silly and deeply serious? To play in utter exuberance and joy in this life God has created, stretching our muscles and expanding our lungs in exuberant, jovial shouts as well as to embrace the One who created our muscles and lungs and the whole of us?
It seems to me that this is the kind of life, the kind of humanity, that we were created for. More importantly, this is the kind of life Jesus has redeemed us for. Many of the church fathers spoke of salvation as being recreated and restored to our original glory as humans made in the image of God, and I imagine that original glory meant a wholeness I glimpsed in these two boys. Jesus’ taking care of all the most significant movements of history frees us to play and revel in what he has given us. His command to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind calls us to engage our minds as well as the rest of us. It seems to me, then, that when we aren’t living this kind of life, we aren’t really living. If we’re neglecting the jumping and playing, or the asking of big questions, or the silliness, or the wonder and praise of God, then we’re not being fully human. If we’re not taking time to enjoy one another’s company over a cup of conversation while we also spend good time reading the church fathers, or if we fail to work hard and write good papers while we also take time to stretch our legs and play, or if we forget to laugh deeply while we live deeply, we’re not living into our salvation.
It also strikes me that these boys could do all of these things at once. They didn’t have to jump for a while and then ask questions or memorize Scripture; I watched them run and jump while asking questions about the Incarnation and salvation and hike and play hacky sack while reciting John’s prologue. To them, there wasn’t such a thing as a “secular” part of life and a “spiritual” part of life, not an “intellectual” (read: important) part and a “fun,” “emotional,” or “non-intellectual” (read: unimportant) part. To them, it was all just life. Could spiritual formation be something that happens in our classes, and not merely something we attend an hour a week for our first year of seminary? Can we worship while playing basketball or Frisbee? Can we laugh and be silly while studying atonement theories and looking up words like “extracalvinisticum”? I am inclined to think that we can, and indeed, that we should.
Our lives find us in the library a lot. A lot. But I am convinced that there is more to us than our school work, or even, dare I say it, our minds. We are not called to be walking brains but whole, real people. Sometimes, we need to get out of the library. So I challenge us all: Pray. Spend an hour being useless before God in worship. Smile at strangers. Hope. Hope for glory and for the kingdom of God and for resurrection. Use the good china. Sing, run, jump, go hiking. Throw a Frisbee, play sports you’re no good at. Go for a swim, love intensely, dance, play, learn, laugh. Take an hour to lay on the grass in the quad and read a novel.
As I reflect on the paradox of my campers, I think of something Fredrick Buechner wrote: “We are moved also by those precious moments when something holy seems to break through into our lives both to heal us and to summon us to pilgrimage” (Longing for Home). That morning on the trail through the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area I saw something holy break into my life in the most unexpected place, and it called me to pilgrimage. God called me to follow the way of these crazy fourteen-year-old boys, which is in fact the way of his Son, who himself was once a fourteen-year-old boy. Christ has made it possible for us to live this way, desires for us to live this way. So let us find some rocks, call out to the Rock, and begin to live fully. Then go back to your carrel.
Samantha L. Miller