In the early 1980s, I attended Fuller Theological Seminary to obtain a Master's Degree in Theology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Counseling. It was there that I had the profound experience of being mentored by Dr. Ray S. Anderson.
After taking a couple of his courses, I knew that I was in the midst of transforming my view of what it meant to be a Christian. But even as that was happening, I couldn't put into words what was going on. So I arranged for a meeting with Dr. Anderson and asked him if there were books I could read or courses I could take that would help me be able to articulate the transformation I was feeling inside. His response was, "Nancy, what you need is formation, not information, and that comes through relationship and dialogue." He then offered to meet with me regularly.
In writing about Dr. Anderson after his death in 2009, Christian Kettler described what happened for many of us.
As a seminarian at the time, I remember vividly the excitement of Anderson’s terse yet provocative prose, bursting with genuine theological and ministerial potential. Not easy to digest for some, but for many, Anderson’s continuing “nervous, restless quality” was the stimulation to believe in the continued healing power of a trinitarian-incarnational theology. Many a Fuller Seminary student can attest to practically stumbling into a Ray Anderson class week upon week, beaten up by life’s events, desperately seeking the grace of God … and finding it in Ray’s provocative and faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
I could write volumes about the formation I experienced in relationship with Dr. Anderson. But the foundation of it all was that the "healing power" he extended to me was to trust me unconditionally. In doing so, he invited me to trust myself. As an example, a friend of mine also met with him privately, telling him that, theologically, she felt like she was about to jump off a cliff. His response: "Can I go with you?"
At one point, that ability to trust myself was terrifying. I could no longer simply rely on what others told me to do, but would have to think and feel for myself. Years later I realized that David Whyte had captured that in a poem titled: "Revelation Must Be Terrible."
Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.
Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor
of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.
Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world
you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
and the world steps in
to test the calm fluidity of your body
from moment to moment
as if it believed you could join
its vibrant dance
of fire and calmness and final stillness.
As if you were meant to be exactly
where you are, as if
like the dark branch of a desert river
you could flow on without a speck
of guilt and everything
everywhere would still be just as it should be.
As if your place in the world mattered
and the world could
neither speak nor hear the fullness of
its own bitter and beautiful cry
without the deep well
of your body resonating in the echo.
Knowing that it takes only
that one, terrible
word to make the circle complete,
revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.
The revelation that I could trust myself began a journey of healing that gave me a peace I couldn't have imagined and changed the course of my life. As you can see with this blog, one of the things it meant was that I no longer had to hide my voice.
During this holiday season, I've been thinking about some of the other things I learned from Dr. Anderson. One in particular stands out today. He once said that too many Christians today focus on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus - ignoring the life that he lived. That is why, for years now, I've made it a tradition on Christmas Eve to quote something a blogger named Kid Oakland
wrote back in 2004.
Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.
He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.
But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.
He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.
Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.
And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were...fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accomodation.
This man, Jesus, was surrounded by friends and disciples whom he mentored....not by carping or enforcing rules...but by example and teaching. By the force of his actions. By his resolute commitment to the least, the smallest, the most in need.
I am aware that Dr. Anderson was no saint. But, having dedicated his life to what is sometimes referred to as "theological praxis" - or, how the gospel of Jesus is to be lived in the world - he offered the healing power of a commitment to love unsullied by qualifier or clause. That is, by far, the greatest gift anyone has ever given to me.