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Why Slow Faith?

Liv Larson AndrewsWhy Slow Faith

[The Bible study author for the three-session study beginning in September explains why she wrote "Slow Faith."  Subscribe to Gather now to get the study.]

by Liv Larson Andrews

I contribute to a local, faith-related news source called Spokane Faith and Values. My editor occasionally offers the chance to read and review books for the blog portion of the website.

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by Chris Smith and John Pattison came across her desk, and she passed it to me. I was hooked by title alone. There are all sorts of words I love in there: cultivation, community, patience. I was excited.

However, as the book itself urges, I took it slowly. I had to. Early chapters on place, stability and ecology presented challenges to me. Suddenly I was not only reviewing a book but looking deeply at my own life. I needed to face areas of life in which I was impatient with others, with institutions, and even with myself.

While I felt drawn to all things “slow,”—money, food, urban development, education—I simultaneously felt pressure to perform at the rate of most of society: breakneck speed. Reading the first few chapters of this little book brought me to a halt.

Questioning assumptions

I’m not alone. In response to our speeding-up world, groups of people around the globe are opting to take life Slowly, with a capital “S.” As I learned more about this movement, mostly from Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slowness, I felt drawn in. The counter-cultural nature of their efforts, their bravery in questioning assumptions, and the playfulness about their goals reminded me of the disciples of Jesus.

Certainly the teachings of Jesus seemed absurd to bystanders and earned scorn for the disciples. Similarly, the Society for the Deceleration of Time probably sounds ridiculous to our ears. After all, you can’t slow time. But this group, among others, is dedicated to slowing our movement through time and maintaining a spirit of restful joy while doing so. I found myself smiling and chuckling while discovering the world in slow movement.

I began wondering how many of my neighbors and colleagues—in and out of the church—might have the same joyful response. I also wondered whether the slow movement was just another cool trend. Would it really yield change? Finally, I wondered what might already be present in our Scripture and faith tradition to call us into a holy slowing down.

When Gather asked me to consider writing a three-session Bible study, this topic was a natural fit. I was already living some of the questions about a biblical vision for the pace of our lives.

Self-worth, grace & productivity

As I checked in with friends and parishioners, I found that the frenetic pace of life had theological consequences. Many friends reported feeling that their self-worth was connected to productivity, not to God’s grace. They (and I include myself in this group) are quite capable of saying out loud, “I am God’s beloved child, worthy of love.” But deep within, another voice held sway. If they felt they had not worked sufficiently that day, if they had not checked enough items off their list or made progress in some measurable way, they felt like failures. No love. In the worst case, one friend spoke about being sick for an extended time, missing so much work that she felt she “didn’t deserve to exist.”

Seeing that despair and distance from God are some of the theological wages of the ever speeding-up, productivity-based society, I wanted to explore what theological gifts or blessings reside in the invitation to slow down.

I wanted to discover what prophetic witness the church might be able to offer the speeding world. On the other hand, I wanted to wrestle with instances in which it’s not good to be slow, as when God’s call awakens us to deliberate action or when we are weary of suffering and oppression.

 I brought these goals and questions to the Bible. I did not land on a specific book, character or event, as many Gather Bible studies use. Instead I found a reverberating echo, a repeated call throughout Scripture to embrace patience and rest in God. From the radical gift of the Sabbath (it sounds especially crazy to us now to be told “do not work” for a whole day) to the psalms wrestling with longing and trust and on to the parables of Jesus, Scripture holds up a vision for living in God’s time.

All in God’s own time

We cannot rush the growth of the seed that lands in good soil or the yeast leavening the dough. It happens in God’s own time. God’s plan for us, rather than a list of tasks, is to be like the seed and the yeast: to do our work in God’s time, and to experience restful joy all our days. Balance in work, ample time for play, and care for the neighbor made possible by shared rhythms of community—this is Sabbath living. This is Slow Faith.

Of course, as with any faith practice, there is the risk of offering just one more yardstick of evaluation or standard of spirituality. I would hate for this study to make false promises of “just slow down a bit and you’ll be happy.” I don’t think that is the biblical vision.

All good things come from the gracious hand of God. We cannot dictate or control those gifts. But we can explore those treasures we already have been given, even as the clay jars holding them are cracking open. Let us hold back from further judging ourselves (“I don’t take enough time off”) and instead creatively imagine how we might experiment with opening gifts such as the Sabbath.

Let’s bring our laments together in one voice, hearing each other’s pain, bearing each other’s hopes. Let’s examine the seed and the yeast and wonder what wisdom they contain for our lives. Finally, let us follow the example of the psalmist and praise God who gives us everything we need “in due season.” I pray you enjoy this Bible study and, as much as possible, take it slowly.

Slow Faith

Session 1: Sabbath Keeping
Session 2: Make Haste O Lord
Session 3: Tempo Giusto

- See more at: http://www.womenoftheelca.org/bible-studies-pages-55.php#sthash.P3l7KbDH.dpuf

Slow Faith (Gather's three-month Bible study beginning in September)

Session 1: Sabbath Keeping
Session 2: Make Haste O Lord
Session 3: Tempo Giusto

The Rev. Liv Larson Andrews is the pastor of Salem Lutheran in Spokane, Wash. She lives with her husband and two sons and dreams of hosting a lectionary-based cooking show.