Wednesday was a red-letter day. It was South Africa’s Election day. It was my husband’s birthday. It was National Bike to School day (and before you pooh-pooh this, let me say this was a BIG deal for our eager-to-please 6 year old). And also – it was the day I got to meet NT Wright in person.
Two of my favorite people in all the world and I climbed into a car in the late afternoon and made our way to San Francisco. With 3 in the car, we cruised into the city via the carpool lanes without even needing to slow down for bad traffic. We gratefully employed the cleverness of smartphones to locate an oh-so-yummy Thai restaurant near our destination. We made it in PLENTY of time.
And what an evening! NT Wright was billed to speak on the “Ancient Wisdom of the Psalms”, and the evening took the form of a conversation between him and a host. The evening began with a series of musical excerpts from around the world: the Psalms being sung in Syrian Orthodox, Africa-American, Punjabi and Taisze communities, to name a few. A piano, banjo and a string quartet then led us in heart-stoppingly gorgeous song.
And then the wise, gentle man himself, “Tom”, as he was introduced: the first protestant to be asked to address the Vatican, author of over 60 books and world-renowned theologian – but also gentle, a father, a husband, a lover of music and crosswords, a man with a very calm demeanor and a pastoral tone (complimented, of course, by the richest, sonorous voice and the ever-winsome British accent).
He spoke easily, casually and profoundly of the wisdom of the Psalms: their breadth, their cadence, their vital role in the tradition of faith in expressing the whole gamut of human emotion. He spoke of the Psalms, as prayer, “expanding our bandwidth” and enlarging our worship to include lament, despair, triumph, petition, celebration and meditation – all as welcome and appropriate in our communal life of faith.
He spoke of how the Psalms, being musical, have a way of ingraining their truth into us in the way that the best music does. (I still remember the catchy ad jingles I heard as a child. I also remember the hymns I learned at that age. Music “sticks” truth in a way that spoken words just don’t.)
He spoke of how the Psalms show us depth in their:
* handling of TIME – the Psalmist in his present crisis looks back and remembers all that God has done in the past. He rehearses it, for it colors and enriches his understanding of where he is at. He looks forward, remembering God’s promises and anticipating a day of redemption. And both the looking back and the stretching forward give a steadiness in the present. We would do well to learn we are not alone in the continuum of history.
* handling of SPACE – the Psalmist understood that God is the God of the whole earth, and celebrated his nearness and presence as represented by his glorious presence in the Temple. He reminded us that in Jesus, God’s presence and glory dwelt fully – and so where ever we are now: we see God’s glory over all, his presence everywhere – represented by his specific dwelling in Jesus. We would do well to learn we are not alone where ever we are.
* handling of MATTER – the Psalmist celebrated and enjoyed life in all its earthy detail. He marveled at rocks and waterfalls and playful Leviathans… and gave credit to God. He put a throwaway line in there about how “A belief in evolution, which might be held by a Christian, is not the same as a belief in evolutionism, which denies the loving, active work of the creator.” (Oh, for just a few moments to hear him unpack that!)
And he spoke of so much more. Switching effortlessly from anecdote to academia, from high brow language to being able, without a second’s thought, to translate that into language so everyday and approachable that even the least educated would feel camaraderie. Brilliant. (But of course)
And then, at the end of the evening, there was a dessert reception with lavish treats and a chance to purchase one of the four (4!!!) books he published LAST YEAR. I bought the one on the Psalms – even if most of my motivation (I confess) was so that I could stand in the book signing line for an opportunity to meet him.
And meet him, I did. With a warm handshake and a ready smile, I thanked him for his encouraging email last year after I had written an Illustrated Guide to Justification. I had emailed him the link, with thanks for how much his work had influenced and helped my thinking on it. I had been stunned when he replied to my email, and was stunned once again when he looked up and said “oh yes! I remember that! I get a lot of email, but that one was unusual.”
I did not walk out the building… in truth, I floated. What a lucky girl I am.
So there you go: that’s the story of me ‘n NT… (And you can thank Karen D for the prompt to write this up 🙂