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Building the Kingdom: Big and Wide and a Little Wild

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey 9780310338826

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one – I in them and You in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me. – John 17:20-23

Ordinary Time. Summer 2010.

I live on the northeastern shore of England with a pastor and his wife while I serve as an intern for their church. They are kind people, gentle and patient. They find out I have interest in the Middle Ages and nearly every weekend and some weekdays for the next two months take me to ruined abbeys and priories around the country.

We hike for miles, and the pastor asks me questions about what I am wondering. I tell him that I am trying to figure out where I fit denominationally, that I am becoming increasingly wary of the tradition I was raised in. This is said carefully, because I don’t know what to entrust where and with whom.

“Do you dislike where you come from?” He is not facing me as he asks this, along the path that leads up the hill, where the wildflowers open orange and blushing.

“No.” I reply carefully. “I just don’t pray there best. The rhythm of written prayers in the liturgical tradition gives me a rooted feeling, and there’s something about the reverence of Communion that keeps bringing me back.”

I ramble on then about the questions I still have, the question of baptism, of bishops and authority structures, of the line in the liturgy that says we pray for those departed this life in God’s faith and fear to continue to grow in their knowledge of God.

The pastor turns around to face me, smiling his eyes into a squint.

“What matters most, I think, is the posture of how you approach and consider it. You Americans tend to be a lot more concerned with defining yourselves than we seem to be. We worry about what for us honors God most in our own lives, so we work together church to church without thinking so much about what we disagree on. The hope is that you’re building the kingdom of God together, big and wide and a little wild.”

The orange and blushing wildflowers bend in a spurt of wind over the hillside, and I am thinking of Genesis and the Spirit like wind, like breath, hovering over the waters.

Big and wide and a little wild…

I carry those words with me that summer. I carry them to the small Baptist church where I serve and cradle toddlers and whisper against their heads that they have a God who loves them. I carry them on the bus every Wednesday when I ride for an hour to Durham to go to Mass at the cathedral, where, in the room where the Venerable Bede is buried, I am told God loves me by the sign of bread and wine, Body and Blood. I carry them to the small group I begin going to, a smattering of Baptists. And on a night when we passed more wine to each other like passing the peace, when we talked about prostitution and drug overdose, we also talked of Dante’s last portion of the Commedia, his journey through Paradise, and how in the end what moves us and the world and all things together is the Love, that is God, a little wild, wide, and big.

Excerpted with permission from Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again by Preston Yancey, copyright Zondervan.

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