The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Entertaining unsettling questions

Threes. The Spirit moves in threes. When someone offers up an important idea, I listen. If I hear a similar idea from a different source, I take note. Once that same idea passes by my eyes and ears for a third time, I recognize the Spirit’s presence and feel a sense of obligation to act. Tending to patterns of threes has helped me discern where to direct my energy. I call it Samuel listening (1 Samuel 3:1-9).

During a presentation years ago I mentioned that Martin Luther encouraged Christians as soon as they woke in the morning to make the sign of the cross and say, “Under the care of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” A gentleman found me after the presentation and asked me to repeat what I had said about the sign of the cross.

He took my hands and asked, “Can I really cross myself as a Lutheran?” I said, “Yes.” He smiled broadly and walked away.

Some years later I gave a similar presentation and a young woman approached me during lunch and asked whether I could repeat what I had said about the sign of the cross. She thought only Roman Catholics and Episcopalians could make the sign of the cross and shared that it was a prayer practice she had always wanted to try.

“Luther encouraged Christians to cross themselves?” she asked. “Yes,” I responded.

A few weeks later I met a third person who, as did the other two, found me after a presentation. She told me how she had grown up Roman Catholic, married a Lutheran and had never known that Luther had encouraged Lutherans to make the sign of the cross. I had an extra copy of the catechism in my bag that day and showed her the page that included Luther’s words. I told her to keep the catechism.

Her eyes glistened as she shared with me how meaningful it would be to recover that practice of prayer in her life.

Three different people called on me to tend to this particular question about making the sign of the cross. Yes, yes, sweet Spirit, I am listening, taking note, and now compelled from this threefold experience to be prepared for this question in the future.

Making the sign of the cross is not my question, but it has become one that I am called to tend on behalf of my neighbor. Now I always carry an extra copy of Luther’s catechism in my bag to give away.

What is the question or idea that the Spirit is calling you to tend on behalf of your neighbor?

Questions lie at the heart of faith formation. People ask questions, particularly ones of faith and faith practices, out of a desire to make meaning in their lives. Disciples of Jesus Christ, who are called to make disciples, are compelled to entertain questions.

At the same time, questions have a way of unsettling faith convictions and faith practices that have been settled. Why do we do what we do as disciples? Why do we believe what we believe? When questions arise that engage the heart of established convictions and practices, our knee-jerk reaction can be to shut them down and ignore them.

But, we all know, questions don’t go away. Ever.

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February issue


Embracing diversity