Community: The Undiscovered Country

The cure of souls is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is prevenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets things going. He had and continues to have the first word. Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do….there is a disciplined, determined conviction that everything we do is a response to God’s first work, his initiating act. We learn to be attentive to the divine action already in process so that the previously unheard word of God is heard, the previously unattended act of God is noticed. What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?

~ Eugene Peterson, “The Contemplative Pastor” p. 65.

 

I imagine the courageous pioneers who loaded their belongings in wagons and made their way across the trackless prairie and over the forbidding mountains to a place where they could settle and carve out a new life. They were leaving one life behind and were bound for another. But there was a life to be lived between the two, the life of the journey, which differed markedly from what was behind and from what lay ahead.

The trans-culture of Christ followers shares a bit of that experience with some important differences. I’ve been thinking about two of them.

As a community whose life is lived between time and eternity, we are not alone. We aren’t a forlorn little band of isolated creatures left to fend for ourselves without certainty; without guarantee that we will arrive at a great good land, what Shakespeare called, “the undiscovered country.”  Shakespeare’s use of the term, is a good contrast to my use of it. Hamlet walked in the fear of uncertainty:

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others we know not of.

Christ followers are a family of sojourners trekking from one place to another having the certain knowledge that there is an “undiscovered country” that we will surely discover and that the Creator of that country is superintending our journey. The transculture of the Christ followers assumes what Peterson calls “prevenience.” The corporate soul of the travelers is dominated (or ought to be) not by fear and uncertainty but confidence in the ultimate goodness of the journey, and certainty about the destination. The community of the Christ-follower is suffused with trust and destiny.

Secondly, the Christ followers are a community. The wagon trains of the nineteenth century would arrive at the broad valleys of the West and then the people go their separate ways in search of land to homestead where they could carve out that new life for themselves. Their fraternity was bound up in the journey and dissolved at its conclusion. Not so with the community of the Christ followers. Destiny, eternity and community are a part of the prevenience of the Creator. As such, we are bound to take the fraternity of our journey much more seriously. Christ followers share a common destiny it includes each other.

Paul, the Apostle, used the metaphor of a single body to describe the composite nature of the church, what I have been calling the transculture. It seems to me that as we travel together we must be thinking of our corporate life in that good, yet undiscovered land. What we do on the journey ought to be teaching us the skills that we will need after we settle together in the broad valley of our destiny. Learning such things requires that we seek after the customs of eternity and and practice them now.

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