This phrase – “Into our bones” came from an article I read by James K.A. Smith., about worship. He said, “This is why God enjoins us to sing (Col. 3:16). Song seeps into our bones in ways that didactic information never will. To sing the story of God’s gracious acts is not just to recite them. In the embodied, affective rhythm of song, the Spirit plants the story in the epicenter of our being: in our desire, in our imagination. Singing the story is the way it gets into our bones and under our skin, shaping the very way we perceive our world.” (Singing the Story into our Bones, www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2013/singing-story-our-bones). This image of “singing the story” pictures how we enter into the story of God and His people. We all desire to inhabit this story of ours, and that it would go so deep into us that we would feel it in our bones.
I cannot answer the question, ‘What ought I do?’ unless I first answer the question, ‘Of which story am I a part?’Alasdair Macintyre
Following the liturgical year, or the church calendar is a vital part of our Christian formation. We have the opportunity to enter the whole story of Salvation as we walk with Christ through his birth, passion, death, resurrection, and the final day of the Lord. From Advent to second Advent, we are confronted season after season with the foundational principles of our faith. Even more than that though, we enter the story, and we follow the story, and we internalize the story of who we are and what God has done for us. I love what Alastair Macintyre says: “I cannot answer the question, ‘What ought I to do?’ unless I first answer the question, ‘Of which story am I a part?’” )Alasdair MacIntyre (2013). “After Virtue”, p.250, A&C Black)
This always makes me think of the movie “City Slickers” and how Billy Crystal’s character is awakened ever year at 5:00 a.m. on his birthday! His mother calls and goes through the whole story of his birth. He of course acts like he hates it, but I bet that deep inside him, just as I would bet that in each of us is the cry to hear our story told repeatedly.
Memory is such a critical part of how we are formed, and the Christian story captures this perfectly. We are told to remember – remember who we are, remember what Christ has done for us, remember Him in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. One vivid picture of this is when Joshua is told by God right before crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land – to take 12 men and give them 12 stones and they were to carry those stones out to the camp and leave them as a memorial to future generations of the miraculous river crossing. (Joshua 4:2-3). This happens often in the Old Testament and was a sign of God’s actions on their behalf. These stones may have looked like a pile of rocks, but to the people of Israel they were a constant reminder who their God was and how He acted on their behalf.
A word about story. When I write about the church calendar as the opportunity to enter God’s story over and over – I hope you don’t hear me say – it’s “just a story” as if it might or might not be an accurate recording of the “real important events”. As moderns, we have a history of preferring facts over “story”, statements over experiences. But Jesus himself did not come with a list of propositions – how did he engage people? He told stories, He was present to real people with real needs. He healed more than he preached – and even then, he tended to preach to the Pharisees and other “intellectuals”.
I have known several great storytellers in my life. My father was a great storyteller. We would sit around the dining room table long after we had finished eating while he told stories of his childhood, mostly about his younger brother, whom he pictured as a scapegoat for all the scrapes they got in. Later, after learning how to play the guitar he would sing (well, it was more talking than singing) folk songs that told the stories of coal miners, or railroad vagabonds. Did I learn anything? About history or even his family? Probably not. But I learned how to be with him, to sit and let the stories wash over me. I learned that my family was more than what it felt like in the darker years.
One of my favorite children’s books, which I read to my children, is called Father Fox’s Penny Rhymes. It starts out – “The night is cold, the fire is warm, Old Father Fox, will you sing us a song”. Stories change our lives. A very close friend and mentor of mine was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. She held weeklong schools about healing prayer and discipleship. Before she lost the energy to do much of the teaching, some of her best teachings came through her stories about Uncle Gus and Aunt Rhoda, or Peety the parakeet and Dr. Kilby. One year, we were in Denmark for a school, and I was walking with Leanne down the hall back into the meeting room. A young woman behind us, didn’t realize Leanne was there and muttered, loudly enough for me to hear it, “why doesn’t she stop telling stories and just get to the teachings that matter!” I understood totally where she was coming from but so wanted to let her know that much of her healing would come through the stories told during the week. Most of us who were a part of the ministry team were there to tell our “stories”, our testimonies. Rev. 12:10 -11, “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
Whether we are conscious of this or not, stories are a part of formation, yet that formation might very well be the wrong kind of formation. We inhabit the stories of our brokenness, of generational sin, or even our own sins or mistakes. We all need a greater story to replace or at the very least mitigate our stories of shame or guilt. And that’s what we have in the Scriptures! – a holy story from beginning to end that in an unrelenting manner gives us the story of God and His love for His people, His creation!
And that’s where we find Christ – in the story of the Bible. We find the story of His incarnation, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His final return. And smuggled right along in there is the story of the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s deep love for us, and the story of the Church. We have such great storytellers in the Scriptures. Take a moment and think about the writers of the four gospels. Why did we need 4? Why not just one oracle that spelled it all out? And think about Paul and the story of his persecution of the church, and his conversion and his love for the church and for Christ!
I believe that one of the ways we can be immersed in our story in the faith is by a regular immersion in the story God has given us in Christ. It’s a steady ramble from beginning to end – as we begin in Advent with His incarnation and we end in Advent with His return! And there is so much in between!
In that sense, we live in perpetual Advent – the place between two apocalyptic events – the birth of a baby, and the return of a King. Following the liturgical year helps us intersect with every part of God’s story, in season and sometimes out of season. For example, we may have an incredible insight and experience of the Cross, but not really understand His Ascension, until we approach it through a regular practice of observing the church year.
“Christian formation is the work of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of his people, slowly growing then, into the image and character of Jesus. God does this by renewing our minds, re-ordering our loves, and redirecting our lives toward the end of glorifying God.” (www. cornerstonepresfranklin.org)
And it is liturgy that helps us do that. “The liturgical year, is the process of slow, sure immersion in the life of Christ that, in the end, claims us too, as heralds of that life ourselves.” (The Liturgical Year) What I am trying to do with the guide, Into our Bones, is to help us do that. The scope of this work (at this point anyway) will take us from Advent through Pentecost. I’ve planned this guide to help with our formation in Christ by approaching the Story through different formats. The week preceding the first week of Advent 2023 I will post an explanation of how we will approach this, and then I will include an introduction to each of the different formats I will include each week. Then on December 3rd, I will post a devotional/reflection and for the next five days I will post the different ways that devotional will take us!
I also will include a guide on each of these elements which will be uploaded to my blog before December 3, 2023 (which is the first Sunday in Advent).
My prayer is that you all would be inspired by the different avenues to formation in Christ that I’ve written to help us enter into the Biblical narrative. Our first half of the guide will cover Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany. This will take us to January 21, 2024. It will then be followed by a guide that will cover Lent through to Pentecost.
I pray, Father, that You would so inspire us through Your Word, and Your Spirit, that we would know this love displayed by Your Son, and that it would go deep into our bones. Amen.
“Christian worship should tell a story that makes us want to set sail for the immense sea that is the Triune God, birthing in us a longing for a ‘better country – a heavenly one’ that is kingdom come.” (James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love.)
“The liturgical year, is the process of slow, sure immersion in the life of Christ that, in the end, claims us too, as heralds of that life ourselves.”The Liturgical Year