“Gathering around the fire”—charism, offering, and vocational passion

Summer School Office beside Janskerk

The Utrecht Summer School Office beside Janskerk

I want to report on the summer school seminar I attended during the first week of July in the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. 19 learners of diverse ages and nationalities spent five days with members of the Old Catholic Faculty at the University of Utrecht. After the closing lecture, lunch, and group photo, I wrote in my journal: “Thinking about what just happened…Utrecht was like gathering around a fire…not a camp fire, but a hearth.”

Anticipating this week of study, I had expected to write a short daily report about the presenters and their topics. But something happened that filled me with a sense of silent wonder, unable to write. It felt profoundly important. Intuition urges me to approach this experience like a researcher would approach an ancient manuscript, carefully lifting and preserving each new layer as it comes to light.

When more appears to be going on than meets the eye, reflective writing is a tool for uncovering what lies beneath the surface, e.g., the give and take of lectures, discussions, and conversations with new colleagues. So I’ll try to discover what hasn’t dawned on me yet. What lies hidden behind the words “Utrecht was like gathering around a fire”? Could these words be a key?

Now, four days after the final lecture, I am just beginning to find answers. St. Augustine’s wisdom was “It will be solved by walking.” My guide is “It will be discovered by writing.”

Today I’m typing in my Russian friends’ country home in a tiny village not far from Moscow. The central feature of this welcoming place is its pechka—the traditional brick fireplace-oven—that both heats the house and serves the kitchen during cold months. It was cool last night and we lit a fire that warmed the room. Sitting opposite the pechka this morning it occurs to me that the faculty of the Old Catholic seminary in Utrecht is on a mission: preparing food, offering nourishment, and providing warmth for the 21st Century Church. For five days the faculty members fed my mind, nourished my soul, and warmed my heart by their willingness to share themselves and their scholarship with learners from the UK, Austria, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, Canada, and the US.

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Sharing one’s gift is like offering a match.

This may be one of the reasons why I have been so deeply affected: I’ve been touched by the gift of a faculty’s charism. The Utrecht Old Catholic Seminary faculty’s God-gifted talent/power involves creating a welcoming space where seekers and learners gather around the fire of the Christian heritage. In offering themselves and their teaching, these faculty men and women embodied the welcoming fire of the Gospel. In receiving their offering my heart was set alight. In that series of grateful “givings” and “receivings” a renewing and transforming spirit had been shared among us.

Now let me describe this experience another way. When a team of gifted men and women freely offer their several gifts to others, the gratitude of their offering in turn becomes a feature of the interior experience of the receivers. When the content of this self-offering has to do with the inherent offering of life by Life Itself, that self offering is both occasioned by and releases an uplifting energy that acts within the bodies, psyches, and souls of all involved. That is, there is in the nature of creation a perpetual release of life giving energy in the very offering of being to itself. Christians—conscious, aware, and responsive to this feature of reality—are both the beneficiaries of this recognition and the holders of this ancient wisdom concerning what, since the days of the ancient church, has been called the Holy Spirit.

fire-95772__180A few weeks ago, I wrote before coming to Utrecht: “I decided to inquire into ‘Old Catholic Theology in an Ecumenical Context’ because I am looking for ways to develop eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing in the world we live in today.” The first thing I notice is that God has lit a brilliant fire in the hearts of the Old Catholic Faculty in Utrecht—key wisdom keepers of the ancient witness of the church. The second thing I notice is that gathering around such a fire adds fuel and oxygen to the fire that burns in my own heart.

Perhaps now I will be able to peel back some additional layers of this experience in Utrecht.

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