I began reading "The Grapes of Wrath" a week or so ago because of a few factors: 1) my mother in law bought a copy and then gave it to me 2) Tom Joad...well, a certain former taxi-driving blogger changed his name so I thought, "okay..." and 3) I read it in high school and I'm finding that I enjoy things now that I didn't so much enjoy in high school (like long novels about the Dust Bowl). As I read, given my life situation of being a husband and father, I find profound moments of despair in my own heart for the families represented. For Rosasharn and her baby, for Uncle John's deep sense of guilt and sin, for Preacher Casy and Tom and their existential/transcendental crises. I feel the weight of being a father of a hungry child, the husband of a caged wife, and a man who is constantly looking over his shoulder.
But more than that, I see community. The moments of brilliance, the flashes of hope and grace that you see in this novel happen when multiple families interesect one another and share their common fate with a shoulders braced together. This stands in total opposition to the one-man tractors that invade Oklahoma early in the novel, or the single person landowners who milk the "okies" because they can--because hungry babies are zesty bargaining chips for the powerful.
The church needs to know such community. The word has really lost all meaning, to be honest, because it's been written about and beaten to death through the last few years. Yet, it won't go away. The idea of going it alone is a cultural expectation and a vomit-inducing one at that. Even the area of spiritual formation, which I am passionate about, has become simply a new set of ways to insulate yourself from community and feel self-sufficient in your "spiritual life", which is not a destination but a path anyway. I see spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines as a beginning, with the end being contribution and abandonment to a greater community.
So, for the sake of the Joad's, I'm going to post a few short musings on "Community Spiritual Disciplines" in which I'll be using a phenomenal text, 1 Corinthians 8-11. Hopefully this will be "side meat" to your "swellin' bellies."
I want to deal with the realities that: 1) I feel spiritual formation/disciplines are still valuable and in no way part of a super-spiritual side show 2) I believe there is a healthy movement even in Jesus from solitude to community with both realities being contingent on each other and 3) I believe this is a signpost to disciples today in regaining a bit of the organic, wholistic life that God created us for (i.e. the poor matter and cannot be ignored when you are practicing the discipline of community).
I welcome your comments. Be well friends.