Introductory Note:

In Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster explores the central paradox at the heart of Christianity in the chapter on the Incarnational Tradition. The Incarnation is what makes the highest and holiest things accessible and homey to humankind; it also brings out the sacramental aspects of the most humble and natural of human endeavors.

The Incarnational Tradition “underscores the fact that God is truly among us in the warp and woof of our very earthy existence,” Foster writes. “Indeed, the very presence of God is manifest in the smallest, most mundane of daily activities.” He is with me in the mystery of the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. He is with me as I punch down bread dough and enjoy a glass of wine in my kitchen. How many times he has been made manifest to me “in and through the created universe,” and yet always remains Someone beyond: high and holy and personal and penetrating.

I’m delighted to share with you the last part of Foster’s chapter on the Incarnational Tradition where he, as practical as ever, offers ways to engage in this stream.

Justine Olawsky

Excerpt from Streams of Living Water

The first action in prac­tic­ing the Incar­na­tion­al Tra­di­tion is the invo­ca­tion of God’s man­i­fest pres­ence into this mate­r­i­al world of ours. Here the ini­tia­tive rests square­ly upon us (even though we know that we are only respond­ing to God’s pri­or ini­ti­a­tion upon our heart). God, you see, will not enter many areas of our life unin­vit­ed. So we invite God to enter every expe­ri­ence of life. We invite God to set our spir­it free for wor­ship and ado­ra­tion. We invite God to ani­mate our preach­ing and singing and pray­ing. We invite God to trans­form the bread and wine of Com­mu­nion. We invite God to heal our bod­ies. We invite God to inform our minds with cre­ative ideas for our busi­ness enter­pris­es. We invite God to touch bro­ken rela­tion­ships and resolve con­flicts at work or home. We invite God to make our homes holy places of wor­ship and study and work and play and love-mak­ing. We invite … we invite. Per­haps we could speak of this as invit­ed grace” — the grace of God com­ing in lov­ing response to our invocation.

A sec­ond action comes as we recov­er a Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of work. We are helped in our think­ing by the Bene­dic­tine notion of the dig­ni­ty of man­u­al labor and the Fran­cis­can ide­al of serv­ing the poor as a way of wor­ship­ing God. We can add to this Mar­tin Luther’s con­vic­tion that the menial house­work of a manser­vant or maid­ser­vant is more accept­able to God” than the work of monks or priests. And we can learn much from the Puri­tan notion of call­ing or vocation. 

In our day spe­cial empha­sis needs to be placed upon the sacred­ness of the work of our hands and our mind. If ours is God’s world, any true work for the improve­ment of human life is a sacred under­tak­ing. As Elton True­blood has not­ed, We should see the ordi­na­tion to the priest­hood as a sacra­ment; but we should like­wise see ordi­na­tion to any worth-while human task as a sacra­ment.” You see, we can nev­er con­fine the call” to full-time Chris­t­ian ser­vice” to cler­gy-relat­ed voca­tions. Farm­ers and plumbers and sec­re­taries can be equal­ly called” and equal­ly full-time” and equal­ly Chris­t­ian,” and they can equal­ly ren­der ser­vice.” The real­ly cru­cial deci­sion comes, not when we decide to be a pas­tor rather than a biol­o­gist, but when we decide to allow our entire life to be a chan­nel of divine love. 

So what does a Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of work look like? I can give only the barest essen­tials here. We have a sense of call­ing, a God-giv­en abil­i­ty to do a job linked with a God-giv­en enjoy­ment in doing it. We have a sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty to do some­thing in our own time that has val­ue. We have a sense of free­dom from the bur­den of the worka­holic, for we are not asked to do more than we can. We have a sense of cre­ativ­i­ty that enables us to place the auto­graph of our souls on the work of our hands. We have a sense of dig­ni­ty, for we val­ue peo­ple over effi­cien­cy. We have a sense of com­mu­ni­ty, for we know that our life togeth­er is more impor­tant than the end prod­uct. We have a sense of sol­i­dar­i­ty with the poor to empow­er them to do what they can­not do by them­selves. And we have a sense of mean­ing and pur­pose, for we know that we are work­ing in coop­er­a­tion with God to bring the world one step clos­er to completion. 

A third action comes through the recov­ery of mar­riage and fam­i­ly life. From prison Diet­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer wrote to his fiancée Maria, Our mar­riage shall be a yes to God’s earth; it shall strength­en our courage to act and accom­plish some­thing on the earth.” Bon­ho­ef­fer affirmed this in spite of the fact that his world — indeed, the whole world as it was then known — was crum­bling. We need Bonhoeffer’s courage. 

Mar­riage is covenan­tal. Mar­riage is no mar­riage at all if it is con­di­tion­al or par­tial or entered into with fin­gers crossed. It involves an uncal­cu­lat­ing aban­don, an utter and mutu­al out­pour­ing of love and loy­al­ty. It is a one flesh” real­i­ty in which the two become one func­tion­al whole, not unlike the way a com­put­er disk dri­ve and its disk form one func­tion­ing unit or the way a bow and arrow are essen­tial to each oth­er. And so a home is formed and chil­dren most nor­mal­ly follow. 

Fam­i­ly life should be expressed in its full­ness in the home, because this is the place where the specif­i­cal­ly reli­gious dimen­sion and every­day life meet. The home is intrin­si­cal­ly a reli­gious insti­tu­tion, and the fam­i­ly table is the cen­ter of the home. The idea that a meal can be a sacred occa­sion is so deeply root­ed in many reli­gious tra­di­tions that it can­not be acci­den­tal or of pass­ing sig­nif­i­cance. The Jew­ish Passover and the Chris­t­ian Love Feast are among the more famil­iar exam­ples of sacred meals. Of spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for us is the fact that in the Gospel accounts the risen Christ was rec­og­nized by his dis­ci­ples at the moment they began shar­ing in an ordi­nary meal (Luke 24:31 – 35). This leads to the hope that every com­mon meal may be, if we are suf­fi­cient­ly sen­si­tive, a time when we are con­scious of the real pres­ence of our risen Lord. 

Com­mon labor too should be found in the home. Our grand­par­ents’ farm­house was large because it was far more than a place to eat and sleep: it was a place to work. In the past the home was a work­shop, a school, a church, and a club all rolled into one. True, those days are gone for­ev­er, but it is still pos­si­ble to dis­cov­er work togeth­er in the home. Floors need clean­ing and win­dows need wash­ing. In addi­tion, mod­ern com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy makes cot­tage indus­tries once again a gen­uine pos­si­bil­i­ty. It is worth our best think­ing and most cre­ative efforts to make the home not just a room­ing house, but the cen­ter of fam­i­ly life, the place for work and wor­ship and play and love-making. 

Excerpt­ed from Streams of Liv­ing Water by Richard J. Fos­ter, pub­lished by Harper­One. Copy­right Richard J. Fos­ter. Used with permission.

Text First Published October 1998

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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