Jerry Sittser on Growing through Adversity and Spiritual Practices

You probably gather for worship with both lifelong worshipers and those new to the Bible. Jerry Sittser mines the history of Christian spirituality for nuggets that give life to all levels of worshipers.

Gerald “Jerry” Sittser teaches theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He specializes in the history of Christianity, Christian spirituality, and religion in American public life. His many books include A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss and Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. Sittser will speak at the 2015 Calvin College January Series and 2015 Calvin Symposium on Worship.

When did you first realize that a practice from early Christian spirituality could be useful today?

In the early 1990s, I started to teach a bi-annual course on the history of Christian spirituality. Whitworth University has a January term, which allows professors to take students off-campus for almost a month. I decided to teach the course in the wintry beauty and isolation of a remote camp in the Cascades. In that setting, I introduced students to a monastic rhythm, historic texts from Christianity spirituality and various historic Christian practices. Students learned during that month away. They also practiced. It was incredibly rich.

What spiritual practice from church history could help both life-long worshipers and newcomers in the same worship service

I advocate introducing important texts that are short enough to be useful in worship. These can be quoted, explained, sung (in the case of hymns), prayed (in the case of prayers) or meditated upon. The worship leader can take two minutes to explain their origin and value. I follow this practice in classes I teach, and students invariably ask for the texts for their own edification.

What are your favorite examples from church history of how adversity helped someone become more like Christ?

Among many examples, I would cite writings that come out of suffering. Students appreciate the circular and unconventional, but also deeply theological, writings of Julian of Norwich. She explores suffering from an angle of vision that surprises students. The second category would be hymns. In two of my classes, we sing almost every day. I introduce students to the history of hymnody and worship. Many great hymns of the church have emerged out of suffering, whether personal (e.g., "It Is Well with My Soul," "A Mighty Fortress is Our God") or corporate (e.g., "Now Thank We All Our God").

Jerry Sittser on relating through social media versus through spiritual disciplines (3:05)

Register for Jerry Sittser’s workshops at the 2015 Calvin Symposium on Worship. His book The Will of God as a Way of Life is widely read by college students.

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