I’ve been reading some solid life-giving material for one of my classes this semester. One of the books is a collection of sermons written and delivered by baller ministers/teachers such as Barbara Brown Taylor (currently teaching at MY seminary), Tom Long (MY preaching professor), Walter Brueggemann (umm, no words), Ellen Purdum (current Asst. Dean of Student Life and Spiritual Formation at MY seminary), Fred Craddock (I want to hug him), and a few others.
One of the other sermons is written by Dr. Brad R. Braxton, whose name honestly didn’t ring a bell. His sermon, “Two Places at the Same Time” references Revelation 1:9-11 in which John is writing from prison on the island of Patmos. Dr. Braxton’s message is that in order to lead a life of “sanity in an insane world”, we must learn how to live in two places at once.
Indeed, physically it is impossible to be in two different places at the same time. But spiritually, we can. See, what Dr. Braxton extracts from John’s greeting is that although John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, still he “was in the spirit”. Being in the spirit is what enabled John to be in two different places at the same time. And being in the spirit is what kept John (relatively) sane in an insane world.
Dr. Braxton helps convey Patmos in our current contexts with examples such as “when you have more months than you have money” or “the recent trip you made to a cemetery” or in my world, when the baby I watch pees AND poops as soon as I am undoing the second diaper strap. Seriously, her timing is impeccable. You get what Patmos can mean, right?
Although I found myself lightly cringing (this is far different than heavily cringing. Just say, “Bravo TV shows that feature prosperity preachers” to me and you’ll see what heavily cringing is) at some of the other things Dr. Braxton says in his sermon, communicating pieces of his theology with which I can’t side, I couldn’t remove the daunting image of writing, “What’s my Patmos?” up and down and all the way across a chalkboard as means of forced, genuine reflection. I couldn’t help but reflect on that question.
Amidst my fears of awakening the memories of the stupid decisions I’ve made – the Patmos’s (whatever the plural form of Patmos is) of my past – I am glad I reflected on that question. In doing so, one of the things I realized was that in those major Patmos times of my past, I wasn’t living in the spirit. I believe the spirit was living in me, but I certainly wasn’t living in the spirit. The Patmos’s of my past have served a far greater purpose than I could have ever imagined: they’ve helped bring me to the ministry I am called to pursue in my future. But what would have changed if I had been living in the spirit then? Who knows. But knowing I wasn’t living in the spirit then allows me to try my best to live in the spirit today.
A present-day Patmos of mine is acknowledging the student loan debt I am floating in with one barely working floatie attached to my left arm (some would call it sinking, wish wash). But living in the spirit is saying, “Wish wash!” Just kidding. Mom and Dad, I am seriously kidding. Living in the spirit is saying, “Debt is there. Keep trusting in the greater plans God has for me because I am not throwing in the towel and hanging up my cleats!”
So, what’s your Patmos? Yes, you might have to dig through some gravel-heavy soil. But remember, you can be in two places at once.
Peace and blessings. Live in the spirit.