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Beyond books: a chaplain's journey to experiencing God

Light for the Way seriesWe invite you to take a peek inside our weekly Light for the Way devotional series provided for staff.

By Chaplain Steve Richards, Optage Hospice  

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” — John 1:14a, ESV
Recently I stopped reading. That’s not entirely true: I still read my Bible each day, read the news, and will occasionally dip into a novel. But I've specifically stopped reading theological books. So much so that I got rid of them all. I got rid of books I carried around England each time I moved. I got rid of books I carried across two continents when I came to live in America. I got rid of books I read for my BA, MA and chaplain studies, and also books I used as a high school teacher of religion and philosophy back in England.
Each book I read was part of my journey to where I am today, and it was easy to be sentimental about keeping them. But instead, I got rid of them: ALL of them, and it felt liberating.
Of course, this begs the question: Why did you get rid of those books? The short answer is because they had served their purpose. I no longer needed them in my life. I had also come to realize they were limited in what they were telling me about God. For while those who wrote them sincerely believed they were telling me, the reader, facts about God, the truth is they were only ever opinions. They could never be anything more than this. As Paul reminds us, when it comes to knowing God in this world, we only ever see things 'partially,' not in their fullness (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). Because of this, theological works hold no permanent space in my life. Only God’s Word can claim sacred permanence.

With such a view of things, one might consider reading any theological book to be a waste of time. While some hold that view, I do not. Each book I read was part of my journey to where I am today. Through my varied reading, I traveled many journeys with God: sometimes into belief, sometimes out of belief. I read books that confirmed my belief in God, and some that appeared to definitely reject it. In everything, nothing was wasted. Every book I read was part of my journey of faith and got me to where I am today.

Of course, this begs the question: Do you now feel you have “arrived”? Again, the short answer is, no! No one “arrives” in this world when it comes to knowing God. When it comes to my personal faith experience, only Jesus is justified in making such a claim. Instead, I have simply entered into a new space with God. My journey with God is no longer intellectual. I have no desire to read theological books about God. Instead, I want to experience God.
I’ve been leaning into today’s Scripture verse that says Jesus is the "Word [who] became flesh." Through Jesus, we see that knowing anything about God was not meant to be limited to words on a page. With Jesus we see God’s Word being embodied.

Also, through Jesus, there is an invitation to experience God within our life and also through each other. Learning about God was never meant to be just an academic process. While theological works have their place, there are also many other books about the person and activity of God in this world, which have never been formally published such as: the story of where we have met God, where we are meeting God, and where we have met God through the lives of others. These "books of life" are not sitting in a publisher’s office or on a shelf gathering dust, but walking amongst us. They are God’s living and embodied word.
So, the invitation is this: read books, yes, but also listen to the stories others can tell us of God’s work in their lives. For when it comes to knowing God, there really are no experts, just ordinary people sharing stories, all of which can be used to access deeper knowledge and experience of God within us all.

Concluding PHS staff prayer:
Jesus, everywhere you went, your Father’s love showed through to others. Help us to remember that we are the “Living Gospel” and people “read” us by what we say and do. As we work at Presbyterian Homes, we work within your love. Show us ways to share that same love as we go out into the community. Being ambassadors for Presbyterian Homes, we have agreed to put on your mantle of love. Help us remember we are wearing it and that we can share it with everyone.
We now lift up our joys and concerns for prayer. 
We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Steve RichardsChaplain Steve Richards has been working with Optage Hospice since 2019, first as an intern and then as a PHS employee in 2021. Prior to that, he was a stay-at-home dad to his two children and previously worked as a high school teacher in England where he taught religion and philosophy. He grew up in London, England (UK), and has been living in the USA since May 2005. He moved here to be with his wife. He is grateful for the privilege of working with PHS as it helps him live out the spiritual truth: "This is how love is made complete amongst us... in this world we are like Jesus" (1 John 4:17).

The Light for the Way series provides staff with an examination of a biblical reading to deepen our focus on scripture. Thank you for engaging with this series as we seek wisdom through prayer and reflection as a Christian Ministry.

Find more in the Light for the Way series:
Finding God in the real-life stories of others
'Our pockets are full'
Introducing Light for the Way, a new devotional series

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