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When I was I college, I lived for three years on the Honors Floor, an intentional living-learning floor in the dorms for students who were, well, rather keen on their studies. Each year we made floor t-shirts (college is nothing if not a one-stop supply of t-shirts), and one year those shirts read “Curiouser and Curiouser.” The quote comes from the novel, Alice in Wonderland, and is uttered by Alice as she experiences the rather perplexing occurrence of her body expanding like a telescope. Carroll used this made-up word to describe a thing that is ever more curious, perplexing, or strange. We used the word to describe a state-of-being, a posture, a way in which we wanted to exist in the world as students – to be evermore curious about that world…to be curiouser and curiouser.
That phrase came to mind this week as I read various accounts of, and responses to, the Asbury Revival. If you missed this, what’s become known as the Asbury Revival, or Asbury Outpouring, began on February 8 when a group of students spontaneously stayed after chapel in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Kentucky. That worship continued, 24/7, for two more weeks, until it was brought to a close on Monday. In those two weeks thousands of people flooded campus, worship spread into neighbouring buildings on campus and other schools across North America, and many, many words have been written as people tried to make sense of this phenomenon.
Some questioned if it was a real revival, or just a social media-fueled movement. Others said it was simply one more emotionally-charged, mountain-top experience that didn’t suggest true faith. Still others pointed out the presence of people with whom they disagree theologically as evidence that this couldn’t be Gospel-based.
It’s not surprising, the criticism. I had my own questions and skepticism as I read and watched.
But I don’t want my first instinct, when watching thousands of young people commit to hours of worship, to be skepticism.
I want to be curiouser and curiouser.
Because what if? What if the Holy Spirit is moving in real and powerful ways? What if this will be a transformative experience for hundreds or thousands of college students? What if these two weeks will bear fruit we can’t even imagine right now?
We live in a culture that demands and values certainty. We want to know – is this bad or is it good – so we know where to land, know where to align ourselves, know how to move forward. But I appreciated what Carey Nieuwhof wrote in his response to the Asbury Revival: he reminds readers that the early church was riddled with a lot of uncertainty. New things were happening, new people were being included, some religious practices were being let go while new ones were being adopted. It was messy. And a bit chaotic. I imagine more than a few people were a little skeptical.
But the Spirit was moving. And God used the Church, mess and uncertainty and all.
A couple weeks ago I preached a sermon on Colossians 3:12-17. Paul urges the Colossian Christians to clothe themselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and above all, love. Virtues that help us embody an open posture towards one another, instead of the vices he listed in verses 1-11 that are all inward-focused and egocentric – anger, lust, greed, slander, and malice.
Then – as I wrote about in my last post – he says something I find endlessly fascinating: “Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (NIV). Through worship we learn what it is to inhabit an open posture, because worship focuses our hearts and minds on God, instead of promoting ourselves or eyeing our neighbour. Worship reminds us that we belong to a sovereign God, who calls us, not to certainty, but to awe; who does great things, miraculous things, new things in this world that he loves. Who invites us to be curiouser and curiouser.
In her blog response to the revival, Nadia Bolz-Weber wonders if “exhaustion from culture wars, purity codes and the idolatry of ideology on all sides have led these young people to seek revival in the simplicity of constant prayer and singing in the first place.” Maybe. Maybe these college students are showing us what it means to teach and admonish one another, not with overtures and statements and debates and snarky social media comments, but through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.
I think we could all stand to be open to that possibility.
And open to the possibility that the Spirit is moving in real ways.
Open to the possibility that we might be wrong sometimes.
Open to the possibility that God is bigger than our certainty.
Open to the invitation to be curiouser and curiouser.