Lynda Graybeal has been an amazing behind-the-scenes worker in God’s kingdom. She served as the administrator of RENOVARÉ for over sixteen years and as its editor for over ten years, revised the first edition of A Spiritual Formation Workbook by James Bryan Smith, and edited all of the in-house RENOVARÉ publications and the RENOVARÉ Resources for Spiritual Renewal published by HarperSanFrancisco. But that is not what made us want to do an interview with Lynda for this issue of Conversations on Scripture and Formation. Lynda Graybeal serves with Richard J. Foster, Gayle Beebe, Thomas C. Oden, and Dallas Willard as a general editor of The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible.
GWM: Lynda, before we step into the primary focus of this conversation, tell us a little about yourself. I understand you’ve recently moved from Denver to a small town in Texas where you and your husband didn’t know a soul. How did you pick Canyon, Texas, for your relocation?
LG: When RENOVARÉ moved to Colorado, I promised Richard Foster that I would work for another ten years as administrator before I retired. Because Phil and I had previously lived in a small town in south-central Kansas, we knew we probably wouldn’t live in the metro Denver area beyond the ten years, so we started looking for someplace else to move. I love to tell people that we looked from Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the north to San Antonio, Texas, in the south and from Grand Junction, Colorado, in the west to Goodland, Kansas, in the east. But we had one problem: we couldn’t afford to buy a house in the one town we really liked.
GWM: And that town was?
LG: Let’s say it was located on the banks of the Arkansas River surrounded by mountains in southcentral Colorado—an idyllic place to retire. So one day about two years ago, I got out a map and said to Phil, “I wonder what is halfway between Longmont, Colorado (where our son and his wife live), and San Antonio, Texas (where our daughter and her family live).” Using a ruler, we discovered it was Canyon, Texas! So that’s how we picked it.
GWM: Wow, I’ve never heard of a move quite like that before. It makes me want to wait and see where my daughters end up before making another move.
I understand that you are still actively involved with RENOVARÉ. Some of our readers may not be familiar with this organization. How would you describe this ministry?
LG: RENOVARÉ is an effort that works for the renewal of the Church of Jesus Christ in all her multifaceted expressions. Because it is Christian in commitment, international in scope, and ecumenical in breadth, it seeks to combine what we call a “balanced vision” of six streams or dimensions of the Christian life with a “practical strategy” that nurtures spiritual growth.
GWM: What are those six tributaries?
LG: Well, Richard found that one word wouldn’t adequately describe each stream, so we had to come up with what is known in the publishing trade as subtitles to fill out the meaning. They are:
Contemplative: The Prayer-Filled Life
Holiness: The Virtuous Life
Charismatic: The Spirit-Empowered Life
Social Justice: The Compassionate Life
Evangelical: The Word-Centered Life
Incarnational: The Sacramental Life.”
GWM: What kinds of things does RENOVARÉ do to nurture this renewal?
LG: It works on several fronts: publishes newsletters, encourages people to experience retreat and read the devotional classics, holds and cosponsors conferences, publishes a line of books through HarperSanFrancisco, sells books through its website, and has a staff that attempts to answer questions and provide resources for people who want to know more about spiritual formation.
GWM: We wanted to have a conversation with you in this particular issue of the journal because of our theme: Scripture and Formation.
How might each of the six tributaries you referenced take a different approach to Scripture?
LG: That’s an interesting question. I believe we tend to read the Bible through the lens of the tradition in which we feel the most comfortable and by which we have been the most influenced. For example, the contemplative person will tend to gravitate toward those Scriptures that emphasize prayer and meditation. The person who grew up in a denomination founded on the principles of living a holy life may be more likely to dwell on those biblical stories and references that highlight holiness. Those who believe in the gifts and fruit of the Spirit often search for ways that the Holy Spirit will empower their ministry. People working on social justice and equity issues will hold dear Scriptures like Matthew 25, where Jesus admonishes those who failed to visit prisoners and care for the sick. Of course, evangelicals tend to study and read the Bible in light of evangelistic principles. And individuals belonging to a liturgical church will understand and promote those passages that talk about the sacraments.
What is important for us to realize is that if we look closely at the life of Jesus, we see all these spiritual dimensions. So for us to focus on only one stream makes us unbalanced. We should be nurturing a multifaceted, balanced spiritual life, and the only way to do that is intentionally to expose ourselves to practices from all the traditions.
GWM: Your intent is to encourage Christians to drink from each of the six tributaries?
LG: Absolutely. And this is where the balanced life comes in. Several years ago, a person who was using the first edition of A Spiritual Formation Workbook came up with what he called the “bump/bump test.” Imagine a wheel with each of the six spokes representing one of the traditions. Now put a dot on each spoke at the point of your maturity in that stream. Then connect the dots with curved lines.
Most generally, the wheel is not round and would go “bump/bump” if we rolled it on something. The object of participating in practices or drinking from all six tributaries is to bring balance into our spiritual lives so that the wheel goes down the road smoothly.
GWM: Interesting, and that may explain some of the roughness in the ride I’ve experienced. Lynda, you’ve been one of the primary editors for The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. What a massive project: five years in the making, with contributions from over fifty scholars! But you all had to wrestle with the obvious question: Do we need a new study Bible? I mean, I have at least twelve different versions on my shelves—not counting the Gideon editions that keep following me home.
LG: We did wrestle with that question, and we decided there was room for a Bible that would incorporate the same principles that guide every RENOVARÉ publication: it can be used by individuals or groups; it includes material that helps people directly engage the text (or we could say “interact” with the text); and it emphasizes shaping or forming our spirit. Last, this Bible should be practical: one we use and keep near where we read, study, and pray, not on a shelf.
GWM: What are some things you did to be intentional about making Scripture more useful to the process of spiritual transformation?
LG: There were several things. First, we identified the major theme that permeates the whole of Scripture—the Immanuel Principle, or the “with-God life”— and wrote essays and notes about how this worked in the lives of the people of God we meet in the Bible, how it works today in our lives, and how it will work in the future.
Second, we identified when a person or group was practicing a spiritual discipline. Now, we couldn’t note every instance, but we tried to give a fair representation of people meditating, praying, fasting, studying, and so on—all the disciplines Richard Foster writes about in Celebration of Discipline and Dallas Willard lists in The Spirit of the Disciplines, plus a few others.
Third, we wrote reflection questions and spiritual exercises based on those spiritual disciplines that people can use to help them engage the Scripture on a personal level. Fourth, we included a “Spiritual Disciplines Index” that the reader can use to find many more Scriptures about each discipline, which they can then study, meditate upon, create an exercise, and do on their own.
GWM: What are your recommendations for how to “experience” Scripture?
LG: Live with the Scripture. Study it. Chew it. Swallow it. Put yourself into the biblical story.
Mark up your Bible. I’ve just been proofreading the Prophets, and the story of Ezekiel is directed right at this question. The Lord told Ezekiel to “eat this scroll,” and when he ate it, “in [his] mouth it was as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:1–3, NRSV). All Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved The Bible is not a book we can read casually, like a novel or a biography or a murder mystery. It is a collection of books of various genres that we must read and study and memorize and ponder and digest if its message is to sink deeply into our hearts.
GWM: Give us one example of how you ingest Scripture—how you make it a part of you.
LG: One experiment I tried was to focus prayerfully on one verse for a couple of weeks. Now, this is a little hard for me to do because I took exegesis in college, and, as you know, in that class you are taught to pick a verse apart word by word and phrase by phrase.
But I put that method aside and focused solely on the message of the verse. At the end of the 2 weeks, it was part of me; I had chewed it and swallowed it.
GWM: Thank you. Lynda, in his introduction to The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible, Richard Foster says, “We need a Bible that will lead us step by step into the glorious and terrifying ‘with-God life,’ which like Ariadne’s thread, weaves its way throughout Scripture.” Say more about this “Immanuel” thread?
LG: Most of us know that “Immanuel,” one of the names given to Jesus, means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:21–23). And this is the story of the whole Bible: God is with his people; they are the people of God. God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where he talked with them. He was with Abraham and Sarah as they left their home in Haran and journeyed to Canaan. God was with Moses and the children of Israel during the Exodus, in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Later, he was with the nation of Israel as it set up religious and governmental institutions and as it went into exile. Then after the exile of Israel and its restoration to the Promised Land, God was with his people in the form of the person of Jesus Christ. In the Epistles, the Holy Spirit empowers the people of God. And, last, in eternity God will be with us in all of his glory and majesty. You see—and I love this sentence—“The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the very center of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant.” Our task is to recognize this thread and to realize that not only has God been with his people in the past, but he is also with us right now so that it is possible for us to have life with God, to live a “with-God life.” (See “A Brief Overview of the With-God Life” at the end of this article.)
GWM: Yes, becoming more aware of the presence of God and his desire for conversation and communion seems to be at the heart of Christian spiritual formation. Lynda, I understand The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible was designed to help capture the reality of living with the Trinitarian community—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How so—and how do you, personally, experience this reality?
LG: I’m reluctant to get into any discussion of what theologians talk about until they’re blue in the face, such as, “Was it the preincarnate Christ who talked with Adam and Eve, or was it God the Father?”
GWM: I was hoping that would be the case. . . .
LG: Rather, I want to say that the Trinity has been, is now, and will be with us forever. To me, it matters not whether an angel or a person of the Trinity wrestled with Jacob; what matters is that God was with Jacob in a special way at that moment.
Similarly, he was with the Apostle Paul as he evangelized the Roman world. And God has been with Christians during the two thousand years since Christ rose from the grave and sent his Spirit. Regularly practicing spiritual disciplines such as worship and celebration and solitude and prayer helps me experience the reality of the Trinity and their work in my life.
GWM: I believe that one of the very important teachings of both Dallas Willard and Richard Foster concerns a fresh take on the kingdom of God. How is this dealt with in the Study Bible?
LG: Although the terminology “the kingdom of God” is used sparingly, the reality of the kingdom permeates the whole project. All the contributors have tried to write essays, notes, character sketches, and reflections that will invite people into a wonderful, glorious life filled with joy and peace and goodness and all the fruit of the Spirit. This is life in the kingdom. It is working with God to bring his will “on earth as it is in heaven.” As the Apostle Paul wrote, we are co-laborers with God here on earth. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience the “with-God life.”
GWM: How have you and the other editors attempted to make the Bible autobiographical?
LG: Through the essays, notes, reflection questions, and spiritual exercises, we have tried to give readers a way to put themselves into the story so they are not just observers. It is only when we realize we are part of the story that we become overwhelmed with the goodness and longsuffering of God toward us, his wayward children, and respond in love and humility.
GWM: One interesting feature of the Bible is the collection of character sketches. Who is your favorite person of the Bible, and why?
LG: That’s a hard question because there are so many examples of people who truly lived a “with-God life,” and I’m not sure I can name just one. How about two? Hannah and Anna. Why? Because they lived hidden lives. We would say today that Hannah was just “an ordinary housewife,” but God blessed her hiddenness and faithfulness by giving her the ability to have a child who became the great leader of Israel, Samuel. And Anna quietly served in the temple but had a God-given opportunity to recognize that the baby Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. I guess I’m drawn to Hannah because for twenty years of my life I served my family in many hidden ways, and to Anna because most of what I have done during the twenty-plus years I have worked with Richard Foster has been hidden or behind the scenes.
GWM: You said something earlier about reflection questions and spiritual exercises. Do you have another example of a spiritual exercise— involving Scripture—that has become meaningful to you?
LG: First, I think I need to explain the difference between the two. A reflection question is exactly that. It gives us a chance to reflect on something that we learn from a verse or larger portion Scripture. Many times, all a reflection question does is nudge us to examine our reaction to a biblical passage or reflect on how we can apply it to our life. In a spiritual exercise we do something. For example, one of my favorite exercises is to read the same chapter of a biblical book once a day for one, two, three, or more weeks. At the end of the time, that Scripture is part of my life, not an addition to it, but a dynamic, living, integral part of me.
GWM: What made you settle on the New Revised Standard Version for the scriptural text?
LG: Several reasons. The New Revised Standard Version is one of the most accurate translations in the marketplace, particularly in the way it handles the generic words for humans—adam in the Hebrew and anthropos in the Greek—and all the problems related to translating words that are supposed to include both men and women but are masculine in the original language. Second, it is the only translation that is accepted by all three major branches of Christendom—Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Third, it includes the deuterocanonical books, which we felt were important in order to help the reader understand what happened historically and culturally in the four hundred years between the Old Testament book of Malachi and the New Testament book of Matthew.
GWM: Lynda, now that you are retired, do you find that you are actually working more than when you were, uh, working?
LG: I’m not sure I can say I’m working more because I’m no longer responsible for overseeing an office and staff from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm five days a week. What’s nice is that I am able to set my own schedule and work in my nightclothes if I want to! I have been pretty busy these past few months working on the Bible project, but once my work on it is done in February, I plan to celebrate since I’ll then have only one job: personal assistant to Richard Foster.
However, that celebration will be short because HarperSanFrancisco plans to publish guides that will further explain the “with-God life” and give more ways for people to study the Bible and to immerse themselves in this life. And HSF has asked another person and me to write them. Life is never dull when you’re working with God on kingdom projects!
GWM: But it sounds like you’ve discovered that the “with-God” makes all the difference.
As a nontraditional student, Lynda L. Graybeal earned a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy and an MA in Biblical Studies from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. She was a contributor to The Renovaré Spiritual Formation .
01. A Brief Overview of the With-God Life*
|Stage of Formation||Scripture Passages||God’s Action||Human Reaction|
|I. The People of God in Individual Communion||Genesis 1–11||Creates, instructs, steward of a good creation, banishes, destroys, restores||Disobey, rebel, sacrifice, murder, repent, obey|
|II. The People of God Become a Family||Genesis 12–50||Gives promise and establishes Abrahamic covenant, makes a great people||Faith, wrestle with God, persevere|
|III. The People of God in Exodus||Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy||Extends mercy, grace, and deliverance from exile; delivers the Mosaic Covenant/Law||Obey and disobey, develop a distinctive form of ritual|
|IV. The People of God in the Promised Land||Joshua; Judges; Ruth; 1 Samuel 1–12||Establishes a theocracy, bequeaths the Promised Land||Inhabit the Promised Land, accept judges as mediators|
|V. The People of God as a Nation||1 Samuel 13–31 & 2 Samuel; 1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles; 1 Esdras 1||Permits the monarchy, exalts good kings, uses secular nations for blessing||Embrace the monarchy|
|VI. The People of God in Travail||Job; Psalms (of Lament); Ecclesiastes; Lamentations; Tobit||Permits tribulation, allows suffering to strengthen faith||Complains yet remains faithful|
|VII. The People of God in Prayer and Worship||Psalms; Psalm 151||Establishes liturgical worship||Praise, prayer|
|VIII. The People of God in Daily Life||Proverbs; Song of Solomon; Wisdom of Solomon; Sirach (Wisdom of Sirach; or Ecclesiasticus)||Gives precepts for living in community||Teachable, learning, treasure beautiful words and artistic expression|
|IX. The People of God in Rebellion||1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 25:10; 2 Chronicles 10–36:19; Isaiah; Jeremiah 1–36; Hosea; Joel; Amos; Jonah; Micah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Judith; Prayer of Manasseh||Proclaims prophetic judgment and redemption, reveals his rule over all nations, promises Immanuel, uses secular nations to bring judgment||Disbelieve and reject, believe false prophets, a faithful remnant emerges|
|X. The People of God in Exile||1 Kings 25:11–30; 2 Chronicles 36:20–23; Jeremiah 37–52; Lamentations; Ezekiel; Daniel; Obadiah; Haggai; Baruch; Letter of Jeremiah; Additions to the Book of Daniel||Judges yet remains faithful to covenant promises||Mourn, survive, long for Jerusalem, stand for God without institutions|
|XI. The People of God in Restoration||Ezra; Nehemiah; Esther; Daniel; Haggai; Zechariah; Malachi; Tobit; Additions to Esther; 1 Esdras 2–9; 2 Esdras; 1, 2, 3 & 4 Maccabees; Additions to the Book of Daniel||Regathers and redeems, restructures social life||Return, obey, rebuild, worship, pursue Messianic figure, compile Septuagint|
|XII. The People of God with Immanuel||Matthew; Mark; Luke; John||Sends the Son and acts with the Son||Hear and follow; resist and reject|
|XIII. The People of God in Mission||Acts of the Apostles||Sends the Holy Spirit and creates the Church||Believe and proclaim; disbelieve and persecute|
|XIV. The People of God in Community||Romans; 1 & 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon; Hebrews; James; 1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude||Builds, nurtures, and mobilizes the Church||Become disciples of Jesus Christ and make disciples to the ends of the earth|
|XV. The People of God into Eternity||Revelation||Reveals infinite progress toward infinite good||Worship and praise, creativity that magnifies God|