Saints Alive! A Conversation with Maxie Dunnam
This summer, Dr. Maxie Dunnam released a new devotional resource he developed while at home during the initial wave of coronavirus shutdowns. Saints Alive! 30 Days of Pilgrimage with the Saints is a rich, month-long set of readings; daily reflections aren’t just inspired by those who have come before; they have the tone of being in dialogue with these spiritual giants. Dunnam brings his own insights into conversation with names both familiar and unfamiliar: writers like William Law, Thomas à Kempis, Francis de Sales, Evelyn Underhill, John Wesley, and Bernard of Clairvaux. Decades ago, Upper Room Ministries published a collection of small booklets under the title Living Selections from the Great Devotional Classics – what Dunnam continues to refer to as his “box of saints,” a set of writings that has shaped his spiritual life over the years.
What becomes abundantly clear throughout this book is the ongoing need for timeless insight when the present feels urgent. The more pressing current events become, the more pressing the need to drill down into the very core of the gathered wisdom of the saints of the Church. When a plague surges and wildfires burn and levees do not hold, we need the voices of Christians who knew plague and burning and flood. What feels like uncharted territory for many leaders is not wholly uncharted in the life of the Church. Thankfully, as the rhythm of life together was profoundly disrupted, Dunnam reached for those who know how to sink into life in Christ, however near calamity strikes.
Recently, Maxie answered a few questions about his “box of saints” and the timeliness of their wisdom today.
Wesleyan Accent: In the introduction, you describe having what you think of as your “box of saints” – a set of booklets featuring spiritual writings from Christians across centuries. What do you think it is that makes their insight so enduring, across time and continents and language?
Maxie Dunnam: First of all, the issues they dealt with. They took our daily life seriously and dealt with everyday issues that are common to us: pride, envy, jealousy, selfishness, loneliness, relationships, illness, death and on and on. They also dealt with the issues that trouble us if we are serious about living the faith: the necessity of discipline, worship, prayer, a meaningful devotional life, silence, living with Scripture, mutual faith sharing, companionship, confession.
WA: You invite readers to spend thirty days on soul pilgrimage with you as you engage with these profound Christian voices. During periods of crisis like we’ve experienced the past couple of years, you turn toward the “communion of saints,” the Body of Christ across time. How can remembering our fellowship in this wide span of the Church help give perspective in the middle of pandemic, wildfires, injustice, war, and hurricanes?
MD: The big dynamic is the communion of saints. I experience a wonderful mystery when I sit and reflect with these persons. I may or may not know the circumstances of their lives, but their thoughts and words give me a kind of oneness with them. The fact that others have valued their thoughts and words enough to preserve them through the centuries tells me that I need to pay attention to what they have to say. Our needs, suffering, questions, and problems make us one in our humanity; our faith makes us one in hope and Kingdom certainty.
WA: I was surprised to encounter a few writers I’d barely heard of, if at all. Sometimes the scope of spiritual insight from those who came before us around the world is just mind-boggling. Of those you interact with in these daily devotionals, is there one you most wish you could sit and talk with for an afternoon? (in addition to John Wesley, of course!)
MD: I would like to spend an afternoon with Saint Francis and Bonhoeffer. I am so unlike both. They both came from wealth and material privilege, which is foreign to me. Francis gave up his wealth, but Bonhoeffer never did. I’d like to talk about that. Both were passionate in their expression of the Gospel; I feel I am likewise. It would great, leading them to share with each other about how and why their passion was expressed. If I had to choose a time alone with one or the other, I would choose Francis, to talk about how I can be in but not of the world.
Saints Alive! 30 Days of Pilgrimage with the Saints works well both for personal use as well as small group or band reading discussion. It is available in both print and Kindle format by clicking here.
Featured image courtesy Alex Gindin via Unsplash.