The Cup of Salvation

Sent length

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays, I’ve been leading our discussion, using the Eucharist cup as a metaphor for life.

When some of my friends drive across Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas, they see “nothing.”  With the best of intentions, they warn me before my solo road trips to be prepared to be bored as I drive through hundreds of miles of “empty” landscape.

My experience, however, proves to be quite different from theirs.  Instead of being bored, I’m energized, looking for signs of life to my right and left.  The signs of life are not stereo-typical: neon lights, moving traffic, bustling people.  Rather, I’m seeing invisible rhythms of farm and ranch life.  Wherever I see a fence, I look for livestock.  Wherever I see a meandering tree line, I look for a stream.  Wherever I see a grove, I look for barns, houses, equipment.

Not only do I see what’s there, I imagine what came before and what is to come: all the activity that goes into a planting and harvest season, the task of fixing a winter-damaged fence in preparation for the antsy livestock that have been confined in smaller places.  I see these things because I’ve had first-hand experience with them.

Likewise, whenever I read “The Cup of Salvation” (a chapter in Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?), I see rhythms unapparent to the many people who, like me, read and enjoy this Christian classic.  My perspective comes from first-hand experience with the depths of this chapter through a graduate-level discourse analysis.

Tacitly, upon my first reading over a decade ago, I knew there was something different about Nouwen’s small but profound book.  As a writer, I looked for clues in the patterns and methods of his writing.  Although I didn’t find much with my common tools of observation, I remained convinced that the short chapters were as rich in layer and luxury as Enya’s short songs.

My graduate-level class in advanced grammar and study of modern English provided me the tools I needed to locate and uncover, quantify and qualify the originality and rhythms in this book.  In addition to analyzing grammar (e.g., gerunds, pronouns, etc.), I analyzed and graphed sentence patterns and sentence lengths, where the rhythm aspect I’d tacitly sensed became academically visible.

It’s providential that, in a chapter on salvation, what I’d sensed tacitly, I came to know tangibly.  Why?  The same thing is happening to me personally: what I sense tacitly about God’s ongoing salvation, I desire to see tangibly.  In other words, I believe God saves all the time, but I don’t readily see it.

The belief is especially close-at-hand when those plains, pastures, and fields of my road trips look even more uniform under a layer of snow, like a black-and-white photo.  Even when the landscape looks frozen and barren, I can imagine the full-color version of what exists under that snow, and what life comes from the land.  I appreciate this picture as part of the rhythm.

So it is with salvation.  I still don’t readily see God’s ongoing salvation in the barren and cold landscape of our world’s history.  But neither did the psalmists, crying, “How long…?” and “Why…?”  As Eugene Peterson puts it:

Questions and protests regarding God’s absence are not marginal to salvation.  The psalmists are neither shy nor apologetic in giving us license to pray our complaints about the way this whole salvation business is being conducted” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 154).

Still, I believe, and pray to drink in this cup of salvation, just as I drink in the rural landscapes.

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays, and drinks in a rural landscape as often as possible.


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5 responses to “The Cup of Salvation

  1. Jadell:

    Beautiful description of the plains and that vast farmland in America’s middle. I may be one of those friends that you describe, telling you to get to the real landscape of the mountains. God was just as creative there as in the mountains, however.

    But I don’t get the connection between God’s salvation and the varied length of Nouwen’s sentences. Does God’s salvation have a rhythm? If so, what does that mean for you–and me?


  2. Georgie-ann

    We have an unsurpassable scriptural testimony:

    Romans 1: 4

    4 “And [as to His divine nature] according to the Spirit of holiness was openly designated the Son of God in power [in a striking, triumphant and miraculous manner] by His resurrection from the dead, even Jesus Christ our Lord (the Messiah, the Anointed One).”

    But, as you are saying, we have even been given so much more to go on, and are accountable to recognize:

    Romans: 17, 19-23 (excerpts)

    17 “For in the Gospel a righteousness which God ascribes is revealed, …. springing from faith and leading to faith ….

    19 “For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them.

    20 “For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (His handiworks). So [men] are without excuse [altogether without any defense or justification],

    21 “Because when they knew and recognized Him as God, they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. But …. their senseless minds were darkened.

    22 “Claiming to be wise, they became fools [professing to be smart, they made simpletons of themselves].

    23 “And by them the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God were exchanged….”

    Obviously, from that testimony of Paul, it is the blessed and wise person who is able to recognize the “handiworks” and nature of God in His Creation, and who ascribes to their lessons of humility and righteousness before Him — who finds this God worthy in the most permanent and transcendent ways of our ongoing trust and love.

    As the disciple, Peter, said:

    John 6: 67-69

    67 “Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ …

    68 “Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words (the message) of eternal life.

    69 ” ‘And we have learned to believe and trust, and [more] we have come to know [surely] that You are the Holy One of God, the Christ (the Anointed One), the Son of the living God.’ ”

    Many times and in many ways, this life has been described as a pilgrimage to “that bright land to which I go,” or as “this world is not my home.”

    The mish-mash of cause and effect that we see operating before us on a daily basis — the clash of the best of human intentions, human error, the physics of success and accident, the worst of human delusions and satanic impulses — all these work together to present continual and problematic impressions of life on the verge of being somehow senseless and senselessly “out-of-control.”

    The author of illusion and delusion likes it that way.

    But whether you find it in your heart, or on top of a high mountain, or in a new spring flower, or in God’s Word to us, we are also continually reminded that there is Something More than the temporal noise and chaos generated on this earth,…Something More than the majesty of Creation itself,…

    Romans 8:28

    28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

    Matthew 24:35

    35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

  3. Georgie-ann

    I just saw Eugene’s comment and am interested in the rhythm concept also!,…do you have more to say on this?

  4. I completely agree with the fact we don’t always see what is going on. We have to be trained to do so. Maybe we will all look back on our lives and realize what God was doing with us. Maybe we will get to a certain point where we understand what is going on right when it is happening.

  5. Georgie-ann

    dear Brendan,…when I look at the life of the apostle Paul, as it is revealed to us in Scripture and history, I see stages that you are talking about,…and I have long thought that this growth and awareness is available to us on some levels as well,…I think it comes gradually as we co-operate with God’s leading and will in our lives,…

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