Friday, June 17, 2005

epiphany at l'abri

A recent post of an interview of Nancy Pearcey by Catez on Allthings2all mentions Ms. Pearcey's experience at L'Abri, the former Swiss home of theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith. I have my own L'Abri experience. It was not quite as earth-shaking as Pearcey's, but significant all the same.

I decided, the fall of 1974 when I was backpacking around Europe, that since I was in Switzerland anyway, I would visit L’Abri. However, it wasn’t because I was terribly religious. In fact I was, at the time, distinctly irreligious.

Turning my back on the beliefs and lifestyle I had been immersed in since childhood was not something that had happened overnight. In fact, I couldn’t isolate an event or pivotal moment at which it had begun. It had been more of a gradual slide from faith and obedience that had started during my years in university. It had continued the two years I taught school in northern British Columbia.

After my second year of teaching, three of us teachers had decided that a fancyfree trip around Europe was far more appealing than the prospect of again facing rows of wriggling students. So we quit our jobs and, Eurail passes in hand, embarked on the “Europe Cure.” By the time it was October and I was boarding the bus for L’Abri, I was a seasoned and somewhat jaded traveler.

I had read about L’Abri years earlier in a book by Edith Schaeffer and been intrigued by what she’d described. The Schaeffers had decided to give an open door welcome to all the spiritually lost and searching youth who trekked to the mountain chalet home they called L’Abri (Shelter). It was supposedly a place where seekers could question Dr. Schaeffer and discuss the deep issues of life and being, with him and the brilliants in his orbit. It had become, since it was begun in 1955, a place where people would wander in and stay, for a day to months while they tried to “find themselves." This cool autumn morning I joined them.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected to get from this visit. In a way I was surprised that I even had the urge to seek the place out. For there had been little sign of spiritual life in me for months now. But there was something – a restlessness, a holding back, an inability to fully enter into the godless outlook of my friends – that made me feel marked. It was as if my Christian experience had spoiled me for really enjoying my backslidden state.

And so I think, looking back, this side trip was my somewhat grudging assent to what seemed inevitable - my way of saying to God: Well, here’s Your chance to get me back.

When I got to L’Abri the other visitors and I were toured around. At lunchtime we were invited to join in a meal - similar to other meals I’d eaten in communal settings: soup, raw vegetables, bread made with coarse flour and lots of seeds. Neither Dr. Schaeffer nor his wife were home. We did sit around and talk to some people for a while. But nothing happened inside me. I mean, despite the whole effort of making the trip up the mountain, I didn’t feel any closer to God. After a few more hours, daylight faded to twilight and I made my way back to the road and the bus stop.

On my trip back to town I mulled over what had and hadn’t happened. Frankly, I was relieved that there had been no Damascus Road experience. It meant I wouldn’t have to radically change anything or go through awkward explanations to my friends. But I was also just a tiny bit disappointed – and worried. Was this spiritual numbness I was feeling, here to stay? A verse I’d memorized in childhood came to me: “No one can come to me, unless the Father... draws him” (John 6:44). Had God decided not to draw me any more? Had He written me off?

I began to see God with new respect. I realized that re-establishing my friendship with Him was not something I could do entirely on my own initiative and in my own time. It was also dependent on His wooing me. Would He again tug at my life, like He had in the past? As I got off the bus and walked toward the hostel where my friends and I were staying, I realized that I hoped He would.

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I discovered after posting this, that June is the 50th anniversary of L'Abri fellowship. Joining the celebration, Tim at challies.com has posted an article by Rick Pearcey: "Francis Schaeffer: A student's Appreciation of a Distinct Voice."

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