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Lenten Conversations: Stanley Hauerwas on Prayers for Our Children

February 24, 2017
stanleyhauerwas

Jacket photo by Lydia Halldorf, used on Hannah’s Child memoir by Stanley Hauerwas

Another Way for week of February 24, 2017

Lenten Conversations: Stanley Hauerwas on Prayers for Our Children

Editor’s note: First in a six-week Lenten series of interviews Melodie Davis conducted with influential Christians over several years.

Can you imagine going to bed at night not sure if you or your child will be alive the next day?

Stanley Hauerwas is a renowned theologian, prolific author, and a distinguished professor emeritus from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to interview some folks with names you might recognize. Sometimes the interviews were for TV documentaries we worked on at Mennonite Media, or for the Shaping Families radio program which had a sweet but short life from 2010-2012. For the six weeks of Lent which begins March 1, through the week before Easter, I’ll share highlights from some of those encounters.

I first became aware of Stanley Hauerwas’s writing and work when he and Will Willimon wrote the noteworthy and prophetic book Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong (Abingdon Press) in the late 80s. This now being 2017, perhaps I should note that Hauerwas and Willimon were not talking of immigrants here, but rather how Christians all are perhaps aliens living in a culture away from our true home in God’s kingdom or heaven.

Hauerwas’s lofty books and highly respected teaching didn’t stop him from living a nightmare. He endured the difficult personal circumstances facing many families living with someone with bipolar illness. Both he and his son have deep faith and gratefulness for the prayers of friends and colleagues who rallied to their support in those days.

“Prayer meant everything to me,” Hauerwas said in his interview. “I know that I would not have survived without intercessory prayer, I just know that. So we can always pray for one another in that way. “

Fast forward to 2012 when his memoir, Hannah’s Child had just been published, and he was speaking to a group of Mennonites meeting in Raleigh at North Carolina State University. The topic of that book was more domestic, not only about Dr. Hauerwas’s childhood, but how he came to deal with his wife’s mental illness.

In Hannah’s Child, he writes about his own mother, named Hannah. Like Hannah in the Old Testament book of Samuel (1 Samuel, chapter 2), Hauerwas’s mother prayed for a son and promised to devote her life to raising that son for God. Hauerwas jokes that that was “perfectly appropriate, but why did she have to tell me about it when I was just six?” Later in life he learned how those prayers and even being told of her dreams for him surely “had a great shaping on my life. It took me many years to understand that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

Think of the Psalm that goes, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” (Psalms 139:5). Also in the book of Jeremiah, who was also a teaching prophet, Jeremiah was told, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (1:5).

Hauerwas’ father was a brick layer and at first Hauerwas was inclined to follow in his father’s footsteps. I loved the tribute Hauerwas gave his father in our interview:

My father was a wonderful, gentle man, who was in a very hard line of work. He was a craftsman of first order, and when I was taken on the job when I was 7, you have to learn all the subsidiary skills of the laborer before you’re allowed to lay brick. My father was a little hesitant to teach me because he wanted me to go on to college and he didn’t want me into the money [of bricklaying]. But I learned from my father essential work habits that have stayed with me my whole life.

I have no doubt that this early introduction to hard work did help Hauerwas as he lived through the manic episodes in his first marriage until she left him. He also credits his parents as instrumental for his calling: “My mother and father exemplified for me a very straightforward and unapologetic dedication of lives shaped by the church and the gospel, which always stayed with me. Their faith always gave them something to do. That is what faith does. It gives you something to do. Just think how wonderful that is, to have something to do with your life. You don’t have to make it up.”

What were or are your prayers for your children? Reflect on Psalm 139:5 printed above: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

***

These Lenten Conversations are available in a PDF by clicking here: Lenten Conversations PDF (portable document format). Or, send me your name and address and two U.S. postage stamps and I’ll mail a copy. Send to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850.

 

 

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