Writing One Step at a Time has been a great gift to me. I feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to spend nearly six weeks on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and almost two years letting the spiritual principles I write about percolate, take shape, and be refined through a process of reflection, experimentation, observation, Scripture study, conversation, and prayer. Many of the insights that have emerged have their roots in the soil of the pilgrimage, journeyed with my traveling companions: my wife, Jill, and two sons, Tim and Dan. I have been blessed by their willingness to share their lives so openly and fully with me and to engage with me as I have been learning how to better live by the Holy Spirit’s leading in my own life and in my relationships with them.
For six weeks in the fall following the pilgrimage, the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, operated by the World Council of Churches and located just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, kindly opened its doors to Jill and me for a portion of my sabbatical. There I had the opportunity to mix with some thirty young leaders from various parts of the world, who were committed to learning about ecumenism and to serving Christ in their home environments. Along with researching and writing in Bossey’s library, Jill and I had the opportunity to attend lectures and hold many conversations with faculty and students on how God was at work in their lives, churches, and countries. All of these experiences were very stimulating and informative and contributed in intangible ways to my ability to write a book on Christian spirituality that honors as many traditions as possible.
In January 2007 I had the opportunity to teach a short course at a Burmese seminary and to interview Buddhist monks, former Buddhists, and various Christian leaders involved in interreligious dialogue and peace initiatives in Myanmar and Thailand. My faith and understanding of spirituality and transformation were profoundly affected by these experiences in southeast Asia. For their protection, I cannot name many of the Christians who spent time with me answering my questions, sharing their perspective on faith, serving Christ in an oppressive environment, and modeling faithfulness and devotion. Yet I am deeply grateful for all they taught me from their own perspective and experience. Some former Buddhist monks, in particular, who had converted to Christianity helped me gain a new appreciation for my own faith in a loving, personal God and in Jesus Christ as Savior. (For more on the appreciation I feel for my time with the Buddhist monks and former Buddhists, see “What the Buddhists Taught Me” at my blog site: https://spirit-ledleader.com/?p=24.)
The Buddhist monks we interviewed were generous with their time and kind enough to explain why their faith in Buddha’s teachings and in their own efforts to achieve Nirvana one day was so important to them. Thanks especially to Venerable Bensot Sadhana Ratna from Bangladesh and Batt Sophal and Leng from Cambodia, all three Buddhist monks and students at the Mahamakut Buddhist University in Bangkok, and to Professor Pum Parichart Suwanbubbha, chairperson, Comparative Religion Program, Mahidol University, Bangkok, who told us how important it was to her that she engage in dialogue with Christians who have a vibrant, passionate faith in Jesus Christ rather than with those who think interreligious dialogue means minimizing the differences between religions.
Thanks, too, to Chuleepahn, professor of pastoral care at McGilvary Seminary of Payap University in Chiang Mai. Chuleepahn told us of her work with prostitutes and introduced us to an inspiring Buddhist monk who had been honored by the king of Thailand for his extraordinary outreach to women infected with HIV/AIDS.
I also appreciated the thought-provoking conversations I had with John Butt, senior fellow and former director of the Institute of Religion and Culture at Payap University, and with the current director, Mark Tamthai. I learned more about how believers from different religions can work together and about spirituality in a pluralistic culture. Other individual Buddhists and Christians helped me better understand how various beliefs from different religions often mix together in the mind and practice of individual believers. In One Step at a Time, I do not discuss non-Christian spiritualities, but my many conversations with others who are less committed than I to traditional Christianity, or any Christian faith for that matter, or who minister in pluralistic settings have sharpened my understanding and appreciation for what I hold most dear in my own faith.
Three trips to France while writing the book allowed me to pray and pursue a deeper relationship with God in the context of the awe-inspiring and beautiful Chartres Cathedral, built in the early 1200s. I was able to spend hours alone praying there, and I received clarity or confirmation about many of the chief ideas I write about in One Step at a Time.
Jill and I also worshiped most evenings in the Chartres Cathedral with the Chemin Neuf (New Way)—a Catholic order with an ecumenical vocation. Our conversations, prayer, and fellowship with several of the Chemin Neuf community members gave me a deeper appreciation for Catholic spirituality and new insights into the unique contributions of both Catholicism and Protestantism. I am especially grateful to the community’s leader, Etienne Veto, PhD in philosophy, who is currently working on a second doctorate (in theology). He has a great ability to explain Catholic theology lucidly, and his insights have deepened my appreciation for the sacred fellowship that exists among the three persons of the Trinity. Etienne also gave me helpful feedback on a couple different sections of the book, for which I am grateful.
In the actual refining of the book, I am indebted to the honest and extensive comments made by John Ackerman, my spiritual director, who carefully read an early version of One Step at a Time. John’s many suggestions for the book along with his steady support and guidance on a monthly basis have informed and encouraged me greatly in my own relationship with God and have helped me in my writing on spirituality.
I also appreciate Don Reierson, Mike Hoisington, Lynn Christianson, and my son, Tim Geoffrion, whose reading and comments have helped make this a better book. A number of friends and family members were helpful as well at critical times in the writing process by periodically indulging my questions, raising questions or insights of their own, and engaging me in conversation on spirituality and transformation. In particular, Mark Thompson, Dave Stark, and, of course, my wife, Jill, have stimulated my thinking in many ways over the years, helping me to grow spiritually, to serve Christ more effectively, and to refine many of the ideas presented in this book. I am also grateful for the patience and support of Jill as I worked long hours, especially during the eight-week home stretch, and was often distant and preoccupied when I wasn’t formally working.
Above all, in the writing of the final manuscript, I am especially grateful for my Alban editor, Beth Gaede, who worked with me step by step, word by word. She repeatedly raised questions that helped me think through and express my ideas better. As I sought to go beyond intellectual concepts to write from my heart and to engage the hearts of others, Beth continually provided honest feedback and helpful suggestions to open my eyes to whatever I was having trouble seeing or accepting on my own.
I am also deeply grateful to all of my students over the years who continue to teach me much by their questions, insights, and example. In a similar way, I have learned a great deal from my spiritual life coaching clients, a number of my sons’ friends at Williams College and Yale University, and a host of other individuals who must remain unnamed due to confidentiality. These individuals have deepened my understanding of how God works to draw people to God. From them I have also gained greater insight into powerful spiritual questions and issues with which intelligent, motivated individuals grapple.