On the western bank of the mighty Mississippi River, at the eastern edge of Saint Louis, Missouri, stands the towering Gateway Arch. At 630 feet high it is America’s tallest monument, about as tall as two football fields standing end on end. The two legs of this towering monument are likewise 630 feet apart at ground level, increasing the sense of hugeness.
The Gateway Arch is also the world’s tallest stainless steel monument. From its observation deck, one can see 30 miles. It has now been standing unshaken by wind, storm, and even earth tremors for 46 years.
I lived 50 miles to the east of St. Louis during the 1960s when it was being built. When I went into the city to visit parishioners in hospitals there, I passed nearby and saw this remarkable structure rising stage by stage.
But it did not begin to rise into view from the first day of construction. What I could not see for the first year-and-a-half was the labor invested to burrow 20 feet into the bedrock to establish a substructure. Workers poured 23,570 tons of concrete into that foundation before any signs of the monument appeared above ground.
The Gateway Arch stood as a metaphor in my mind as I prepared for Kathleen’s and my recent visit to Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. There I spent part of an evening with a class of seminarians who are preparing for a life of ministry. The paper I presented there was on nurturing the inner life of the minister. I selected that subject for a simple reason: Ministry only succeeds in the long pull when one’s visible ministry, carried out day-after-day and from year-to-year gains unseen support from a devotional life not open to the public, but methodically rooted and grounded in God. The seminarians and I talked about daily reading of scripture and vital prayer above all, but also about some classics of Christian devotional literature.
But attention to the foundation of Christian life and ministry is not only for ordained men and women. Every Christian life that succeeds in service to God will have a visible life of witness, standing as a monument to God’s grace. But it will also have an out-of-sight life of practiced daily devotion and worship that stabilizes and reinforces that witness.