What I Really Need Is Goodness: Meet Marva Dawn

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Our partner ministry, Laity Lodge is pleased to have Dr. Marva Dawn as their speaker at the June 5-8 retreat (along with Mark Roberts, the Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence of Laity Lodge). Marva is a highly regarded theologian and author. She'll be speaking on "a sabbath way of life" out of her latest book, The Sense of the Call. This book, by the way, was recently honored by the Academy of Parish Clergy on its list of Top Ten Books of the Year.

Though Marva is respected and loved by thousands throughout the world, she's new to Laity Lodge and So, to help you get to know her, we asked Paul Seebeck, who frequently does interviews for The High Calling of our Daily Work to introduce us to Marva. Here is Paul's story.

An older looking lady in a worn dress needs help as she shuffles her way to the speaker’s podium.

“When I was with my husband on the phone last night, I just started crying,” says Marva Dawn. “I realized I loved my husband even though I didn’t feel it.”

I had never met Dawn, an internationally renowned theologian, author, and educator. I also haven’t read any of her 20 books, not even two of her most famous works: Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, and A Royal "Waste" of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. So I wasn’t sure what to expect at a pastor’s conference at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, where Dawn was leading us through cries of lament found in many of the Psalms: “How long, Lord?” “Why?” and “Where are you in this God?"

Physically handicapped, Dawn wears a leg brace, and is blind in one eye. She tells us about her tears and her lack of feelings for her husband first. The latest medication for her malady of physical infirmities is taking its toll. But she doesn’t wallow in physical or emotional pain. We are hooked by her strength. We are open to hear how our human emotions are stronger than our intellect—often because of a lack of affirmation growing up. Yet in our cries of feeling forgotten before God, we can learn to train our heart, our will, to become stronger than our emotion, by letting God in and practicing trust in the gifts of divine kindness.

At the end of the session, I ask Dawn what she wants Laity Lodge to know about her.

“That I’d like to be as good as my husband is,” she says. “He is so gentle, so self-sacrificing, so willing to serve.”

When Dawn is introduced at speaking engagements around the world, they always joke about her four masters degrees (she also has a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics and the Scriptures from Notre Dame).

“It’s a good thing for me to be made fun of for that,” she laughs. “I’ve always been so driven in academics, but what I really need is goodness, the kind that my husband has.”

Dawn has never been to Kerrville but is “doubly excited” to be at Laity Lodge. A cousin in Austin who is dying of a brain tumor has told her how wonderful the community is. She is looking forward to being in the surroundings at Laity Lodge, as she opens herself to what God’s spirit might be asking her to teach.

“My blindness,” she smiles, “has me learning this awareness as both a spiritual and physical practice.”

Suddenly I’m aware that our focus for this conference was the spiritual practice of crying out to God, yet what I remember most about being with Marva Dawn, is the laughter we shared.