Remembering Dallas Willard

The word came with a sudden pause in my soul, “Dallas Willard has passed away.” The late afternoon sun was ripening the trees with angled light; God’s creation paused with me.

The sensation I began to feel was the loss of a mentor, even though he and I never had much of a conversation. I do remember walking beside him and saying, “Hello,” two years ago at the first “Aprentis” event in Wichita; we were waiting in the Hyatt lobby to travel to Friends University. We said a cordial, warm hello in passing with a smile. Later I held the door for him at the top of the Friends University chapel and main building staircase. We said hello again. …there wasn’t a whole lot more to our conversation, just small things which were evidently important to him.

[That Renovare, Aprentis event in Wichita was deeply formative for me. I still carry the Benedictine short breviary I discovered there on occasion and think of Friends University and smile.]

It was Dallas’ books that have left a most riveting impact. I remember the emotion and revelation that swept over me when I read The Great Omission in Holdrege, NE. I remember the late afternoon light when I would often finish the last minutes of the day with a chapter. I was swept into the meaning, the implications. “Good grief,” I would pause, “We don’t know Jesus or ‘the gospel.’”

Dallas’ words have contained for me a balance of wisdom, spiritual renovation, and awareness of the ordinary. It was from him (and Eugene Peterson) that I learned the grace of “normal life,” that folks are meant to walk beside and imitate Jesus in the here and now, in whatever places they find themselves in.

I also remember from him the role of the Gospels – that you can’t know freedom if you don’t know Jesus and you can’t know Jesus if you don’t know the Gospels.

And of course, the role of the Spiritual Disciplines in the formative work of the soul – not as earning formation, but elements for placing oneself in the arms of God’s Holy Spirit for renovation.

I brought my highlighted copy of The Great Omission home tonight. I hope to read my old highlights and revisit the grace Dallas has been for me. I also hope to pause in a vigil of sorts, thanking God for Dallas’ work for me and for the Church and world. I have been blessed to see many people resonate with Dallas’ works like I have; meeting or hearing about such folks always brings the kind of smile that comes when you meet someone with a common affinity.

The last thought that sweeps over me tonight is remembering a thought that came over me not too long ago, a thought that asked, “What will it be like to lose a guy like Eugene Peterson or Dallas Willard to age or illness?” I was bracing myself then for wondering who I would trust theologically next. Both of these guys have left their mark on my soul, by God’s grace, and I will miss Dallas – and the anticipation of a new work or word from him.