The day is quiet, and relatively moth free. The noise of last week seems to have abated, as the burst of energy which comes from the first warm spell of the year has now dissipated. A cool mountain breeze massages the flora. I sit listening to a bit of Beethoven to massage my soul.
“I am putting together a spiritual disciplines reader for my church,” a friend e-mailed me the other day. “It made curious to hear what kinds of disciplines you are finding helpful right now.”
Well, okay, I thought. What are my ‘disciplines’? I don’t really have a rule to follow or a steady pattern. I see the spiritual life, primarily, as a state of mind, and then do what helps foster that state of mind most fully. But, there are certain things, and since my reply to this question is a bit related to the goals of this present page, I post my response here:
Right now, I’m really trying to find my way through prayer, mostly because I have always had a hard time praying, and yet the more I study the greats of the faith I have to accept that coming to terms with prayer is essential. It’s the bedrock. That means taking several times each day, cutting off the world, either through earplugs or going out to a secluded spot, and letting myself focus into prayer. I’m also finding that priming myself by beginning these times with spiritual reading, like Cassian or desert fathers, or other monastics, really sets my mind into focus.
Exercise. The monastics would call this work, but what we mean by work is not what they meant. Getting the body in motion and working physically is an essential part of my spiritual and mental well being.
Solitude… but that’s assumed, even if it really is more difficult here than one might think.
Interestingly, one of the more potent ‘disciplines’ I’m realizing, that is having the most effect on my soul as I’ve begun to understand it, is ‘letting go’. There’s a voluntary leap into not only poverty but also complete loss of having to compete or impress or live for someone else. As I’ve let go my ambitions I’ve discovered a peculiar peace that comes from utter humility. More than anything else, this progressive ‘letting go’ is shaping my spiritual life, and really filling my heart with an increasing wholeness. I think this is breaking down my vanity, pride, and all sorts of other deep seated sins, that I likely would have never overcome had I gone straight into the pastorate. In a way this is like fasting, but more profound in my mind. Fasting has always been difficult, as I can’t do it without ‘expectation’.
Another bit that I’m beginning to add recently is the ‘vigil’. I’m not near finding it consistent, but I’m going to try and do a beginners version a little more regularly from now on.
Thanksgiving. I’m not denying my emotional realities as they ebb and flow, but in each moment I am seeking to find the light and peace that each day holds, turning my heart upwards with effort.
Spiritual reading. I’m differentiating ‘academic’ reading from more spiritual reading, approaching the latter in small chunks, trying to absorb rather than get through. The orthodox monks are a good treat in this regard.
Bible… though this is not consistent enough. Five psalms a day, and a proverb (this gives a monthly read through of the Psalms and Proverbs).
I’m not sure if this is a discipline, but I’m trying to be more ‘watchful’, taking stock of my soul better, and seeing how even small things can turn me towards or away from God. In this I’m trying to find a fluidity.
I’m really not a great example of steady discipline and devotion, more mucking my way along each day. It is the prayer and the ‘letting go’ that is really most important right now, and in which I am seeing the most growth and change.
I added as a followup:
It’s the inner letting go which strikes against pride, while just giving away possession can actually build pride. It’s a curious thing I’m still learning because it’s not full yet, but because of my position in life, and by coming to terms with it, I am finding some measure of wholeness that couldn’t come by being in a position of real responsibility. What I’m also seeing is that this includes a ‘letting go’ of my spiritual life. I’m increasingly relaxed as to my regular devotion… not to say I’m not intent about it, but more that I am letting even my heart and soul be led by God, rather than forcing myself down some path. In this, partially I think, is my restoration of some manner of prayer.
It is a result of the various disciplines to be sure, but it is also a discipline in itself, because it takes a purposeful perspective and approach, meaning that as I grasp this I become more cautious about how my soul is owned or interacting, so I am more watchful, and more focused on the direct goal. Like fasting is a discipline, this ‘letting go’ involves both a mental and physical approach, encouraging me to be aware that I don’t fall into the old traps or perspectives. I’m definitely learning, feeling like I am at the very beginning of something I just realized.
This all being the case I’m not sure that my approach is in itself too demanding for anyone. What I am thinking, however, is that finding the ‘beginning’ needs the sort of space I have. As I grow and learn, I can see how this same approach can be translated into a more active life, but the washing away of the old perspective on things is needing the more contemplative approach. I am finding in this a lot of real appreciation for the Orthodox monastics more than the Western, with Cassian seeming as a beginning now to this more complete perspective, which is fun and peace-giving all at once.
Writing is a discipline that I didn’t note. It certainly serves as a context for spiritual growth and is a consistent way for me to gauge and recenter my soul. In a way writing, on my website and otherwise, has a confessional quality that serves as a substitute for more involved community. In a way the writing is what brought me up here as I began to see themes emerge that suggested such a place as this was becoming necessary for my progress.
My friend asked if I considered this a more ‘permanent’ role. I certainly don’t see my context as permanent, though I do see the general pattern of being as permanent. The goal of this pattern, you see, is to create a fluidity that transcends the contexts, so that wherever I am I find the same centering in the Spirit. This, for now, means a more contemplative reality but can easily, once grasped, translate easily into a more active life. It is a stillness that is not lost in the busyness of life, as it derives its reality from a transcendant source. It is a stillness that once learned can be retained no matter the context, as long as one stays connected through prayer and faith.
God is doing a work in forming my being, so that as contexts change my soul is static in the vagaries of this present life, while remaining fluid in the realities of the Eternal life. Therefore, West or East, busy or quiet, honored or humbled, I will find contentment in Christ who saves and the Spirit who guides. It is a lesson to learn, and a lifelong work to retain.