Quiet Times

A good many centuries ago a wise Christian wrote about spiritual progress. He noted there were, seemingly, two paths to spiritual growth. The first was inclined to discipline and through that found contemplation of God. The second was inclined to contemplation and from that realized the need for discipline.

Those in the first group are very good about setting up schedules and habits and patterns and rules in order to make the regular pursuit of God part of their lives. Such people, however, can have the discipline but never see God. The discipline itself mimics a spirituality and in that can become a barrier to growth. They mistake the practices with the presence, and mistake the forms for the substance.

The second group see God. They can feel his presence and often reflect what might be called a more charismatic relationship with him. Moments of spiritual focus can tend towards being epiphanies, in which they not only see but also touch God. Such people, however, can see God but not grow deeper with him. The contemplation mimics a deepening relationship and in that can become a barrier to growth.

I’m definitely of the second sort. Even when I can’t feel his presence during times of spiritual darkness there is a deep connection with the spiritual. His lack of presence is a weight. When I do feel the presence of God it is entirely awakening. I see everything new. I feel alive and whole and balanced.

Only I get bored with it. I get distracted. Lacking inspiration or real isolation I tend to forget or avoid quiet times. I need to ‘feel’ it, after all. And if I’m not feeling it then I’m not seeing any value to it. Then this snowballs so that I pursue quiet times less and less, and then have higher and higher demands for that ‘feeling’. I begin to blame God, wondering where he is, because it’s been so long since I’ve felt his conversation.

I don’t show up and I wonder where he has gone.

Which makes focused times with God a curious kind of battle for me. I absolutely love, treasure, honor, and support them. But I have a constant struggle with them. I struggle to pray. I struggle to consistently read my Bible. I struggle to set aside time each day for an orderly interaction with what I see as the foundation of my very existence.

This struggle has pushed me to find ways of bringing discipline to my contemplation. Sometimes successfully, often not. The success, as I’ve seen it, has come in the long term growth rather than the short term consistency. Which is a way of saying that while I’m bad at regular discipline, I’m good at not giving up so I keep trying one way or another to push myself. I keep getting back on the horse, even after the fortieth time of being thrown off.

This is one reason, in fact, why I’ve pursued theological education. Not so that I could know more, but because it pushed me into studying what my heart cried out for. I put myself into situations where discipline wasn’t just a choice. It was a regular demand. I took Bible classes and I read the Bible. Took classes on spirituality and prayed and journaled. Knowing my inherent lack of discipline I realize getting myself into disciplining circumstances is a huge boon.

When I don’t have these enforced disciplines then I realized I need to give myself both grace and flexibility. I don’t work well with repetition, either in practice or in reading. I just don’t enjoy watching or reading the same thing over and over. So I am always looking for another piece, another book that might touch on the questions I’m asking that will then open up digging into Scripture or digging into prayer. Having a text that serves as a catalyst. Or sometimes not even a text. Nature serves as a catalyst too. Something that is unique enough to bring a spark and ignites the contemplation and steadies the discipline.

I keep at it, even with my faulty and sketchy discipline, because quiet times are not just religious tasks nor are they extra little bonuses to my spiritual life. They are essential. In whatever way I can by getting these times each day I am reset. I step out of this world with its demands and obligations and values. I peel back, if even just for a few moments, the barrier between this world and eternity seeing what is true and beautiful and whole. In doing that I find every choice, every hope, every task to take on a new light. It is recharging, even and especially when I don’t feel it in that moment. Quiet times are not about the moment. They are for me, as I’ve learned, about reshaping my identity away from the spirits of this world and towards the Holy Spirit. That is a task that requires both discipline and contemplation.

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