Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Classical spiritual disciplines

Chapter 9 of Mulholland's 'Invitation to a Journey' is a good chapter - though not necessarily well-liked. As he says in the first parapraph:
Discipline is not a popular term in our culture. Quaker writer Richard Foster's invitation to the "celebration of discipline" is a radical call to a largely undisciplined and comfort-seeking culture. Our avoidance of discipline is another symptom of the pursuit of instant gratification which characterizes our culture. Instant fulfillment of needs and desires allows no time for the long and rigorous path of disciplines. Yet it is this path that brings true and lasting fulfillment, not the brief and fleeting appearances of fulfillment that disappear in the next moment.

He also warns that just as we can avoid spiritual disciplines, we can also go to the other extreme of becoming imprisoned by them - thinking it is the disciplines themselves (and our practice of them) that transforms us. He says on 103:
Holistic spiritual disciplines are acts of loving obedience that we offer to God steadily and consistently, to be used for whatever God purposes to do in and through our lives.

On 105 he adds:
The classical discplines give us the support structure within which our own spiritual disciplines become means of God's grace for the transformation of our being into the wholeness of Christ.

So, what are the classical spiritual disciplines? Prayer, Spiritual Reading, and Liturgy. Here are some quotes (and there may be many).

Contrary to what our culture would tell us, prayer is not something we "do" to get God to produce certain results. (106) "Prayer, as a classical spiritual discipline, is primarily relational, not functional." He quotes Henri Nouwen who says, "Prayer is the act by which we divest ourselves of all false belongings and become free to belong to God and God alone."

And also... "Prayer therefore is the act of dying to all that we consider to be our own and of being born to a new existance which is not of this world."

And... "Prayer as a practical spiritual discipline draws us into God's involvement in the brokenness of the world on God's terms, not ours."

On p. 108:
"Prayer is the act by which the people of God become incorporated into the presence and action of God in the world. Prayer becomes a sacrificial offering of ourselves to God, to become agents of God's presence and action in the daily events and situations of our lives."

And, "Unless our individual prayer life exists within the greater support structure of the prayers of the saints, it will tend to become very narrow, individualized and privatized, and we will shy away from yielding control of our existence for God's purposes in the world."

P. 110: "Spiritual reading is the discipline of openness to encounter God through the writings of the mothers and fathers of the church, beginning with the Scriptures. In spiritual reading the text becomes a means of grace through which we encounter the God who has spoken us forth into being and who continues to speak to us to shape us in the image of Christ for others."

"...one of the primary purposes of spiritual reading - to allow the text to have control over us and become a place of encounter with God. Instead of the text being an object controlled by us, the text becomes the subject; we, in turn, become the 'object' addressed by God through the text."

"The final goal of spiritual reading is to be mastered by God for the fulfillment of God's purposes in us and through us."

P. 112-115 "The discipline of spiritual reading finds its classical expression in what is known as Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina consists of: Silence, Reading, Meditation, Prayer, Contemplation, and Incarnation.

This simply means "the work of the people." It includes patterns of worship and celebration, but it also includes "the simple orders of worship, the spontaneous celebrations of God, our personal structures of daily devotion and all the patterns of activity by which we seek to enter into deeper relationship with God, corporate relationship with one another and faithful response to God in our daily lives."

On p. 116:
To be followers of Christ is to be persons whose lives, individually and corporately, are lived by a set of values radically different from those of the broken world, persons whose behaviors are shaped by the structures of a different order of being - the kingdom of God. To be empowered to live such lives of radical dissonance in the world, lives that mediate the transforming and healing grace of God to the brokenness of the world, the people of God need indivual and corporate support structures that consistently nurture them in the values of God's new order of being in Christ and provide behavior patterns that enable them to live as faithful citizens of God's New Jerusalem. In the broader sense of the term, liturgy is such a support structure.

The components of liturgy are: Prayer, Spiritual Healing, Worship, Daily Office, Study, Fasting, and Retreat. (Prayer and Spiritual Healing have already been dealt with. Here are snippets of the rest).

WORHSIP "is the practice of regularly seeking to bring the complete focus of our being upon God. It is the discipline of returning to the true center of our individual and corporate existence as God's people."

"DAILY OFFICE is regular and consistent daily behaviors that remind us whose we are and renew us in our discipleship. These may be as elaborate and complex as monastic hours of personal and corporate prayer or as simple as a daily time of personal devotion.

"The discipline of individual and corporate STUDY keeps us aware of our growth needs, alert to the vital issues of the world around us and sensitized to what God is doing to grow us up into Christ and call us forth to be agents of grace in the midst of the world's issues."

FASTING involves more than abstaining from food. "The essence of fasting is the separation of ourselves from something in order to offer ourselves in greater measure to God."

RETREAT "is the discipline of setting apart a time, individually or corporately, to step aside from the normal flow of life and give God our full and undivided attention." ..."We need to take times to stand aside and allow God to show us what we are doing and what we ought to be doing."

Yep - not popular stuff... but needed.


Jim said...

All good. I appreciate your continued postings from this book.

Patricia said...

I think this chapter really speaks to you and what you are trying to do with your ministry: help people establish a spiritual discipline.

I'm attracted to many of the ideas here as well. I really like the part about spiritual reading. And it's nice to see Fasting get a mention. Even small sacrifices are a way to imitate Christ. A priest once told me if you don't practice making small sacrifices, you'll never be prepared to make the big ones. Again, this notion seems to be related to your Work: getting people to take one small step toward Christ on a daily basis.
God bless.

Jim said...

I also liked the emphasis on contemplation, a practice which I periodically try and then drop, knowing full well I really need to do it with more, well, discipline! :o)

dan h. said...

You need to contemplate contemplation more. :) Glad you like this.

Very perceptive (no wonder you were valedictorian of your class). :) This entire book is one of my favorites. Nice advice from your priest too.

Thanks for the comments!