Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

How Does Church Matter?

September 24, 2021

Most of my study and thinking regards individual personal spiritual practices and discipline. One ancient and generally accepted spiritual practice concerns some manner of corporate worship.

Many younger Americans have been rejecting churches. These include both evangelical and Roman Catholic churches.

I ran across this thought in my reading:

Losing My Religion–If people reject the church because they reject Jesus and the gospel, we should be saddened but not surprised. But what happens when people reject the church because they think the church has rejected Jesus and the gospel? What if people don’t leave the church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis.

Russell Moore

I’ve struggled with those thoughts, trying to effect some change from the inside. Still, I wonder…

We need the encouragement of meeting with others. We do not need the discouragement of theological/political battles that seemingly leave Jesus on the outside, looking in. Perhaps this is one of those dynamic tensions upon which life is built.

Pray for Justice and the Kingdom

September 23, 2021

An instruction from Evagrius:

In your prayer seek only after justice and the kingdom of God, that is to say, after virtue and true spiritual knowledge. Then all else will be given to you besides.

Evagrius

Need we say anymore? Let us always remember justice and do justice in all our thoughts and actions.

Seeking spiritual knowledge goes without further mention. It should be why we have our daily practices.

Asking In Prayer

September 20, 2021

Many times while I was at prayer, I would keep asking for what seemed good to me. I kept insisting on my own request, unreasonably putting pressure on the will of God. I simply would not leave it up to his Providence to arrange what he knew would turn out for my profit. Finally, when I obtained my request, I became greatly chagrined at having been so stubborn about getting my way, for in the end the matter did not turn out to be what I fancied it would.

Evagrius

How often we think we are smarter than God! Not thy will but mine be done.

How much better to seek the spirit within and without and go with the flow of God’s spirit.

When You Are Not Treated Well

September 7, 2021

When a church (congregation) does not treat people well, those people will tend not to go to church.

I never feel part of a crowd, always told I was different. But, I’ve experienced community in churches a few times. And I’ve experienced people trying to impose themselves and their creeds upon others. People who divide other people into different sorts of categories–each one defined as below themselves.

Some people recognize that every human born into this world is made in the image of God. We are each to be treated with respect as Jesus taught, and James reinforced, that we are to practice loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In our daily routine of living, we pause to look at ourselves. Did we just treat that person in our last interaction as a child of God? Smile and tip the barista? Give a pleasant greeting to a neighbor? Avoid lifting a hand gesture to someone trying to cut us off in traffic? Pause and ask how someone is doing and then actually listening to them?

We are each offended when we are not treated well. But, how well do we treat others?

Labor Day

September 6, 2021

Today is Labor Day in America. A national holiday. And, like pretty much all of our national holidays, it’s just a Monday off work (for some, but not many people laboring to serve us). This holiday traditionally signals the end of “summer” and the beginning of fall activities. Schools once opened after Labor Day since they were not air conditioned and days are becoming cooler–at least in the north.

It’s a day of grilling on the patio with some family or a final weekend for camping and boating.

And labor?

Not so much respected for the last 70 years or so. We have developed a gerbil exercise wheel culture of ambition and activity where we think that the only people of worth are those ceaselessly striving for riches and power.

Many manufacturing leaders have adopted a management style called “Lean”. The central tenant of this movement is respect for people. The idea that everyone, including laboring people, has values and can contribute to the overall success of the enterprise.

I wholeheartedly support this. As a writer on manufacturing with a fairly large following (my Website is starting to nudge 200K viewers a month, very good for a niche publication), I’ve had the opportunity to visit many plants both in Europe and the US practicing this methodology.

It is not only industrial and manufacturing “labor” that serves us. Let us pause, even in those countries not celebrating the holiday, and thank all the people working in hospitals and other healthcare facilities whose stressful work keep us alive even when we don’t practice good health habits. People work even through the holiday to serve us at stores and restaurants and fix our Internet connection and restore our electricity and so forth.

They serve us. We can serve them. I’ve been reading in Evagrius who taught that service (charity) was a spiritual discipline that helps us overcome some of the spiritual ills we face.

Equanimity

September 3, 2021

The community here in illinois where I now live has not one, but two, Facebook pages. That’s overkill. I grace at them every other day or so just in case there may be some interesting news–like the expansion of the local ice cream shop.

There are about five women posting daily recently feeding on each other’s complaining. One starts, another chimes in with something worse, and so it goes. Lately it’s all about the lawn care provided by the Home Owners Association.

I thought, how easily we get caught up in a cycle of complaining, negativity, anger. It builds into even actual hate.

Equanimity came up on today’s podcast. The ability to stay calm, even tempered.

Equanimity can be learned. Not intellectually, but deep within the soul. Usually it comes gradually. Best if inculcated intentionally. It took years of meditation and practice.

A new soccer referee wrote the other day. We are in the second week of the high school season. I’m the assignor. He had made one of those “controversial” calls. Tough call for a foul that the coach objected to loudly. That got the parents riled. Lots of yelling. He figured I’d be getting a call from the school. I told him not to worry. I have many years of experience defusing situations, but that mostly people forget after the game.

He will learn to develop equanimity, or else he will not last.

And those women on Facebook? I know that people exist who get joy from being negative. But a little equanimity might make life better for them and those around them.

And every day I must practice breathing intentionally. Maintaining equanimity is not “one and done.” It requires a lifetime of practice.

Patterns

August 27, 2021

When I learned to touch type, I thought about each letter and each finger. After a few years of practice, I found that my fingers had learned patterns for most words that I use. I don’t think about letters. In fact, I think only about what I am writing.

Chess masters during a game begin with recognizing a pattern of the pieces on the board and then can translate into discrete moves building upon or changing the pattern.

Our life with God similarly reflects a pattern. There is a pattern and rhythm of closeness and distance. Recognizing that pattern moves us closer to both awareness of our relationship with God in the moment and impetus to change where we need to change.

We develop spiritual practices or disciplines simply so that we intentionally orient our lives into the appropriate pattern of living with God more fully and more frequently.

The problem may not lie in beginning the day with a practice. It may lie in finding a recurring pattern of practice to maintain that awareness throughout the day.

Food For the Soul

August 23, 2021

The ancient Desert Father Evagrius called contemplative knowledge food for the soul.

There was a time when contemplation was thought to be reserved for those who had a vocation for it–monks, nuns, recluses, strange people.

Perhaps “ordinary people” just had to work too hard to have time for contemplation. Although I’m not sure that’s the case.

We believe today anyone can be a contemplative. Unfortunately, this general attitude did not evolve from a Christian perspective, although Thomas Merton had an impact. Much of it is “New Age” which is Westernized Hindu and Buddhist meditation. Something where we can sell gurus, incense, candles, pillows, icons. It’s all a business.

As a youth, I actually never heard of Christian contemplation until I “accidentally” discovered St. John of the Cross at the library. What I had heard about was the Beatnik adoption of Zen Buddhist meditation (and espresso with cinnamon sprinkled on it). It fit my personality, this contemplation thing.

It can fit yours. 10-20 minutes daily physically changes your brain. It changes your personality. I was helped for many years in formation by repeating the Jesus Prayer–Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me. After a time you can shorten, then shorten more, until you just sit in the presence of God.

And if you listen, there will be times when God whispers in your consciousness. This should not be ignored. It is a direction for you to go or instructions on whom to meet or a nudge for awareness of what is to come.

It is truly food for the soul.

Holding On Too Tightly

August 20, 2021

The best interview podcast going right now is Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People. This week he talked with Mark Schulman. Schulman is a drummer. Currently he tours with Pink. Well, when tours start up again. He’s also an author and speaker.

Guy asked him about the art of being a drummer. My music education began as a drummer eventually playing in the University of Cincinnati marching band with many students from the College Conservatory of Music there. I was interested.

“Don’t grip the drumsticks too tightly,” Schulman said. Holding on too tightly tenses your fingers, wrists, arms, and shoulders such that you can’t provide a smooth, driving beat. It’s a metaphor for life, he added.

My wife had never heard about the famous Malaysian Monkey Trap (probably under a lot of names). You place a fruit larger than the hole that the monkey reaches into the container to grab it. The monkey will not let go of the fruit in order to escape. It traps itself. She was reading Where the Red Fern Grows. They trapped raccoons the same way.

Our question for the day–to what or whom are we holding on too tightly that we are tensed, stiff, trapped? Where do we need to let go? Breathe freely? Relax and refocus?

Try that this weekend.

Lost In The Loop

August 19, 2021

Ancient philosophers going back more than 6,000 years thought about a lot of stuff but mostly about nature and about how to live a better life.

Today’s professional philosophers are mostly professors and mostly write to each other arguing ever finer distinctions about things that don’t really matter. Except maybe when ideas from Descartes or Derrida filter into the common consciousness denying the provenance of the spirit.

These people, and all of us really, often get caught in a loop. We get lost in an idea about truth or good or how people are treating us or how we feel. We get stuck in a loop of thoughts and emotions. If we loop too much, we’ll wind up in the office of a mental health professional.

In programming, we often program a for-next loop. For i=1-10 do this, i=1, do, next i. Then we forget to say what happens when we hit 10, so it just goes back to 1 and starts again. And your computer hangs up. (Or you dump a lot of granular product on the floor like a client of mine did once.) Lost in the loop can have dire consequences.

Observers and thinkers across many cultures and millennia have told us–break the loop, intentionally divert your thinking, take a deep breath and slowly exhale.

Try the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale through the nose and count 4. Hold the breath and count 7 at the same pace. Exhale slowly and completely counting to 8 at the same pace. Three of those should bring calm and break the loop.

This is then the time when we can bring our attention to the spirit and remind us of our first principles–love God and love our neighbor. Both Jesus and the Apostle James tell us that means action–finding a way to serve. Small ways or bigger ways. Just serve. Then you are out of the loop and onto the way.