Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Living In Encounter With God

March 3, 2021

Tevye is one of my favorite characters from the musical theater. He is the lead in Fiddler on the Roof. He is an impoverished dairy man blessed with several daughters. (Once I played Fyedka, the Russian who marries Chava, Tevye’s daughter, in a community theater production.) What impressed me about Tevye was his unpretentious continual conversation with God. He met God just as he was, with all his hopes and fears and wishes and concerns. He was never anyone beside himself.

I thought about Tevye while reading about the church father St. Gregory of Nyssa (brother to St. Basil). Gregory seemed to be a sort of Christian Tevye. He was meditative. He lived his life in daily encounter with God. Pope Benedict XVI in his teaching on the Fathers says of Gregory, “…this is the most important lesson that Saint Gregory of Nyssa has bequeathed to us–total human fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived in the encounter with God, which thus becomes luminous also to others and to the world.”

Richard J. Foster, who wrote the book on Spiritual Disciplines that I follow (Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth), called it the “with-God life.”

We can begin the day with meditation and reading that will focus us on God. Then pause during the day often to reconnect. Do that, and your personality and life will change for the better.

The Discipline of Solitude

February 26, 2021

“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways.”

Dallas Willard

Solitude will break isolation and loneliness? Is one of my favorite philosophers off his rocker?

Note the “well practiced” part.

Isolation and loneliness are a state of mind. I have been lonely in the midst of many people. There is a special feeling when you travel alone and go to a restaurant to eat. You see couples and parties, yet you are alone–or if, like me, you bring a book along for companionship.

Solitude is intentional. I decide to take a break and spend half-a-day or a full day somewhere alone. Perhaps on a bench in the woods. Or along a stream or at a pond. I’ve known people who rent a hotel room for a day–no, not for that–just to be able to be intentionally alone with themselves.

In the solitude, we can leave all distractions and call on God to visit. Kind of like Mork calling Orson, making contact with something distant, and yet close.

We’re closing out a year of Covid. Most likely we all have had feelings of isolation and loneliness. Others still are busy with work, writing, zoom conferences, whatever. It is a crazy, juxtaposed time.

Perhaps a weekly dose of solitude is just what we need to reconnect with God–and then with each other.

Love Is the Foundation

February 25, 2021

When I read the early Apostles and Church Fathers, I often think of the joy balanced by responsibility of these people trying to find the proper way to organize a church that Jesus started but left almost no instructions or rules for.

Reading Origen of Alexandria on Bible study, he emphasized reading within love for God.

I realized that Jesus instituted only two rules for us–love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Then later he added a mission statement (for you management consultant geeks out there)–Go into all the world teaching what I have told you and baptizing.

First, we must bring our awareness to ourselves and come to love ourselves. Perhaps this is the most important–and most missed–step. We must deal with our passions, fears, anxieties, prejudices, recognizing the evil within us just waiting to erupt. Sometimes we can heal over time with prayer and study. Sometimes we need help–a mentor, friend, professional, whatever it takes.

Then we can truly love others and love God with purity and a whole heart.

Then we can go and help others, continuing in our own spiritual formation as we love more deeply setting aside ambition. We can truly live that attitude of loving others–surely the most difficult command in the entire Bible. Sometimes we have to love even though we have the feeling expressed by a business acquaintance at dinner in his one and only tweet on Twitter including me in his bunch, “I’m having dinner with a bunch of idiots.”

Still, we must love. Only then can we truly begin our Bible study.

God’s Truth Is Not Theory, It’s a Life Force

February 24, 2021

Pope Benedict XVI presented a series of meditations on the early Church Fathers in 2007-2008. Discussing Clement of Alexandria’s thinking, he noted that Clement said Christians “must be guided by Christ and thus attain knowledge of the Truth…becomes a living reality in the soul: it is not only a theory; it is a life force.”

Discussing Irenaeus of Lyons, Benedict notes Irenaeus’ teaching that the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be as it appears it is–public, one, spiritual.

Sometimes we humans become enraptured by a single word pulled from a context or by a theory proposed by another human. And we become fixated on just the words supposing that to be belief.

And we miss the spiritual, as Irenaeus would say, or we miss the life force described by Clement.

People who practice spiritual disciplines know that we must take those words and bring them to life within us. Not mere words, but descriptions of how we live. With the spirit, in the flow of the life force, described in the Christian Bible as living in the kingdom of God.

It Has Been A Year

February 17, 2021

A year ago this past week I was in Hannover, Germany. The organizers of the annual huge trade fair known as Hannover Messe had assembled an international cohort of journalists, writers, and other media types to preview the trade show that none of us would return to visit. By April, we were all on some sort of lock down.

I returned home on Thursday evening. Friday morning I taught the regular Yoga class and went home to let the house inspector in. For we had accepted an offer (very nice one) to sell our house where we had lived for 35 years. Saturday, I taught a soccer referee class (most likely the last one I’ll do, even though I remain a ranking instructor), drove to the Chicago suburbs, looked at houses, and made an offer to buy.

While in Germany, we remarked that there were no Chinese journalists in attendance. We knew something was up. Little did we know how bad it would get.

The next four weeks were a blur of arranging financing, waiting for deals to complete, and packing. And packing. And selling excess stuff. And throwing away excess junk (I estimate 2,000 lbs.). Advice–don’t live in one place for so long–or leave it to the kids to clean up 😉

We moved March 23. We then found the reality of the Covid shut downs in the sudden reduction of activity. Yes, we had to unpack, hang pictures, and all that stuff. But we were in a new community where we knew no one, in a lock down, in a new state, with a new lifestyle (sort of).

The first thing I decided was to maintain my daily disciplines of study, meditation, writing. We made one trip back to Ohio to vacation in the back woods of the southern part of the state and to close out banking accounts. And then the virus took off again, and we were back to mostly staying inside.

I’m ready to travel, if I had somewhere to go. It’s been a year since the last time I set foot in an airport. Eleven months since I’ve taught Yoga; twelve since I’ve taught soccer.

But the daily disciplines carry on. Here I am with breakfast writing this essay just like the past six years or more. I hope you all remain safe and maintain your disciplines.

Do The Work

February 16, 2021

A brother came to one of the Desert Fathers, Abba Theodore, and began to converse about things he had not put into practice. Theodore responded, “You have not yet found a ship nor put your cargo aboard it and before you have sailed, you have already arrived at the city. Do your work first; then you will have the speed you are making now.”

How often we try to skip the work and arrive at the destination.

Once I worked for a man who was president of a small company as the marketing manager for a computer electronics product. We put together a marketing plan, packaging, started to find distribution. After six months, the president came to me, “I don’t understand. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were millionaires overnight at Apple, yet we are not selling boards.”

I replied, “No, Joe, they were not millionaires overnight. It took them years and several iterations before they found success.”

Joe may have had a Ph.D., but he wasn’t smart in the ways of the market.

Similarly, we need to do the work for however long it takes before we reach the point of wisdom. You have to chop wood and carry water before you can fix your meal.

Specialization Is For Insects

February 15, 2021

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert A. Heinlein, science fiction author

Similarly in spiritual formation and practice, humans should be able to study, pray, lead a group, be led in a group, comfort others, be comforted, serve others, be served, lead worship, participate in worship, commune with God, honor those who are godly, be peacemakers, defend those weaker.

Dons’t leave it for the pastor. Don’t abdicate your power to others. Step up and take responsibility.

Add A Little Bit of Soul

February 5, 2021

And when you’re in a mess and you feel like cryin’

Just remember this little song of mine

And as you go through life tryin’ to reach your goal

Just remember what I said about a little bit o’soul

A little bit o’ soul, yeah (a little bit o’ soul)
A little bit o’ soul, yeah (a little bit o’ soul)

Music Explosion

We humans, especially in our religion but also through government, seem to love a certain rigidity of rules. We have rules everywhere. One can often determine which branch of Christianity or which religion or which country, even, by the list of rules each enforces.

We can hit the top ones like abortion or homosexuality or race or class. Then there are whether or not to celebrate birthdays or feast days or holidays. There still exist religious rules on what to wear—although American culture seems to be infiltrating the world with casual and even provocative dress.

I was sitting in contemplation on the idea of the rigidity of rules when my mind started singing this song.

Now when you’re feelin’ low and the fish won’t bite

You need a little bit o’ soul to put you right

You gotta make like you wanna kneel and pray

And then a little bit of soul will come your way

Music Explosion

Approach life with a little bit of soul. Relax. It’ll put you right.

There Are Two Types

January 29, 2021

There are always two types. In sermons. Speeches. Makes it easy in the words of one of my professors on every test to compare and contrast.

In this case, there are two types of Christians that I want to consider. Where do you fit?

There are people who know much intellectually. They can expound at length on many things.

There are people who live a life following Jesus.

Of course, there are those who are neither. And probably a few who are both. (That would be four types? It’s amazing where thinking too much can take you…)

It is good to know intellectually. Unfortunately, it is too easy for this type to turn off those outside the group. But they grab the bulk of attention during this “attention economy.”

Best is simply living infused with the spirit. Practicing prayer, meditation, worship, study, service. These people don’t grab headlines or attention. They simply help others.

Keep Justice, Practice Righteousness

January 25, 2021

How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!

Psalm 106:3

Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word translated as blessed can also have the meaning of happy. Similar to the Greek New Testament where Jesus talked about the types of people who are “blessed” or “happy.”

Aristotle talked about happiness as related to virtue–living courageously, temperately, nobly, wisely.

We are tempted almost constantly through advertising and social media to believe that happiness comes from getting drunk and having almost non-stop sex. That freedom comes from doing what we please when we want to want to do it with whom we want.

Happiness and freedom are virtues and responsibilities, not the result of licentiousness. My eighteen-year-old self hates to hear me say that. Many “adults” even into their fifties and sixties still refuse to believe that.

Justice means something broader than selfishly seeking justice for only ourselves. In the Hebrew Bible, it sometimes talks about justice for the entire tribe. And sometimes it includes justice for neighbors more generally. Justice for the poor, the stranger, the neighbor.

As Rabbi Hillel (first century before Jesus) is reputed to have said about the meaning of the scriptures, “Love your neighbor, the rest is just commentary.”

How happy we are, indeed, when we seek justice and practice righteousness.