Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Achieving Balance

October 8, 2021

Just like ours, the ancient world was filled with people who had ambitious goals and trouble prioritizing them. Seneca said it’s one of the hardest balances to strike in life. We don’t want to be the person who can never sit still. “For love of bustle is not industry, it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.” But we also don’t want to be the person always sitting still. “True repose does not consist in condemning all motion as merely vexation,” he wrote, “that kind of repose is slackness and inertia.” The work of the philosopher, Seneca said, is finding the perfect balance of those two tendencies. It’s about working and relaxing, not working and work avoidance.

Ryan Holliday, The Daily Stoic

There is busyness, and there is just being busy. I picked this quote and started at 7 AM. It’s 7:43 PM, and I’m just getting back to it. Usually when we are at the next-to-last week of soccer season, my referee assignments are pretty much done. Not this year. The worst of my 30 years. Only partly due to Covid. But there were more schedule changes than ever.

So I woke up this morning to a couple of problems. Then a couple of phone calls. I just finished taking care of tomorrow’s games about a half-hour ago. Now, for the calming, balance of relaxation.

When I first studied Asian philosophies, I discovered the concept of balance. In India, balance is the key. Yoga teaches physical balance. Ayurveda teaches balancing tastes and emotion.

I think that if you study the life of Jesus, you’ll find he sought the balance of teaching and quiet time with God. Peter, on the other hand, had a lot of trouble finding balance for his whole life.

During my busy season–this year from the first of July until October 16–I try to build in balance every day. A week to go. So far, so good.

Avoid Praying Against Anyone

October 6, 2021

Strive to avoid praying against anyone in your prayer so that you do not destroy what you have been building up by making your prayer a defilement.

Evagrius, 4th Century Teacher

I had to pause at this chapter and consider. I don’t think of myself as one who bears grudges and puts myself against others. Oh, yes, there are many with whom I disagree theologically and politically. And, yes, I’ve been wronged many times. But I don’t dwell on these and pray for their destruction.

I think of poor Jonah, who took his God-given message of destruction to the people of Nineveh with great joy for their demise. Then they repented and God told Jonah, good job, they have come to me. And Jonah was bitterly disappointed.

Have I ever sat in prayer and wished bad to come to someone? Have I ever paused for a quick prayer of condemnation toward another human, another of God’s children? If so, I stand condemned.

We pray that we may more closely be with God and that others also will be and for their healing. Take a blessing from this teaching today.

A Person In Chains

October 4, 2021

Sometimes we sit or kneel or lay in prayer and we cannot settle down.

Evagrius wrote 1800 years ago, “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”

Ancient language, but he captured our problem.

We want to be at peace with God. Have an honest conversation. Talk to someone who listens, and listen to God’s advice and wisdom.

But so often we are chained to thoughts churning up from the gut. Angers, fears, feelings of being slighted, or being left out, worry, these all lead us astray. They must be dealt with through focus in God.

Today we teach breathing and have apps on our smart phones to calm the mind. All to the good.

When we were teens, sometimes we became attached to a peer group that led us into doing things we knew were wrong. Evagrius and other writers of his age would say “chained to” the group.

We had to find a way to leave the group and find a new one going the right way.

So, with our thoughts and passions. We must fill our minds with wisdom and knowledge and seek the spirit in quiet. We must break the chains of attachment. With me, this is not theoretical knowledge. It is life.

Finding A Heart

October 1, 2021

The New Testament, as well as more ancient advice and modern spiritual explorers, teaches us to be aware and be careful of being ruled by our passions.

This can be as mild as foolishly spending money on unnecessary things. Or choosing to spend time with the wrong people.

It can be as bad as letting fear, lust, anger, greed, pride, and the rest rule our lives.

On the other hand, a coldly rational outlook following the rules and inhibiting relationship fuels a life alone and unsatisfying.

A TV series from Belgium explores some of these themes with deep probing and gentle understanding. Professor T features the struggles of a genius criminologist professor who assists a former student now detective inspector in solving murders. Along the way the writers probe the struggles and growth of perhaps 10 other characters.

The acting is superb. The soundtrack outstanding. The spoken language is Flemish (with some French—it is Belgium, so both languages are spoken—and English). We found it on Amazon Prime. I realize there are people reading this in countries where you may not be able to find this program. But if you can, it’s worth it. It was recorded in 2015, 2016, and 2018. Three seasons of 13 episodes. We’ve watched it over the past month. I’m going to miss the characters.

There is an English version, as in performed in England in English. We have seen this one. Not as good. There are also versions in German and French. We have not seen those. Watch the Belgian one. I cried at the end.

Overcoming passions keys a sound life. But as a preacher I used to listen to said, “Jesus was the first cardiologist. He was concerned with the condition of our heart.”

Unless your heart is in the right condition, overcoming passions will leave you cold.

The Spirit Becomes Dull

September 27, 2021

Why do demons wish to commit acts of gluttony, impurity, avarice, wrath, resentment, and the other evil passions in us? Here is the reason–that the spirit in this way should become dull and consequently rendered unfit to pray. For when man’s irrational passions are thriving he is not free to pray and to seek the word of God.

Evagrius

These passions suck your energy. And what have you to offer other than your energy?

These passions have invaded me at times. And God has shown me what more I am capable of. When these visit me at my times of meditation or working, my energy is diverted and squandered.

You rise from the desk to get a handful of peanuts or almonds for energy (and no subsequent weight gain) and your eye goes to the pantry’s snack food shelf. And one potato chip or cookie turns into a continual reaching for more, just what the food scientists working for those companies predict. Thank you gluttony for destroying my day, dulling my senses, increasing my waistline.

While researching something on the Web, you see one picture. The demons (as Evagrius calls them, we call them impulses) grab your imagination and all energy is diverted down an unhealthy path.

The comedian Flip Wilson (popular in the 60s) portrayed a character whose phrase was, “Get behind me Satan!” Actually, good advice.

  • Awareness of the approaching passion/emotion;
  • Intentionally push back;
  • Focus again on the task at hand;
  • Regain energy after a momentary diversion.

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.