Reflection: 02-10

This months reflection is on Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.  I don’t know of anyone who, being on a spiritual journey, doesn’t want to grow.  I believe that there is a deep yearning with us on this path to be deeper people.  We sense there is more going on, more to experience than we ever have dreamed possible.  I know it is true with me and I know it’s true with some of my friends.  I will be bold and state that all people ‘know’ that there is something Other than themselves.  It’s just that, at times, we seem to get trapped in the muck and mire of life that we just go through the motions and can’t really hear that yearning for deepness.  That is where I have been for a while now.  And Foster’s book is like a cup of cool water on a dry, endless desert.

Foster has divided his book into three sections.  Part 1: The Inward Disciples – Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study; Part 2: The Outward Disciplines – Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service; Part 3: The Corporate Disciplines – Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration.  I found that each, while somewhat building upon the previous ones, could be read by themselves and stood up very well by themselves.   Since there is a lot of ground to cover here, I will just hit one a few of the highlights.

In the introduction, Foster stated that it didn’t really matter whom he read ‘they knew God in ways far beyond anything I had experienced’.  I think a lot of us could give a hearty ‘Amen’ to that.  I think that would be the sole purpose of picking up a book like this.  Furthermore, the other book I reflected on before, Finding Our Way Again by Brian McLaren speaks (with a rather broad brush) to the same issues.  It seems that more and more followers of Jesus are seeking ways to make their faith not just a bunch of beliefs that one checks off of a card on the refrigerator but a new way of living.  There are scores of people who are hungering for a deeper experience with God than they have previously known.  One thing that Foster does, and this just came to me, is show that what he is writing about is not a bunch of laws or rules or quick steps to a more mature belief system.  On the contrary, like the title states, Foster is writing about disciplines.  About life changing movements.  About re-ordering ones life to be open to new and deeper experiences with the God who is Love.  And I think he gives a glimpse into what this means: ‘We were in each other’s homes – laughing together, weeping together, learning together, praying together.  Some of the best teaching times grew out of the dynamic of those home settings...’  There is a lot to be said about this setting.  Meeting in homes, we get to know people better.  People are more relaxed.  They are more real.  And one of the things that the world is yearning for, searching for is people who are real.  When we are ‘at church’ we tend to put on masks.  But at home, after a while, if the place is a safe place of love and trust, we stop wearing the masks.  We become honest and open.  It is in just these type of places that we need deep people.  We need to be deep people.  The disciplines guide us in the deepness of God.

In the discipling of meditation, Foster wrote, ‘Christian meditation . . . is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey (God’s) word.’  What’s great about Foster’s book is that he not only give some clear and comprehensive teaching on the disciples but he also offers some very practical guidelines (he is quick to point out that these can turn in to ‘laws’; kind of like a spiritual barometer of sorts and states that we must be aware of this trap).  In meditation, Foster suggests that ‘beginners and experts alike (should) give some part of each day to formal meditation’.  The process is to be at peace throughout the (sometimes) hectic day so that at the appointed time, one’s mind is not fractured by the days events.

To go along with this time of day, Foster suggests and place as well.  In the best case, a retreat of solitude should be sought.  However, as most of us are not able to do this for any given length of time, a quiet place without interruptions will do.  I must admit that this is one of the most difficult things for me.  There just doesn’t seem to be these types of places where I work.  I seek for these places but they are hard to come by.

Next comes what to meditate upon.  For most all followers of Jesus is the meditation of Scripture.  According to Foster, ‘Bonhoeffer recommended spending a whole week on a single text’.  For Lent, I have taken this to task.  I am reading 1Corinthians 13 every day.  It is quite amazing especially when I started to see God in this light.  (I actually did a reverse of something Carl McColman wrote.  When someone was going through a difficult time, they were questioning God’s presence.  He replaced ‘God’ with ‘Love’ to show that Love is always with us even during our most difficult times.  I replaced ‘love’ in some places of 1Cor. 13 with God and it really makes me reflect on God’s nature and character.)

In another example, Foster stated that one should put themselves in the stories one read.  For example, when reading a passage from the Gospels, hear the crowds, feel the breeze on your face, smell the sea, see the throngs of people, etc.  Put your self with the disciples as they walked and lived with Christ.  Be present there.  In doing so, I believe, you will open yourself up to the realization that God is present here.

During a conference with John Philip Newell, at the close of each session, he lead us in a brief meditation.  There would be some music playing with a verse sung to the music.  After a few moments of listening to the music and lyrics, he said to think about the first half of the words as you ‘breath down’ and the second half of the words as you ‘breath up’.  This was very powerful for me.  During one of those sessions, I had a very profound experience.

I’m not sure when it started, but I had gained a phobia of fresh water, in a stream of lake, for example.  Once, while walking with my daughter and wife through a stream, I had a panic attack.  My wife’s voice came rushing in from ‘out there’ and I suddenly ‘came to’ and found myself standing upon a large rock in the middle of the stream.  I was shaking all over and my only thought was how was I going to make it back to the car without being in the water.  My wife and daughter came back for me and, holding my hand, led me through the water to the car.

Fast forward several years to a session with John Philip.  We were meditating on the words of Jesus, ‘Do not be afraid.  For I am with you.’  As I was ‘centering down’, as the Quakers call it, I saw light reflecting on water.  I ‘heard’ Jesus tell me those words I was saying.  The light I saw was him in the water.  I began to cry.  I knew that I didn’t have to be afraid of the water anymore.  Since then, I have gone to the lake with my family and been able to wade along the beach, get on the big tube and be pulled behind the boat.

Another discipline is the disciple of prayer.  This seems like it should go without mention.  All followers of Jesus know that one should pray.  But, as we all learn so quickly, no one tells us how to do that!  I remember thinking a long time back about how great it would be if I had some sort of ‘on the job training’ on how to do this stuff.  I wished I could have just followed my pastor around for a month or more so I could learn how to do things.  I still think that this is needed.  And it’s one of the reasons I sought a monastic community.  It’s quite amazing how, even from long distances, the Lindisfarne Community is providing that for me.

As I have stated before, I feel very inadequate at prayer.  Some people have such great prayers and I always seem to be struggling.  Some seem to know just what to say but I always seem to stumble.  While others prayer so effortlessly and smoothly, I fumble and muddle my way through.  My prayers seem so erratic and almost disruptive.  At least that’s how they seem to me.  On the other hand, I’m really excited about prayer books.  There seems to be such great writers within the family and they have such elegant words that it makes prayer beautiful – even when I say them!

But, sometimes, in some situations, I don’t always have a chance to get to a prayer book.  Or, the circumstances need to be more ‘personal’; more from me.  I almost feel like I’m cheating and cheapening the situation when I use ‘someone else’s prayer’.  It is at those times that I have to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the words to say.  I’m sure she does but it never seems that way to me.  I don’t ever recall anyone ever telling me, ‘That is just what I needed to hear.’  I’m not looking for a pat on the back or anything, just some hint that I did alright.

Service is the last discipline that I’ll brush over.  He really wrote some powerful things in this chapter (chapter 9).  For a long while now, it might have even been the catalyst for my search for becoming a deep person, I have had the impression that my life (at least) should be that of a servant.  I recall on several interviews that every job someone has, she is in the service of another – whether she is the president of a company or janitor or a computer tech.  All jobs are service jobs.  Problems arise when we lose sight of that.

While I have had this ‘rule of life’ I have not lived it well.  I have lost sight of it several times.  And I didn’t recognize it until Foster’s book.  He pointed out that there is a difference in ‘choosing to serve’ and ‘choosing to be a servant’.  I yearned to be a servant but I was just choosing to serve.  The difference is when one chooses to serve, one is still in charge.  I decide when and where I’m going to serve others.  But when I chose to be a servant, I voluntarily give up my rights to be in charge.  If I am asked to do something, and I get irritated, I am not being a servant.  If I am being a servant, then I must realize that the other is more important than me.  And here is the crazy thing about that.  When I freely give up my rights I become ‘great’.  Jesus said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave’ (Matthew 20.25-27, NLT).  If I’m getting angry or irritated when asked to do something, it is a shining beacon illuminating my falseness.  It is at those times that I am reminded of what St Paul wrote in 1Cor. 13, ‘Love . . . does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable . . . ’

I have really enjoyed this book.  I can truly feel it’s energy.  It seems like one of those books that can change the world.  ‘May it start with me, dear God.  Amen.’


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