So, two days ago I wrote a post about my word for the year – essential – and the things that I was going to try to establish as essentials. One of them, is pursuing Spiritual Disciplines, a process I have committed to blogging my way through. I said I’d do it on Wednesdays. Well, it’s almost 9pm on Wednesday, and just like exercise, laundry folding, and almost everything else on that list, it hasn’t yet happened today. But I want to do it, and so I’m sitting here on my bed, stack of books by my side, unfolded laundry in view. Apparently discipline is something I need to pursue in lots of arenas (but, on the flipside, so is sanity, and considering a lot of the things I’m trying to establish are contingent on little people sleeping, either during the night or nap time, I’m choosing to cut my losses. It’s a season, right?). I regularly have to navigate the tension between praying/reading/journaling/writing and folding/tidying/vacuuming. While my ideal world has me sitting down to do the former in a beautifully tidy and orderly space, the reality has me choosing one or the other, and more than often I decide that the time in prayer and creating will produce lasting results, while the laundry basket will just fill again, so why not let it overflow?
(There are moments when I’m certain that kids and sanity are actually mutually exclusive, but those are the two I’m gunning for right now)
So, without further ado. Celebration of Discipline, Chapter 1 – The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation
Liberation? Open that door wide, Ima commin’!
This chapter does such a great job of outlining the purpose of the Disciplines. As I read it, I am further motivated to continue in this pursuit, and am encouraged that it is both possible, and worthwhile. Foster begins with a reassurance that we really can do this. He says
We must not be led to believe that the Disciplines are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or only for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation. Far from it. God intends the disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns. In fact, the Disciplines are best exercised in the mdist of our relationships with our husband or wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors. (1)
I have children, and sometimes I even wash dishes – guess I qualify as ordinary. And, in case we’re worried that this might just turn us into boring stiffs, he tells us that we should not think of the Disciplines as
some dull drudgery aimed at exterminating laughter from the face of the earth. Joy is the keynote of the Disciplines. The purpose of the Disciplines is the liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear. When the inner spirit is liberated from all that weighs it down, it can hardly be described as dull drudgery. Singing, dancing, even shouting characterize the Disciplines of the spiritual life. (2)
Joy, liberation, singing and dancing all sound like a good time to me, so, bring on the Disciplines!
It’s so important that we don’t forget that the whole point is to experience a deeper relationship with Christ. The Disciplines are not an end in themselves, they are a path to a richer and more intimate experience of Jesus, and serve to transform us into people who are more like him. Foster reminds us that “[t]he life that is pleasing to God is not a series of religious duties. We have only one thing to do, namely, to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God” (4). While we cannot earn God’s favour or re-create ourselves by our own efforts, Foster tells us that “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us” (7). He calls the journey toward Discipline
“the path of disciplined grace.” It is “grace” because it is free; it is “disciplined” because there is something for us to do…The grace of God is unearned and unearnable, but if we ever expect to grow in grace, we must pay the price of a consciously chosen course of action which involves both individual and group life. (7-8)
I especially appreciated his warnings about turning the Disciplines into laws that we seek to impose on others. I know that in the past I have struggled with this, and likely will continue to. The following resonated so much:
When the Disciplines degenerate into law, they are used to manipulate and control people. We take explicit commands and use them to imprison others. Such a deterioration of the Spiritual Disciplines results in pride and fear. Pride takes over because we come to believe that we are the right kind of people. Fear takes over because we dread losing control.
If we are to progress in the spiritual walk so that the Disciplines are a blessing and not a curse, we must come to the place in our lives where we can lay down the everlasting burden of always needing to manage others…When we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can put to rest our passion to set others straight. (10)
Oh, is he ever talking about me. Pride about being the right kind of people? Me. Fear about losing control? Me. Needing to manage others? Me. As I set out to incorporating these Disciplines into my life, I know that there will be the temptation to adapt a self-righteous attitude and an expectation that spiritual growth and maturity looks like __________ (whatever I happen to be doing at the time). I think I will write out this warning and keep it handy to remind me that God’s way of working, and my way of responding, are unique to me.
And, with that, we’ve been introduced to the Spiritual Discipline. Foster concludes the chapter saying
Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people. Leo Tolstoy observes, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worth of our best effort. (11)
So, here we go! Starting next week, we’ll look at the first Inward Discipline – Meditation. There is definitely still time to grab the book and join us on this journey!