spiritual journey

With a new year comes a new focus – hopefully one that will help me meet my goal of posting weekly!

Even though my primary training and experience has been in spiritual formation, I’ve been trying not to focus on spiritual issues in this blog – first, because I was burned out on being all spiritual, all the time; and second, because  most of my clients deal with very tangible topics. But this was only making me avoid my own blog. So for a time, I’ll get radical and just write about what I know: how we as human beings grow spiritually. Just like our physical beings, our spiritual beings are living things created to grow and bear fruit  over time. And whether we want to practice sustainable communication in a virtual world, or just remain standing in a rupturing economy, we need to know how to stay spiritually rooted in times of crisis.

The only way we can grow and thrive spiritually is in the context of a deep and intimate relationship with the living God. But because we are also physical beings, there are particular things we can do that help us nurture this relationship in a concrete way and hear God’s voice more clearly. These cultivating practices have been called different things at different times, but historically Christians have called them spiritual disciplines. Whatever you call them, they work. I have seen over and over, both in my own life and in those of others,  that these practices really do cultivate what is eternally good in us 0ver time. Virtues, abilities, creativity, etc. But these practices are not a formula that guarantees growth. They simply put us in the hands of the one who gives the growth – and very often, what looks like freefall in the moment will enable exponential growth much later. If nothing else, the disciplines teach us humility and patience – the precursors to peace.

I am part of a team of teachers at LivingStone Monastery that offers a week-long spiritual retreat several times a year called Immersion Week, where individuals cloister themselves at the monastery to learn and practice key spiritual disciplines. I’ve been particularly moved by not only the participants’ deep hunger to establish these sustainable rhythms in their lives, but the deep changes that result after only a week. I wonder if the times ahead will make spiritual disciplines even more relevant: my generation in particular has been raised to expect prosperity, and for most of our lives, we’ve been able to achieve it – if not the reality, then at least the image through consumer debt. Upcoming economic changes may strip from many of us both the reality and the image of material prosperity – what will remain? Practicing the spiritual disciplines allows us to invest in the good and the eternal within us, and we become able to persevere for the long haul, embodying joy and hope in the midst of crisis not only for ourselves, but for our families and friends and nation and world.

Each week I’ll post on a new spiritual discipline, and each new discipline will build upon practicing the previous. I’ll generally follow the curriculum of Immersion Week (whose foundational text is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline), so if you find you’d like to practice these in community and with a spiritual director, feel free to contact LivingStone Monastery to sign up for the next Immersion Week. Straight information is good, but practicing in the context of community is what really allows these habits to take root.

In preparation for our first discipline, the Discipline of Rule, here’s your first exercise: What activities do you practice habitually – on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis? (Tell the truth, now. No one has to see this but you.) Do your habits reflect your values?

I do not have all the answers. I don’t know where the healthy balance is in using technology and using our bodies. I only sense that we’re out of balance, and as a mother of two incredibly active young boys, my most constant feeling is that I’m failing them, precisely because I don’t know the answers to these questions. I fear I’m drugging their active, quick brains on too much TV simply because sometimes my own body is so tired. I do not have this figured out, and I have DESPERATELY NEEDED to figure it out, thinking that if I could name exactly what is bad about too much TV or too much internet, I could finally set some limits and stick to them once and for all. And succeed at parenting in this high-technology age.

But my husband reminded me of something a theologian said long ago: we will never be anything but beggars in this life. We are justified in no expectation and no sense of entitlement – especially success. Anything we have is gift and blessing, and we have deserved none of it. Yet still we receive it – sometimes abundantly. The sooner we accept that, the freer we will be. We have been ALLOWED to be successful at some things, and to fail at others. It is not solely due to our effort (although our effort has a role).

So beginning today, when I feel like a failure in raising my boys, I’m going to try to simply accept that, yes, I can’t provide everything that my boys need. I have failed them in the past, I am failing them now, and I will fail them in the future. Out of no fault of their own, they, like every single other human being in all of history, have an imperfect mother. I will make mistakes out of ignorance and out of willfulness. I will try not to cover over that reality anymore with anxiety that leads to striving more and more to learn more and argue better and insist on my own way to distract people from my weaknesses and failures. I sense that the more I admit that I am broken, the freer I will be. And that freedom naturally yields energy and focus and joy.

Really this blog is about becoming embodied – choosing to live in my body and call it blessed, however broken and imperfect it may be. It is blessed and can give blessing through its weaknesses, because I notice that when I admit my weaknesses, I am able to have compassion for others in their weaknesses, and I am better able to love unselfconsciously. I’m better able to enjoy the moment, enjoy the day, enjoy my life, because the pressure to be perfect is gone. This above all is what will keep communication sustainable – and human.

The aspect of becoming embodied I’m working on most right now is this attempt to recognize that parenting, more than anything, has tested this iron will of mine to strive to be perfect at all costs. It has tested it, and it HAS BROKEN ME. I cannot master parenthood. I have wrestled with God over this daily for five years solid. I walk with a limp. But I am still blessed, because our bodies were made to be broken. Their fragility is part of their good design. Their healing capacity is also part of their good design. And where they heal, they become strong places of compassion. I can only assume the same is true of our spirits.

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