In January 2001, nearly ten years ago now, I spent thirty days at a Benedictine monastery in Pecos, New Mexico as I began some training in spiritual direction. It was the mid-point of my one-year sabbatical. I was so enriched by the rhythm of praying the psalms in community morning, midday, evening and night. That pulse began to beat in my chest as well. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to this quotation below about Benedictine spirituality:
“Practicing explicit times of Scripture-based prayer, personal and communal, is the backbone of Benedictine spirituality. To be spiritual definitely means we need to spend regular times in prayer. However, a healthy balance of prayer with work and community involvement is an essential component of Benedictine spirituality. Christ is in the kitchen, in the office, in the guest room, in the infirmary, just as truly and fully as in the oratory.” (Katherine Howard, O.S.B. “Seeking and Finding God: Love and Humility in the Benedictine Tradition.” Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions. Ed. by Norvene Vest. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2003, p. 115.)
I’ve been thinking about the rhythm of my spiritual life. I tend to spend a lot of time all at once with the Lord and His word, and then go a long time without Him. How different from Jesus’ invitation to trust the Father for daily bread. I tend to be feast or famine in my journey with God.
This illustrates my addiction to drama. I like things to be exciting and impressive to others. I crave having my spiritual heroicisms noticed by others. Forgive me, Father.
Of course my own evangelical experience has tended to downplay spiritual drama (at least of the charismatic variety) to avoid any appearance of excess. I’ve ended up with a kind of “functional atheism” where I really don’t embrace something unless it fits in my small-box understanding of how things are supposed to work. Since I don’t like surprises, I’ve adopted a theological perspective that essentially defines surprises away. I just have a slightly different closed system than the God-denying scientist.
Finally, I think about sermons I’ve heard (and preached) about the importance of godly character. I have been urged and have urged others to “pursue godliness.” I’m beginning to wonder whether God means for such moral ambition to really be the focal point of my spiritual efforts. I’m coming to see in the New Testament that character is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It grows out of communion with God. Sometimes in my effort to grow in godly character, I neglect communion with the person of God Himself. I try to bear fruit for God, rather than bearing godly fruit in Him. In the language of John 15, apart from Him I am capable of nothing. Simplify my focus, Father.
Saturdays are usually restful days for me if I’m not leading a weekend or day retreat. In that spirit, let me point you to a post from May 2009 where I quote from Wayne Muller’s Sabbath on the wisdom of dormancy in a rhythm of life. This mid-summer has been such a dormant season for me. It’s hard to see the contribution of such dormant times on a wider life of fruitfulness.
In case you don’t read this blog as daily as I post on it, below are the most visited posts since early May. As always, the majority of visits come to my “Ministry Burnout Statistics” and “Retreats” pages. I hope one of them will encourage you today.
“How Prayer is Deepened” – I unpack a great quotation from Elton Trueblood about the importance of silent waiting in prayer. I also shared that “the pace and idea-intensity with which we teach and lead tends to train our people to be comfortable with large amounts of unpracticed insight.”
“Stuck in a Prayer Rut” – This was probably my favorite post of the last month. I shared about some of the stuck places in our prayer lives, like the irony of prayer that is more me-focused than God-focused.
“Spiritual Formation: Health and Wholeness” – On the day Gem and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I shared some thoughts about longevity in marriage and Christian leaders. I suggested that deep and rich spiritual formation lies at the root of it all: “In the midst of ministry pressures and demands, [Christian leaders] need to learn how to live in genuine, practiced relationship with God.”
“Christ With Me in Everyday Life” – I spoke a little here about connecting the wounded and broken places in our lives with the healing power of Jesus we witness in the gospels.
“A Soul That Faints for God” – I shared a story in application of Psalm 84:2: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.”
Lately, I’ve been appreciating the rhythm of praying the daily hours in the spirit of the Benedictine order. You can get a feel for this way of prayer at Universalis.com (click on of the links on the left side of the page for the prayer liturgy for your current time of day). As an evangelical, there are occasionally Roman Catholic distinctives that I simply walk on past, but the richness of the psalms and historic prayers has been very nourishing.
The discipline of these daily rhythms of prayer strengthens me to live a prayerful life in the moments in between. Discipline is always the price of freedom. Elton Trueblood had some good insights into this sage piece of wisdom:
Back in February, I preached a message on the theme of “Prayer Ruts I’ve Found Myself In.” I wonder if any of these sound familiar to you.
First, I sometimes get stuck seeing prayer as more monologue than dialogue. I forget that prayer is a relationship, and that relationships are conversational. I learn to allow space when I pray for silence and listening. I don’t fill the air with and endless barrage of words, making the mistake of thinking that more words = better prayer. I don’t reduce prayer to reciting my laundry list of wants and needs. (And some of the most mature pray-ers I know don’t use many words).
Second, in subtle ways, my prayer becomes more me-focused than God-focused. Maybe this sounds strange to you. God-focused prayer is rich in praise, adoration and thanksgiving. These are ways we let the goodness and glory of God capture our attention and fill our horizon. Then, from this rich awareness of God-with-us, we feel encouraged to make our concerns, our hopes, our feelings, our needs be known to Him. Prayer also becomes me-focused when I stop praying when it doesn’t “feel good” anymore.
Third, and ironically, I’ve found myself stuck when I think of prayer as only spontaneous and rarely repetitive. My evangelical background taught me to suspect written prayers that some in other traditions used. I was warned of the great danger of meaningless repetition. But I never remember being warned of meaningless spontaneity (which I’ve prayed a lot of) or meaningful repetition. Spontaneity sometimes becomes a kind of religious “verbal diarrhea” (which just sounds gross). I’ve come to deeply treasure the richness of praying the psalms, which over time obviously becomes repetitive since there are only 150 of them! I also appreciate the “prayer books” of other Christian traditions.
Do any of these ruts sounds familiar in your experience? Do you have any to add to the list? Please take a moment and add your comment via the link below, would you?
Would you like to explore one of the prayer book traditions as a means of enriching your life of prayer? Below are a few that I’ve used at times and appreciated:
Yesterday was full and good day of ministry. I began by enjoying coffee with a worship pastor friend with whom I meet every other Thursday to share our lives with one another. Then, I helped lead a day retreat in Orange, CA for a number of Christian leaders from the area. I never cease to be amazed at the creative compassion of God in how He expresses Himself to His beloved sons and daughters. Then, I ended the day speaking to the InterVarsity chapter at University of California at Irvine. I came home tired and grateful.
Tomorrow, I’ll lead another one of our “An Unhurried Day with Jesus” events at Creekside Christian Fellowship in Irvine, CA. Then, I’ll preach at the three Sunday services at the Ventura (CA) Vineyard on the theme of “Prayer: A Relationship with God”. I’d be grateful for your prayers.
I so long to be part of a wider movement of Christ followers who share a common life of intimacy with God, love for one another and shared engagement in Christ’s work in His world. Below is a link to a post from January on what such a movement might look like.
I continue today to recover from a lovely cold/flu that’s parked in my chest. Hurray for antibiotics and cough syrup with codeine. So I’ll make this one short.
E. Glenn Hinson, in an article from Weavings (May/June 2002), talked about how we might more deeply practice the presence of God in our lives through rhythms of daily and occasional disengagements from our activities to simply be in the presence of God.
I read the following in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People:
“[quoting Michael Casey] The purpose of the relentless sameness of the monastic round is to create a climate in which hidden aspects of the personality become manifest. External monotony is an invitation to inner change, whereas novelty and constant variety short-circuit the process of going deeper.’
We will discover our true selves as we patiently simmer in communities and relationships to which God has called us. And we will find God there as well, because if we cannot find God where we are, we will not find him elsewhere. Except for those extreme or abusive cases, if you haven’t seen God in your marriage, in your present employment, in your neighborhood, or in your church fellowship, then chances are you won’t see God in your next marriage, job, neighborhood, or church.” (p. 96-97.)
What is your hunger level for variety? In what ways is this a reflection of God’s great creativity and “new every morning”-ness? In what ways might it be a way of escaping the rhythms, rituals and habits that might be a place of maturing for you?
To what degree are you tempted to leave a place you’ve been for a while? How much “the grass is greener over there” is moving you?
In what ways might God be inviting you to stay put rather than start over?