December 15, 2017

Sunday Formation Talk: Monastic Practices

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. . . the following reflections on the basic elements of our daily life spring from a belief that the ordinary things we do every day constitute our normal monastic path to God.

• Fr. Charles Cummings

For Sundays from now through the fall, we’ll be focusing on the topics of spiritual formation and spiritual practices. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and responses to a book I bought when I had a weekend retreat at Gethsemani Abbey last spring. It is called Monastic Practices, and it was written in 1986 by a Trappist monk, Fr. Charles Cummings. This book was designed primarily as a guide for monks and nuns, but Cummings notes that “A selective, prudent use of these practices might be of benefit to persons ‘in the world’ wishing to follow the traditional christian methods of spiritual deepening.”

The majority of us may only be internet monks, but I know many hunger for the “spiritual deepening” of which he speaks.

• • •

In the introduction to Monastic Practices, Fr. Charles Cummings makes several pithy and important points.

First, he reminds us that it may not always be clear to us how any particular practice in which we engage is fostering a deeper experience of God.

As one who played and coached sports and as one familiar with the discipline of musicians, I can testify that this is simply the way it is. We do not always see a direct connection between “going through our drills” and playing the game, “practicing our scales” and performing a piece of music. Practices, drills, and acted habits of preparation can be tedious, boring, seemingly without importance or meaning. But let us stop practicing for a time and then see what happens to the quality of our performances!

Second, Cummings also notes that we may go through seasons of meaningfulness. Perhaps in the first part of our journey, a particular practice resonated with us. But now it seems lifeless. I get little gratification from it. He reminds us, “All of us need to rediscover deeper levels of meaning in the things we do every day . . . .”

The traditional practices are indeed intended to be “at the service of life” and not mere exercises to be put up with. I myself have found that feelings wax and wane and that it is good sometimes to persevere through dry times, to keep praying or working or worshiping even when it seems dull. At other times, I have found it good to set some practice aside for awhile (maybe for a long while) and then pick it up again in another season of life when it seems appropriate. It is the Spirit’s work to guide us in these matters.

13385742495_007cda68d1_zThird, perhaps the most important reminder in the introduction to this book is: “[The practices] provide the traditional outward form of monastic life; its inner spirit is love.”

God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love must give life to the “dry bones” of our practices. Our hearts, minds, and spirits must be animated by the Spirit of God, creating in us new and clean hearts that seek God. Cummings warns us to always keep in mind that “rubrics” cannot magically unite us to God. As we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, Paul wrote, so we are to walk in him, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7). “By grace, through faith” is the pattern of our lives in Christ just as it was the way we became united to him.

Fourth, indeed, Fr. Cummings says, external practices may not only be “dead works” but may actually constitute defenses we erect between ourselves and God!

Many of us fear God in a cowering way. We fear actually relating to God, getting close to God, opening our hearts to God. Spiritual practices can be a means by which I actually avoid encountering God. I may base my security in a life of discipline rather than in the One who loves me with an everlasting love and who calls me to love him with a whole heart. It is a measure of our weakness that we can use the very practices God has given us to erect walls between us!

Fifth and finally, the author quotes an ancient Chinese saying: “When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.” In other words, the goal of spiritual practices is the same as that of any other kind of practice: they are meant to help us in the actual playing of the game. Once we are in the game, we forget about practice and simply play.

No great pianist was ever renowned for how well she played her scales. Nor has any great hitter in baseball been elected to the Hall of Fame because he could hit well off a tee or in batting practice. We practice in order to play the game and make beautiful music for others to enjoy. We do not practice so that we may practice well. When spiritual practices become integrated into our lives, we can take them for granted in a good way. We do our work. We go through our paces. We prepare well. We give concentration and effort, but the result is a more effortless performance. We are becoming formed, and the “shoe” fits.

• • •

Monastic Practices (Cistercian Studies)
By Fr. Charles Cummings, OCSO
© 1986 Cistercian Publications, © 2008 by Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville MN

 

Fr. Charles Cummings, OCSO,  is a Trappist monk of Holy Trinity Abbey in Utah.

Comments

  1. As a Luther, Lutheran… (getting involved in the messes of daily life…yours and others around you ) I’m not one to value seeking a “spiritual deepening”.

    I don’t even know what that means.

    Outside of the preached Word and the receiving of the sacraments…I wouldn’t know how anyone could possibly go deeper.

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      Not everyone is called to the same vocation. Maybe not everyone is called to a spiritual deepening. It sounds like you are not, but the Spirit may lead you there in the future. Be open to that leading. Certainly, Martin Luther would see the benefit of spiritual deepening–so long as it is not understood as a prerequisite to or maintenance of salvation.

      • This reminds me of Ken Shenck’s review of the book, Sacred Pathways.
        He wrote: The genius of Sacred Pathways is that it rightly recognizes that personality affects the way one interacts with God…here are his types:

        naturalists: love God out of doors
        sensates: love God with their senses
        traditionalists: loving God through ritual and symbol
        ascetics: loving God in solitude and simplicity
        activists: loving God through confrontation
        caregivers: loving God by loving others
        enthusiasts: loving God with mystery and celebration
        contemplatives: loving God through adoration
        intellectuals: loving God with the mind”

        • jazziscoolithink says:

          I like it, RDavid. At different times in my life, I have been each of those categories. One of the beauties of life in the Spirit is its fluidity. When we lose sight of that and become rigid, I think we are resisting (in as much as it can be resisted) the work of the Holy Spirit.

        • We did a review of the book here a few years ago. The firestorm it set off is still baffling.
          http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/im-book-review-sacred-pathways

          • I just read that thread.
            The reaction is completely baffling.

            Every once in awhile an article here seems to bring numerous self appointed guardians of the faith out, they come streaming out of the desert like the Taliban.

            And they then vanish as quickly as they came.

    • The point that my pastor makes is that Jesus has taken care of the “spirituality” project. It is finished.

      Now, we are freed from all of that for the real purpose that God has in mind for us… that He has created us for…and this is the neighbor.

      It’s hard to jump into the problems and needs of our neighbor if we are cooped up in a monastery with others trying to go “deeper”.

      The true deep end of the pool is out there where are the swimmers are.

      • It’s also hard to express genuine love for our neighbors when our inner person is informed and immature. It’s not an either/or thing, Steve.

        • Our “inner person” is the problem, Mike. And it’s already formed.

          Our Savior has taken care of (is taking care of) that.

          Hanging out in a monastery is akin to having a bunch of tow trucks hanging around the tow yard. Reading books about tow trucks and the owner of the company. Shining up those tow trucks. Getting them ship-shape.

          Those trucks are meant to be out on the road helping people who are breaking down.

          • Paul can say, at the same time, (1) we are complete in Christ, and (2) that Christ must be formed in us. Why is that impossible for you to grasp?

            I suggest, again, it is because your theology trumps what the Bible actually says and what 2000 years of Christian experience teaches us.

          • He does the forming.

            “He who began the good work …”

            That’s Bible.

            “Sanctification is forgetting about yourself. ”

            – Forde

          • That leaves us to the work of seeing that we are not up to it…and the work of trusting in Christ… alone …for everything needful . Otherwise you’ll view that verse the way the Catholics view it…that being that we have some work to perform in our own salvation.

            • Paul doesn’t say “work out your salvation . . . so that you’ll see you’re not up to it.” That is your theology speaking, not the text. Paul expects that what God works in us, we will work out in love toward others. We are involved, Steve, as active participants, otherwise the passage in Philippians and a hundred other passages in the Gospels and Epistles have no meaning.

              I have an idea you are not going to like Sundays on Internet Monk for awhile.

          • A lifelong Lutheran myself, I am wary of the potential for either a theology of complacency on the one hand or a reliance on one’s own spiritual disciplines on the other. We should neither presume upon God’s grace (as if grace is license) nor expect that merely useful disciplines somehow make us deserving. Rather it is for us to both trust in His grace and seek His blessings in this life, to His glory.

            Among Christians, there can be a kind of radical passivity says that because we do not need to do anything for our salvation, we do not need to do anything. But the truth is that we who have been born again have a calling to fulfill. (Ephesians 2:10) So we are motivated by gratitude to both pray and work, meditate and serve, refuel and go — assured that God will give His gifts to accomplish what He chooses in us and through us.

            And let’s be clear: To recognize the opportunity to be willful in spiritual matters, is not tantamount to saying that the energy is our own and the resulting achievement is to our credit. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17 ” If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Cor. 5:17) In Christ, the will is transformed.

            (Some references:)

            A Christian is never in a state of completion but always in the process of becoming.”- Martin Luther (Can anyone provide the exact reference?)

            It has been sufficiently explained above how God makes willing people out of rebellious and unwilling people through the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, and how after this conversion of the human being the reborn will is not idle in the daily practice of repentance but cooperates in all works of the Holy Spirit that He accomplishes through us.” SD FC II:88 [Solid Declaration, Formula of Concord]

            The Bible speaks of growing into maturity in several places, like Ephesians 4:11-17, Colossians 1:28.

            Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD,
            and on his law he meditates day and night.
            He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,
            and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

            Psalm 1:1-3

            For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8

          • Mike,

            If you think that “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” means that we actually need to be contributing something, adding something that Christ has not already done for us…then you might just as well be a Roman Catholic.

            You like throwing out law verses. Here’s one, “Be perfect…”

            Here’s a gospel verse, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” What does it say in that verse about your need to do something towards God’s completed work in you?

            Forde had it right. The good work that you can do…is to forget about yourself. And jump into life with both feet.

            One can jump into the monastery with both feet…but it is like diving into a wading pool while wearing floaties.

            • Sorry, Steve. That’s theology. Not the Bible. You are so locked in to your theological concepts and phrases that you cannot hear the text.

              In weeks to come, I will not allow extended arguments like this. We know where each other stands.

    • Perhaps someone already said this…I have not read all 55 comments up to this point…but I think Steve, that your terminology might look at deepening spirituality this way — increasingly becoming more of a theologian of the cross and less of a theologian of glory.

      What else could it be for one whose only theology is the cross?

  2. It’s a coincidence (maybe) that I just finished listening to this sermon on ‘spirituality’ about two hours ago.

    http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/becoming-more-spiritual.mp3

    It’s well worth a minute and a half…if that’s all you can do. The first two sentences are a hoot.

  3. “Outside of the preached Word and the receiving of the sacraments…I wouldn’t know how anyone could possibly go deeper.”

    I think Cummings would agree with you. It’s the Spirit that actually takes you deeper. Trappists live a boring life of receiving the sacraments,reading scripture, and manual labor–every day, no vacations, for the rest of their lives. They take a vow of stability never to leave the monastery–most of them stay in the same monastery their whole life. They read all 150 psalms every week and are vegetarians. T

    Those things are the traditional Christian practices for spiritual deepening: receiving the Eucharist, praying and deeply meditating with scripture, fasting, and doing well what needs to be done in daily life (making caskets, baking bread, milking cows). It gets old and boring I sure–but the Holy Spirit makes something out of those practices (gives them depth and meaning) when we are faithful to them.

    • Excellent answer, Rick. I would also argue that we are talking about becoming formed as flourishing human beings. We’re talking about “growing up.” We’re talking about becoming mature. In one sense, the phrase “spiritual formation” is misleading. We are talking about personal formation, about the process of developing more capacity within ourselves for faith, hope, and love. This is the work of the Spirit, applying the work of Christ to our daily lives, directing us to a new obedience, seeing more and more in our lives the coming of his kingdom and the doing on earth of what is being done in heaven. The language of “going deeper” reminds me of marriage. Now, 35 years after my wedding, my love for my wife is indeed deeper, more mature. I am not any more married to her today than I was on the first day, but our relationship has grown. This has been a matter of the heart, but definite practices have also been involved. Why should union with Christ be different?

  4. “…but the Holy Spirit makes something out of those practices (gives them depth and meaning) when we are faithful to them.”

    I believe that the Holy Spirit makes something out of everything that we do. He is the One who sanctifies and justifies. He is the One who will complete the good work that He started in us all. He just does it…as He wills, when He wills, how He wills. There’s no formula. Sure…there are things that we all should do to keep the faith fires burning (prayer, Bible reading/study, helping the neighbor) but even then, of course, it really isn’t a work that ‘we do’.

    And I would argue that our faithfulness to these practices isn’t a condition to His working in our lives and making out of our lives that which He wills.

    We have Jesus in our hearts and on our lips and in our minds. I don’t know how much more (deeper) of Jesus anyone could have.

    • Steve, you seem to think it a beneficial spiritual practice to regularly warn the rest of us to avoid mistaking anything we intentionally do to “deepen” or “mature” our relationship to God for the spontaneous, autonomous work of the Spirit in our lives. You also seem to think it a good practice to discourage the rest of us from undertaking such practices.

      If I ask you, What would you have us do instead?, I imagine you would reply, Whatever you like, it’s all the same, because the Spirit is irresistibly working his will in you anyway; there’s nothing you can do to stop, or enhance, that.

      Well, then, Steve, some of us may choose to do some of these practices, and there’s nothing you need to do to stop, or help, us in our undertaking, because the Spirit will irresistibly work his will anyway. You don’t need to work so hard to dissuade us; you can give it a rest.

      Unless, of course, you just enjoy dissuading us, and exhibiting what you believe is your superior spiritual understanding and practice in this area; in which case I say: Well, then, each to her (or his) own enjoyment and sense of superior spiritual understanding and practice in this and every other area.

      • I concur.

      • @Robert…..I agree with your assessment of the dichotomy between “working” on our spiritual formation versus Steve’s idea of the spontaneity and unmerited Grace of the Holy Spirit working in and on us.

        I would add, following CM’s matrimonial example, that putting our hearts and minds into growing our love, whether for our spouse or for the Lord, is the more accurate example….with some reservations. If we just wait around for our love to grow all on its very own, it is very easy to get sidetracked, busy, and forget what it is we are trying to do. In marriage (also 35 years worth in our house…) there are seasons, and sometimes the focus on “us” and our relationship DOES take a back seat to pressing issues and get put on autopilot. BUT…..and this is a large “but”, this can only happen due to the scaffolding and work that goes into our marriage the REST of the time. Doing things one would rather not, but does for the beloved….listening when tired….coddling or frankly speaking unpleasant truths….having your heart ache because your beloved is unhappy or under fire from the world….responding to mis-matched sexual needs…..being a safe haven against all other problems…..THESE build a solid and loving marriage, one that can withstand some benign neglect on occasion. That does NOT mean that the neglect is good or preferable, merely endurable for a while.

        Likewise, I can stop my spiritual reading, miss Mass, pray erratically and absentmindedly, and still remain a Christian and a beloved daughter of the King of Kings. THIS cannot be the norm, however…..for God and His Spirit to find and form and mold me, I have to be listening to Him with my heart and mind and soul…..and TIME. I don’t think that sitting on a hilltop watching the sunset is “bad”, but it is not going to enable most of us to hear the Lord the way that focusing on Him, listening to His Word, and speaking to Him does.

        • “I have to be listening to Him with my heart and mind and soul…..and TIME. I don’t think that sitting on a hilltop watching the sunset is “bad”, but it is not going to enable most of us to hear the Lord the way that focusing on Him, listening to His Word, and speaking to Him does.”

          Does that need to be done in a monastery? I do that at home, at work, in church…all the time.

          And then I’m in close proximity to my neighbor when they need me.

          • Steve, first of all, who’s talking about living in a monastery? Not me. Second, even if I were, monastic orders have long been an engine of good works in love to their neighbors for centuries. Third, don’t discount the value of the continuing prayer that the monasteries provide. Prayer is one way by which we love others.

          • We can, and do pray…everywhere.

          • That is a good point, Steve. It is possible for Christians to pray all the time, everyday, everywhere, whether they are monastic or not. But among monastics, and others who have taken vows of simplicity, poverty, obedience and chastity, the energies that normally go into secular life may be focused and concentrated in a rhythm of daily prayer, including prayerful service, that is not possible for those whose time is taken up in worldly concerns. The prayerful atmosphere of the monastic communities I’ve visited was palpable. And the hospitality I’ve experienced in them was extraordinary, and a wonderful service that many such communities offer to outsiders.

            • The other thing Steve does not see or accept is that some may have a vocational calling to a cloistered life. Luther and the Lutheran tradition has never denied that, seeking only to correct abuses. Luther himself remained a monk for many years during the Reformation.

          • “But among monastics, and others who have taken vows of simplicity, poverty, obedience and chastity, the energies that normally go into secular life may be focused and concentrated in a rhythm of daily prayer, including prayerful service, that is not possible for those whose time is taken up in worldly concerns.”

            So…they are better than us. This is exactly what Luther fought against!

            NOBODY knows how to pray as they ought, anyway, St. Paul tells us. So the job of the Holy Spirit to intercede for us is made easier when those who are praying are holier people not distracted like we are.

            I’m not buying that one for a minute.

            • Steve, that’s not what we’re saying nor have we ever said anything like that in any article where monasticism was in view. Your charge is patently ridiculous and yet you just continue to spout off today.

              Any further comments you make will be moderated on this thread.

          • When Luther left the monastery (where he realized it wasn’t making him better…but WORSE)…he got married and jumped into all sorts of endeavors in the town to be of some good to people.

          • Monks are not better than other Christians, nor are other Christians better than monks. We each have distinct callings throuth the Holy Spirit. I can pray anywhere at all times (doing it is another story), but intercession may not be my primary calling. Because of the monks’ community living and schedule they may have the time (and calling) for intercession that we aren’t able to have. When I visited Gethsemani many years ago, one of the main things that impressed me was that here were people whose job (calling) it was to pray for me and others in what has been called “the deep end of the pool”. The more I consider this, I think there is no deep end: the whole pool is deep!

      • As always I get to look at both sides and realize that the profit I receive is in the middle ground. I do need to rest in Him with the trust that He is working in me through all that I do either good or what I would deem as bad. Bad being the times I am not in control of the things I do not want to do like being driven to much at work and getting frustrated and angry along with other things in the way I think. I see what Steve is saying and I see what others are saying. I remember a good friend of mine saying “saved is saved, I can’t be anymore saved than saved.” Although, there is undeniable truth to such a statement it does not go far enough. So in a way it becomes a little twisted if it that makes sense. I know now that I can be saved and have fullest life. This fullest life being born of the Holy spirit. Does that mean the spirit wasn’t there. Sometimes I need to reflect on the fact that I need to be better at recognizing His work in me. I think we all have practices that help us know this love that is so jealous over us. Our wants and deep down desire is for others to know Him too. Maybe not so much how we would have it but how it would work best for them.

      • I would have you TRUST that your relationship with God is complete in Christ Jesus. And then I would have you (and myself) get out there in the world and love your neighbor.

        • Although I applaud your desire to help your neighbor I also see that within the monastery there is a community with neighbors. Out of that community other things that we see and might not see are effecting the world around us. I am certainly not called to be a monk although I enjoy being alone more often than not. Once a man said to me the gifts are for edifying the saints so what good is the gift of tongues. I only answered is not the one speaking tongues a saint. I often wonder what it is that the most of us do when we work and pay our taxes and want our roads to be safe and bridges to be sturdy. It would seem that we are loving our neighbors in some sort of way whether we are aware of it or not. It would seem we need to speak truth over situations. Not partial truths and in effect twistings of the whole. So the one who cares little for getting a job and contributing cares very little about the community at large. Now the whole truth would recognize that it is love not condemnation that would change this attitude. The want for someone to understand how they are loved by the most high and what they are worth and the breaking off of generational burdens so they too can contribute. Sometimes loving neighbors is in a way so very, very quiet.

      • @Robert F: +infinity

    • Steve, if you read the post carefully, I think you will see that Cummings (and I) answered every one of your “Lutheran” concerns.

      • I see your point. I just think the whole monastic way of way is unnecessary.

        God needs (wants) us out in the world to help the neighbor. Our relationship with Him is already where it needs to be…in Christ.

        • It’s nice to see so many Imonk-ers have listened to that sermon that I posted (above) in which my pastor drives that point home about not needing further deepness with God…but instead we are commanded to love one another in service.

          Thanks!

          • The pastor gave a good sermon against the appearance of religion, religiosity and the religious persona. Didn’t hear anything about not deepening your relationship through meditation, study and prayer. I think you may be pigeon-holing your pastor through a preconceived notion of what he is getting at. If it is as you say then he would sneer at Jesus for going away alone to pray, which He was wont to do, when He knew He had such limited time on this earth to show love to His neighbors. The pastor would also suggest that we disregard Paul’s instruction to, “study to show yourself approved…rightly dividing the word of truth.” No time for that either. Paul took about 14 years to prepare himself, or to be prepared if you will. Without a balance of time, some of it devoted to grasping a more mature and subtle knowledge of God, our works of love, the essence of the pastor’s message, become exhibitions of our personal neuroses and little more. I would challenge you to show him today’s post and see if he agrees with you. Time to chew the cud is essential and has nothing to do with putting on appearances of religiosity. I heard nothing in his sermon that contradicted today’s post.

          • Thanks for listening, ChrisS.

            You are quite right. Neither my pastor nor myself would ever poo poo anyone’s desire to pray.

            I would ask him (my pastor) to look at today’s post but he is vacationing in Napa this week. Hopefully he and his wife didn’t get shaken up too badly.

            I do think, though, that we both (my pastor and I) feel that Christians ought be engaged with the wider world. And that prayer is answered, for all who pray. No special circumstances or requirements needed.
            After all, God knows what we need and gives it to us even before we ask. But we do ask. And He does want to hear from all of us. Jesus told us to pray. And we do.

          • Steve, I guess you’ve never met any monks who *aren’t* cloistered? Because many are out “in the world,” teaching and doing other work, just like many orders of nuns.

            Not everyone who feels called to become a monk or nun is equally called to be cloistered. Cloistered orders are relatively few, yet, in some ways, more visible, because of writers like Thomas Merton.

            Fwiw, there are still some Lutheran nuns in Europe, though I don’t know if they have any male counterparts. There are Anglican orders for both men and women as well.

            I won’t try to talk about your other points, because it’s really hard to try and discuss things with you on good days. Am hoping you take CM’s hint.

        • flatrocker says:

          This brings to mind a story that happened at our parish. We are a Franciscan Ordered Parish and periodically we are visited by the Poor Clare Nuns. Poor Clares have committed their life to obediance and poverty in a contemplative community. On one of their visits, they toured our elementary school. As they moved from classroom to classroom, one of the teachers asked the sisters what their ministry was. They answered, “We Pray.” The teacher said, “No, no, no. What is your ministry?” They replied “we pray.” She clarified again, “I know you pray. But what do you do?” They said, “we pray…and we also sew the religious habits for the friars.” The teacher finally got her answer.

          Interesting how we set limits on what constitutes service to one another. How is it that prayer as a way of life is somehow diminished in it worthiness? Is it because it has no practical purpose in our work ethic driven culture? How could we possibly be accomplishing anything that actually serves others when we pray? There’s work to be done – we can pray later.

          • Personally, I’m praying all day long, throughout my workday…wherever.

            And I take great comfort that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me, since none of us really know how to pray as we ought, anyway.

  5. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith but we are rooted and grounded by love. It is in love that depth is born. Deep calls to deep. Paul prayed that we might know what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge that we might be filled up to all the fullness of God. Knowing something which surpasses knowing. That’s what that verse says. That’s a lifetime journey of ever widening consciousness and deepening capacity to love. There’s that odd phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Peter was not in touch with Jesus on the same level as him because Peter had to ask him who Jesus was referring to. He needed John’s intimacy to shed light where his intellect was shrouded in darkness. Love endures suffering and creates communion. It’s all love. Oddly, and to the point of the post, most of it is born in the mundane, as the monks know so well. I appreciate Fr. Cummings’ long view approach. Some things work for a season and may not be picked up until they are effective again. Conversely, some things must be fought through. There is a nimbleness there and an adaptability that reveals his colors. He is not looking for formulas, he is looking for love in all the right places.

  6. There is a book called Living with Mystery: Finding God in the Midst of Questions. Subtitle, Come to know God more deeply. Serendipitously, there are nine or ten mysteries that match well with the types in Sacred Pathways mentioned by RDavid.

  7. OldProphet says:

    Hello. Thanks for calling the Busy Christian Fellowship We have many meetings to serve you! Please attend our Sunday 8:00 Liturgical service. Or, our 10:00 Contemporary service. Please come to our Sunday night worship service. Make sure your young adults attend the Monday night college group, or Tuesday night youth group. Don’ miss our Midweek service, or Thursday night women’s bible study. Meet in any of our small groups Friday night bGet your menfolk to Saturday men’s breakfast. We are serving hot dogs to the pool in the park Saturday afternoon, don’t mess that! Rules and Regs?

  8. “We do not practice so that we may practice well.”

    Well, there is a sense in which practice is what musicians do, and performance is practicing in front of an audience. If you look at what happens when a jazz combo goes on a long excursion into improvisation, you will see that, in fact, they are practicing; they are learning and exploring as they go along, and taking us with them for the ride. That’s what jamming is.

    And even though my wife is not great at improvisation, as a classically trained musician, she loves to practice; in practice she is often learning new things about the music that she has known and loved for years. In fact, it would be fair to say that, although she like to perform, she loves to practice, because she loves the music that happens when she is practicing, the newness that she discovers for the first time, the endless fecundity of pieces of music always opening up into new dimensions.

    I think the same could be said about some spiritual practices, too. I think that we probably do pray to pray well, as an example, however one may want to define the word well in this admittedly hard to define context. There is sometimes a joy and freedom in prayer that is hard to match in any other activity in life.

    The same is true with practicing the presence of God in the here and now: when, every now and then, I experience the pile of dishes to be washed in the sink as an occasion for knowing the presence of the transcendent God in the immanence of ordinary, everyday life, then washing the dishes mindfully and meditatively becomes an end in itself, like dancing, or playing with a kitten, or humming a song in the shower. And the really interesting thing about it, the unfathomably wonderful mysterious thing, is that God doesn’t mind if you delight in him these manifold ways, he doesn’t mind if you forget his name for a while and only know him in the hiddenness of the phenomenon he has created: the dishes, the dancing, the kitten, the playing, the music, the praying, the mindful walk in the woods, the crispness of fallen leaves, the face of a loved one, the practicing.

    I wouldn’t make such a hard and fast distinction between practicing and doing; sometimes practicing well is the very center of deepening and maturation, when you practice for sheer love of what you are doing. Then you have really forgotten self, and I would hazard the guess that you are very close to the heart of our self-giving God.

    • I don’t disagree, but I would like to keep the distinction, because it reminds me that the goal is love, which is specifically directed toward the other. Of course, the lines often blur.

  9. Here’s a clue;

    When Jesus took some disciples up to the mount of Tranfiguration…they wanted to stay there and build a chapel and live the religious life.

    Jesus said in essence, ‘Nothin’ coin’! We’re going back down there and were gonna get back into the mix and do the hard work that needs to be done.”

    Monastic life is like milk toast.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Sure you don’t mean it’s too ROMISH for Real Christians?

    • Steve, I am not sure how Christianity made it 2000 years without your guidance and wisdom…..

      May I suggest that maybe, just MAYBE, the way Christ calls and directs Steve Martin is NOT the same as the way God calls the other billion or so Christians, those on earth and those in heaven?? You do not know the souls and minds of other people, and you certainly cannot claim to understand the Mind and Will of the Almighty…

      I am sorry that this sounds harsh, but my brother, you could use a little less certainty about God’s Plans and methods…..perhaps somewhere in a milk-toast monastery someone is praying for the grace of humility to enlighten you.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Steve, I am not sure how Christianity made it 2000 years without your guidance and wisdom…..

        Couldn’t you say the same about Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russel, John Nelson Darby, Ellen G White, Hal Lindsay, and Sun Myung Moon?

        • OldProphet says:

          Fertig, Driscoll, Mahaney, Scott,Hinn,Dobson, the Bab, Koresh, et. All. The big and the small.

    • Milk toast. That’s a harsh summary judgement on people you have no personal knowledge of or ongoing experience with. Consider what you’re saying and how you sound.

  10. Chaplin Mike, I am currently reading 2 books in this same area. One is “The Language of Silence: The Changing Face of Monastic Solitude” by Peter-Damien Belisle. Excellent.

    The other is “Poutstinia” by Catherine Dogherty. Poustinia is Russian for desert. A little harder for me to get in to but still interesting.

  11. Outside of the Bible, the most important book in my life is by far the Book of Common Prayer. One of the reasons the English Reformers created the BCP out of the numerous prayer and worship resources of the late Middle Ages was to simplify the Benedictine monastic prayer disciplines so that they could be used by regular folk. Eight daily services got combined into two, the reading of the Scriptures became systematized for use over the course of a year, the recitation of the Psalter became monthly rather than daily or weekly, and the calendar of feasts and fasts was trimmed to make room for much more ordinary time.

    I’ve gotten a reputation in the parish and in the diocese for being good at chanting the Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer, or Mattins and Evensong, if you prefer). The funny thing is, I’m really not all that good at Gregorian/Plainchant; it’s just that the plainchant settings used in the Offices are intentionally pretty simple and I’ve been singing them most every day for the past couple of years. And the reason I sing the Offices is that part of my ordination included the promise to pray the Offices (as has been the custom among Anglican clergy for 450 years or so), and I find I enjoy the discipline more when I sing them rather than when I just say them. And in the process, the simple wisdom found in the Prayer Book, Psalms, and Scripture gets in me as I soak in them daily.

    I’ve often wished there was a silver bullet for spiritual maturity and whatnot, but there really isn’t, anymore than there’s a silver bullet for getting in shape, learning the guitar, or getting to know your spouse better. More than anything, it’s just about the little day-to-day things such as the spiritual disciplines. There’s a reason Christians have been doing some of these things from the beginning. Heck, the Jewish people were doing these things before there was Christianity. Where do you think we got them in the first place?

    • jazziscoolithink says:

      Fr. Isaac,

      I’ve recently started praying the daily hours from the BCP. Are there some resources you could suggest for how to chant them?

      • The St. Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter by Lancelot Andrewes Press has been my main resource. It’s got all 150 Psalms in planchant, along with the Offices, Psalm 151, and a Compline setting in the appendices. It’s got a decent tutorial in the front on how to read the notation. It is, however, set for the American 1928 BCP (which is what I use), but should be applicable to just about any version you use.