Thursday, November 01, 2007

For Beginners Only...

"But let us be convinced of the fact that
we will never be anything else but beginners,
all our life (1)."
-Thomas Merton-

At times, I feel like such a beginner. Lately, I’ve found this “feeling” becoming more and more frequent. As the old adage goes, “the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.” Or, the older I get, the younger I feel. At times this is humbling, especially in regard to the areas where maturity of being is the call of the day. Yet, in other areas, it is quite liberating, exciting and organic. To learn the same lesson over, yet from a slightly different perspective. With each experience of re-learning the “truth” therein seems to penetrate a little deeper within the core of my being, influencing the person I am becoming.

I can see these cycles in my life. There are rhythms of internal construction, then deconstruction, followed by greater deconstruction, then at last there begins a reconstruction, then greater reconstruction. It is these God initiated cycles that remind me that God is “at work within in me” creating a desire to “both will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (2).” It is these interactions that break into my seasons of subtle neglect, apathy and disillusion. These cycles and interactions cause me to see my life more closely from God’s perspective.

“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship,” writes Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He continues, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ (3).” It is the presence of “the living Christ” that provokes transformation from within. And the most significant and lasting transformation, as Foster contends, is always “an inside job (4).” Thus, Christian spirituality cannot be experienced without living intentionality. Unfortunately, for many, life just seems to happen to them. Pastor Dieter Zander in an interview with Dallas Willard, conducted by Christianity Today laments, “A lot of people live unintentionally. They get pushed around by circumstances and culture (5).” Some would even say Christians can become more “surprised by change,” than the lack thereof (6). In order to live a life “worth living there needs to be moments where one’s life can be as Socrates admonished, “examined (7).” For me, journaling, one-day spiritual retreats and exercises like the “spiritual growth planner” help facilitate this type of examination.

Again, as Thomas Merton said, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life.” Times of honesty, relational engagement and “spiritual growth planners” have a way of highlighting the “beginner” in us all. And, when seen from God’s perspective and grace, these awakenings can become entry paths to greater personal transformation. During the process of allowing ourselves to be “open to God,” as Calhoun describes it, we see not only the areas we want to grow in, but the areas that we need to grow in. We frequently see the areas we want to grow in, for these areas often correspond with our personalities and spiritual pathways or “sacred pathways(8).” However, the arenas that we need to grow in most are generally somewhere out of direct sight, somewhere in the shadows of our blind-spot(s).

Adele Calhoun in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, identifies seven major arenas of spiritual disciplines and practices of the Christian faith. She uses the acronym W.O.R.S.H.I.P. Included in this book is a Spiritual Growth Planner, essentially a detailed personal-spiritual assessment of where you're and the disciplines-practices that are strong or not-so-strong in one's life. I was personally challenged in each of the seven areas, however there were two that I sensed a need to intentionally engage in first. At face value these two seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, yet in reality, they interplay and work in tandem with each other. They are “worship of the Trinity” and “pray my life.”

I have a strong sense of God’s providential love, protection and guidance in my life. This strength can become a weakness. I know God is working around me and actively involved in the various parts of my life. However, “knowing” this and authentically “acknowledging” this are two different things. This is where the “pray my life” component comes into play. If I am not consistently engaged in practices of “pray my life,” I am apt to be less sensitive and discerning to God’s activity in my daily life. Thus, I’m less aware of the actuality of His presence, and the lack of acknowledgment, thanks and worship are the symptoms of this dis-ease. To state it another way, when I am engaged in ongoing “pray my life” type interactions, I am more sensitive, discerning and aware of God’s presence in my situations and circumstances. The result is a natural outflow of acknowledgment and worship.

This fall has been a busy season for me. I’m already finding my mind drift forward into December of 2008. There are mini brainstorming meetings going on all over my head, and there’s still much to be created and done to finish out 2007. What I need isn’t so much a one-day spiritual retreat, I’ve taken two of those already this fall. Rather, I need some small pockets of time throughout the day that interrupt the enchanting busyness of my day with a deep-breath and re-centering of my awareness of God, His presence and His desire to participate with me in the tasks He has entrusted me to do. One of the byproducts that I am certain will be an increased atunement between me and God, as well as an organic outflow of authentic worship. I’m looking forward to increasing my practice in these disciplines and experiencing the “grace” that can be “received” through them(9).

This is only the beginning, I am a beginner.


(1) Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pg. 2.
(2) Philippians 2:13, TNIV.
(3) Dietrick Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.
(4) Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pg. 6
(5) “The Apprentices,” Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, Summer 2005, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, Pg. 20.
(6) John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted.
(7) In Plato’s Dialogues, Socrates remarks that, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Apology, section 38.
(8) Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Pathways identifies nine different “pathways.” These pathways, kind of like a spiritual-personality, are the way that God has designed us to relate to Him most naturally.
(9) Foster says that, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.” Dallas Willard says that the Disciplines are “receptacles for God’s Grace.”


Jeremy said...

This is exactly what I needed to read at the time being.

Hermi said...

What we all need to hear, but how many of us will actually apply it?