Monday, June 16, 2008

Soul-Numbing Ruts

We are creatures of habit. Many of us enjoy, even thrive on being in control, knowing what's happening and what's happening next. We love God, even etch out time for Him on a daily basis. We know what to do, we spent an amount of time praying and then some time perhaps reading Scripture. As well intended as these are, they can actually become counter-productive to our spiritual formation, for often these pre-programmed patterns can become nothing more than a shell that houses stagnant spirituality (which in and of itself is an oxymoron).

Nonetheless, we can experience what Gary Thomas in Sacred Pathways refers to as "a soul-numbing rut."

He writes,

“I’ve found that many people
experience a dilemma in the walk with God.
Their love for God has not dimmed,
they’ve just fallen into a soul-numbing rut.
Their devotions seem like nothing more
than shadows of what they’ve been doing for years.”
~Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways~

Sometimes the best thing we can do for our spiritual vitality is simply mix up our routine.

These spiritual experiments and explorations of what we typically call "devotions" or "quiet times" can become catalyst in our engagement of God.

This past Thursday, I spent 13-hours with about 70 middle and high schoolers. I was helping to facilitate a day-long Journey Encounter. We started at St. Patrick's Park, which is a huge outdoor park laced with miles of trails along the St. Joesph River. We spent about 2-hours in worship, silence, reflection, and simply walking alone along the River bank and in the woods. At the end of our time, students gathered back with an object of nature in hand, symbolically representing something that God had been speaking to them. As students shared, it was apparent that God had been speaking to them, and for many of them this was a new experience.

After a quick lunch, we then journeyed to the shores of Lake Michigan to the dunes of Mount Baldly. The goal of the afternoon, was to be engaged by God as we reflected on Who He is, How He Sees Us, and What He's Speaking to Us in the Present.

Something happens when we break out of our normal "soul-numbing ruts." We become more sensitive to God's dealings and the present. We also often begin to see present circumstances in a different light. They become more clearer, as our perspective is reoriented to vantage point higher than our own.

That evening, we all gathered together. We spend some time worshiping and such... Then the coolest thing happened. Everybody paired up with someone that the DID NOT know. After a few moments of instruction, they each stood there, simply with one hand on the shoulder of the other. Listening... Waiting... Listening and Waiting for the Voice of God that had been directing their day in silence and solitude on a personal level to now speak into the life of another.

After each person had prayed for the other, we pulled back together as a large group. People from all over the room began to share how what the other person had prayed was exactly what they were going through. One girl said, "It was freaky... The very things I have been dealing with, she prayed about, even using the exact words that I use..." Another said, "He prayed about my bad grades... Nobody knows about my bad grades, but me and my parents." The sharing went on for about twenty-five minutes.

These young people, who had moved outside of their familiar "soul-numbing ruts" began to become sensitive to the Spirit of God speaking into their lives on a personal level, as well as they began to hear Him speak on the behalf of others. As Henri Nouwen wrote, it is "silence" that "teaches us to speak."

Have you fallen prone to any "soul-numbing ruts"? (As well intended as they may be...)

How does the idea of "experimenting" and "exploring" different ways to have your "devotions" or "quiet times" strike you?

Summer is a great time to explore new ways of engaging God..

What would it look like for you to shake up your routine a bit?

1 comment:

Barbara said...

What a great, formational activity for those kids. It sparks some great ideas...

I can certainly relate to what you've written. But I've also just returned from a wonderful time at a Benedictine Monastery where I got to experience the rich simplicity of the daily monastic rhythm.
Would it be easier in such a setting to fall prey to these "soul-numbing ruts"?
Or could the setting actually encourage a more spontaneous, organic relationship by providing general structure?
Or maybe both...I don't know. Just some things I'm pondering.