Monday, September 24, 2007

Living Into a Rule of Life

There was a period of time in my life that I would have given a limb to have someone help me develop a rule of life. I would have loved to have a well set regimen of bullet points to follow that would outline a life of spiritual practices. That would seem so simple and so straightforward. That regimented a practice would make spirituality so “easy”. That time in my life was marked by a desire and chasing after an easier way, a shortcut way to a preconceived and superficial way of being in relationship with Christ. The shortcut and superficial way will no longer to do it for me. I’ve come to recognize that I need a rule of life that gives me more than the “five easy steps to Jesus”. I have found myself yearning for a more organic model that has life beyond the bullet points.

As I’ve lived into the extraordinary experience of God’s grace poured out in my life through the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation I find myself yearning for depth and breadth with God. One image that is growing in strength as a metaphor for my faith is a well developed Scriptural model of the Tree of Life. I’m growing into the image of my life as something that is deeply rooted into the soil of God’s presence and promise…a tree that is planted to grow and bear fruit. A rule of life for this growing self-image is one that is shaped by practices through which God’s grace will water and nourish the “tree of life.”

The purpose of a rule of life is to sustain my life in Christ. It is that simple and that complex. It is the intentional work of not losing the momentum in my deepening life with Christ that I’ve learned through the Academy. To use the image in a previous posting, the rule of life I discern for myself is a model of life with Christ and spiritual practice that will sustain my life while working without the net that the Academy experience has been for me. It will be the means of grace that will sustain my life in Christ without the regular infusion of a week at the Academy.

I’ve experienced enough to know that my rule of life is always going to be developing. As my life changes, as my circumstances shift and as my life with Christ grows, my rule will shift. With that being said, this is the best representation of my rule at this stage of life and faith:

First, it is rooted in solitude and silence. I’ve come to recognize and understand that the foundation of my life and ministry is silence. The nature of my life and work has always been frenetic. Learning the discipline of silence helps to calm me and slow me. Silence is the fertile and watered soil that provides nourishment for the deepest roots.

Welling up out of this discipline of solitude and silence and spreading out around the roots of the tree of life are four specific areas of life and practice. These four areas work together as a balance and a partnership. The first two have to do with my life of spiritual practices; one is inwardly focused while the other is more communally focused. On the individual side, I recognize the need to have a spiritual director. In addition to the individual spiritual practices, I know that the way to keep them from becoming impacted is through the insight of a trained spiritual director. The communal side will involve a weekly covenant accountability group made up of men I know who are on a similar path.

The other two areas involve how I live and practice my life and vocation. On the one side of the balance is to live sacramentally. That is, I will live outwardly and consciously as a means of grace for others. The other side of the balance is to live invitationally. I will live in ways that seek to open up the spiritual journey and the path of discipleship to others. I will seek to live and share my journey in ways that might encourage others to embark or deepen their own journey to the heart of God.

I have in my mind a beautiful, 3 dimensional image of this organic model; however I’m such a poor artist that I’m largely incapable of rendering it on paper. So for now, mere words must suffice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Learning to Work Without a Net

I suppose I’ve not yet wanted to come to terms with the fact that my Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation experience has come to a close. I really think that I’ve been in denial for the last three weeks, hence the dearth of posting to this blog. For the first time in two years I’m facing my daily spiritual practices without the safety net of another week at the Academy coming up in just a matter of weeks. That glorious discipline is over. I now have to face my day to day practice without the comfort that comes from knowing that I will soon be immersed again in the beautiful and transformational experience of worship, Eucharist, covenant groups, learning, silence and spiritual friendships.

This is a day and a prospect I’ve tried to avoid. Being the creature of habit that I am, I’ve dreaded this day. I love the routine and I love the accountability that was both implicit and explicit in the pattern of the Academy. The depth and breadth of this accountability is something that I’m just now coming to realize. This has not just been a series of self-contained warm, fuzzy experiences of an amorphous and undirected love. Throughout the Academy experience there has been a strong (but not overbearing) expectation that the participants will grow in grace moving more deeply into our relationship with Christ and the setting in place of patterns of worship, practice and service that will continue to grow us all in grace and experience of the Risen Christ. In fact, even though much of the experience of the last two years was about developing a series of practices that will enable my ongoing spiritual growth and growth in grace, the goal was not simply the development of a set of rote practices…bullet points of self-imposed expectations that could very easily lose their luster, fade over time and become irrelevant as circumstances change. The Academy experience was not simply one of practice, but of heart, life and motivation. It was about a change of identity.

What I’ve discovered in these three weeks as I’ve tried to process this transition in my life is that my motivation for my faith, my life and my ministry is changing. I’m more deeply motivated by living faithfully in my relationship with Christ than I am in being professionally proficient. I understand a new relationship between these two vital parts of living under orders within the Body of Christ. While I’ve interpreted that professional proficiency is what is required of me (and that is not inherently bad, merely incomplete), the pathway to professional proficiency as a clergy person isn’t about academic training. It isn’t about institutional maintenance. I’m not called simply to turnout a conveyor of good church folks. In line with all those called by Christ who have gone before me, my call is to make disciples for Christ. This is not an academic or institutional enterprise…it is a spiritual endeavor. Without living into and out of a perfecting spirituality the goal of professional proficiency will remain a caricature of who I am called to be. What the Academy has nurtured within me is the experience that teaches me that what Christ is doing deep within my life is of first priority and that spiritual skills and practices will always be stunted until they flow out of my experience with Christ.