In 1988 I wrote in a journal: “Life without prayer — I’m trying to build something with blocks but there’s no foundation. Some of the blocks won’t fit; some teeter wildly, some fall off. Pretty soon they all fall down and I’m left in the rubble, covered.”
I’ve been attracted to prayer and other spiritual disciplines from my early days as a Christian. Maybe it’s one of the few things where I was a trend setter! And yet, after all these years, as attracted as I am to prayer, silence and seeking God through spiritual disciplines, I have to ask: Do I like the IDEA of prayer more than praying? Do I substitute reading a blog about prayer for actually praying? How can I live more grounded in God?
When I attended Amherst College in the 1970’s, most of the influences of my spiritual life were robustly evangelical. There were few students who wanted to be identified as Christians in the midst of a militantly secular humanist school. Those of us who did formed a tight community.
Somehow I came across the writings of Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic priest from the Netherlands. I’m not even sure which of his books I first read but his deep desire to live from the center of God’s love, his emphasis on prayer, silence and seeking God attracted me deeply. Nouwen was about “being” in Jesus; evangelicalism at that time seemed about “doing” for Jesus.
As I see it, one author began to bring these two streams together: Richard Foster. In 1978 he published Celebration of Discipline and brought to many Protestants, especially evangelicals, a deeper understanding of the necessity of spiritual disciplines as we run the marathon of faith (Hebrews 12.1).
The genius of Foster’s book is that he shows how spiritual disciplines are not all about outward DOING or inward BEING. Spiritual disciplines are not just for solitary individuals. Foster divides his list of disciplines in the table of contents into inward, outward and corporate.
My copy of Celebration of Discipline is cracked at the spine, underlined on 2/3 of the pages, and covered with copious notes. I’ve used it for countless classes I’ve taught and with at least two small group studies. To me it still seems fresh and timeless.
So here’s another question for reflection: Which spiritual disciplines do you feel attracted to? What obstacles keep you from practicing those disciplines more faithfully?