I’ve been meeting one-on-one with the guys who live in an “intentional community” here in Winnipeg in connection with our denomination. We have “spiritual conversation”–or at least that’s the idea, and we have varying degrees of success meeting to meeting. It’s always good conversation, even if it isn’t always “spiritual” in the strictest sense. But then spiritual in the “strictest” sense may well not be a good thing–might, in fact, be a sort of gnostic dualism. Talking school, girl friends, spiritual life, jobs, family all are, I suppose, in some sense “spiritual”. But I digress.
It seems I’ve started a bit of a trend with at least one of the guys of coming up with memorable catch-phrases in relation to the spiritual disciplines or the personal “life with God” or whatever you want to call it. The first was “low-ball it”, which on its own may sound like terrible advice, but I think it has great value, depending on where a person is at.
As cheesy as catch-phrases tend to be, I have, more or less by accident, developed two catch-phrases so far (they have limited originality, I’m sure). I will share them with you now, with the BIG, HUGE caveat that these words were and are spoken as much to myself as to the guys with whom I’ve been having coffee. These thoughts come not out of seasoned practice in the spiritual life, but out of my reflections on how my own life with God can be improved.
1. Low-ball it, or alternately, aim low. As I say, at first blush this seems like terrible advice. But it’s really just a memorable way of saying “Do something.” It seems to me that it’s better to set the spiritual bar low for yourself and actually maintain your conversation and relationship with God (and thereby build on it), rather than setting the bar way too high (say, at the level you’d like to be at), getting frustrated at your inconsistency (or lack of “results”) and quickly giving up.
Our tendency when, say, creating a Rule of Life, is to shape it to look like the “ideal” spiritual life–the place we’d like to be at in terms of spiritual disciplines. Odds are, however, like big New Year’s resolutions, that we will get frustrated with the idealistic Rule of Life we’ve set up for ourselves and give up. Better to say, “I’m going to read a chapter of scripture each day” or “I will pray for 5 minutes each day” and actually keep it up than to say, “I am going to read scripture for one hour each day and pray for an hour and then sit in silence for 45 minutes”, but give up after a few days.
That’s not to say that we should keep the bar low, but that we should start small. “Baby steps,” as Dr. Leo Marvin would say.
2. Make it a meal. Today I was discussing with one of the guys the common problem of “life getting in the way” of our spiritual habits. It happens to me all the time. Daily, even. The problem is that we see faith and the spiritual life that goes with it as just one more to add to life, so that we have
life over here, and……………………..over here next to it, we have, school, work, church, friends, faith, family, play,
which we need to balance and prioritize.
When, in fact, as our pastor talked about a couple of months ago, faith is a way of life that encompasses all of these other things. Faith is not just an addition to the things of life that needs to be balanced in, but an essential, shaping element of life itself. It’s like food. “Life,” for those of us who live in the affluent west, does not get in the way of us eating three meals a day. In fact, we won’t let it. It doesn’t matter what’s going on with my life–how busy or stressed or discombobulated I am–I will have the meals I have every day. I need food to live.
Those of us who consider and struggle with the spiritual life have a hunger of a different sort–a spiritual hunger, if you will–but it’s easy for us to ignore the hunger or be unsure what it is or how to deal with it, because it does not manifest itself in hunger pangs and grumbly tummies. So to say, “Make it a meal,” is try to create a mental shift in perspective on the spiritual disciplines and to look at them as we would breakfast, lunch, or supper. We recognize that we need those meals and they just become a part of the essential elements of life–not an addition like work or meetings, but simply part of what it means to live day-to-day. Make the disciplines a meal.
There are some others brewing in my head (such as “Do it. Now. Don’t think. Do it.”, which clearly needs an explanation), but what do you think of “Low-ball it” and “Make it a meal”? Am I off my rocker?