In the previous instalment, we saw that the Spiritual Disciplines call us to move beyond the surface living and toward the depths. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world. It is not exclusively meant for anyone. All people can “do” the Disciplines, especially “ordinary” people, living in the “normal” world, who do “normal” things. One of the characteristics of Spiritual Disciplines, is that joy comes as a result of practicing it. This is because we are liberated from the slavery of self-interest and fear. You don’t need a masters degree (in Theology or anything else) or something like that to practice the Spiritual Disciplines. The most important requirement is a longing after God.
Those who have heard the deep call from within, and who desire to explore the world of the Spiritual Disciplines, are immediately faced with two difficulties (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980)):
Ø Philosophic difficulties.
The materialistic base of our time has become so pervasive, that people doubt their ability to reach beyond the physical world. The average person (most of us!) is influenced by popular science. Meditation, for example, is not thought of as an encounter between a person and God, but rather as a psychological manipulation (that is if it is allowed!). Usually people will tolerate a short movement in the “inward journey”, but then it is time to move back into the “real” world.
We need the courage to move beyond the prejudice of our time, and affirm with our best scientists that there are more to this world than the material (there are great scientists who has said that we can’t be confined to a “space-time box”). In intellectual honesty, we should become willing to study and explore the spiritual life with the same determination than we would do with regards to any other field of study.
Ø Practical difficulties.
We do not know how to explore the inward life. In the first century and before that, it was unnecessary to give instructions on how to “do” the Spiritual Disciplines. The Bible called people to practice Disciplines like fasting, prayer, worship and celebration, but gave very little, if any, instructions on how to do them! These practices must have been such general parts of the lives of people, that the “how to” of the practices were common knowledge.
Remember one thing. In our enthusiasm to practice the Disciplines, we may fail to practice discipline. The life that pleases God is not a series of religious duties. The only thing that we “have to do”, is to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God. In James 1:17 we read that this is a God Who is the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.