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Oct 162017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 3/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 3)


Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

As I said earlier:

It is through prayer and spiritual practice that we can learn to quieten our ego driven turmoil and be attentive to that Sacred Inner Voice we so often ignore. As we learn to recognize the source of that Sacred Inner Voice in our prayer—in our time apart—over time it becomes a part of the way we approach and live our active lives. That Voice will more and more speak to us in the events of our day. It will provide us with that“guidance, strength, and courage” we need. Over time that voice will lead our lives and we will experience true Divine Union.

Divine Union is the ultimate goal of Listening Obedience. It is at the very heart of the conversion process. It is the goal of the whole spiritual life. In Divine Union I am called again and again to let go of my ego—to let go of those compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive all my actions and all my reactions to the people, events and things that make up my daily life. In Divine Union I am called to continually be guided by that Sacred Inner Voice where that Mysterious Other I call God—in the traditional language the Holy Spirit—regularly speaks to me and offers me guidance and strength and courage as I go through my day. Divine Union is when that Sacred Inner Voice actually guides all of my actions and reactions—guides all of my thoughts, all of my emotions, and all of my impulses—in all of the routine nitty-gritty events of my day-to-day life. It is a very high standard. I cannot live there, but reaching for it—questing for it—gives my life it’s meaning.

In Henri Nouwen’s description of “that man” Nouwen points out that:

In everything he says and does, he seems to have a lively vision before him which those who hear him can intimate, but cannot see. This vision leads his life. He is obedient to it. Through it he knows how to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Many things which seem of gripping immediacy hardly stir him, and he attaches great importance to some things which others simply let pass.

This is a description of a person living in Divine Union. This is a person who is listening to their Sacred Inner Voice, and is being obedient to it. The “vision that leads his life” comes from that Sacred Inner Voice. His life is no longer driven by his ego—by his compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. This is a man who has truly acquired the “mind of Christ”. He is a classic vision of a spiritually mature person.

Let me be very clear here, we do not become “that man” overnight. We do not arrive at “Divine Union” because we took the “aisle walk”, though it may very well begin there. The truth is that in the end we do not “arrive” at Divine Union, we journey toward it. As Fr. Foley points out this journey toward Divine Union—this journey of conversion of heart—is a life long journey. The journey begins in earnest when we commit ourselves seriously to the spiritual life and to spiritual practice and prayer. It begins again each time we discover that “something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.”, to again quote Fr. Foley. It begins again when we feel “the grace of remorse”. The journey toward Divine Union is truly a lifelong journey.

I want to make a distinction here between guilt and “the grace of remorse”. In much contemporary Christian thought we equate guilt with sin—with some scriptural or theological principle we have violated. Then we all too often let ourselves off of the hook by saying we are forgiven for those sins. We avoid the call to growth and transformation implicit in the situation. We sidestep the hard spiritual work of conversion of heart. The “grace of remorse” comes from deep inside of ourselves—from our soul—from our Sacred Inner Being. Remorse may in fact have its roots in some “sin” we have committed—from some scriptural or theological principle we have violated, but not necessarily. “The grace of remorse rises up from inside of us when we are not living up to our own internal beliefs and commitments—when we are not living authentically. We may very well be “forgiven” for our perceived sin in the contemporary sense, but the only really satisfactory response to the “grace of remorse” is personal growth, transformation, and conversion of heart. The only really satisfactory response to “the grace of remorse” is the hard spiritual work of real change in the way we actually experience and live our day-to-day lives. This is the movement toward Divine Union.

This journey toward Divine Union is not always an easy journey. It is often very hard spiritual work. It is often even painful spiritual work as we over and over again discover ever new places where we need to grow and change. It can be especially difficult when we discover yet another “cherished” personal trait that needs to change, and yet another ego driven response that needs to be released.

Divine Union

Image from www.bigstockphoto.com

Just this morning as we were preparing to go to church I found myself frustrated at a family member who seemed to me to be trying to run the universe including me. I found myself sniping at him repeatedly. Yet, at the same time I spontaneously found myself more and more aware of that Sacred Inner Voice calling to me. I sensed that Grace of remorse for my responses. I did not have to stop and meditate. I did not have to pray. No one had to call my attention to it. Someone did remind me, but it only served to strengthen what I already had sensed from deep inside myself. That Sacred Inner Voice had already inserted itself in the midst of my reactions, and I already knew I needed to be obedient to it. Divine Union was at work in me.

The quest for Divine Union has been and continues to be the single most rewarding quest of my entire life. Other practices have brought significant growth and change and transformation. They have laid the groundwork for this quest for Divine Union. None have brought the depth of growth and change and transformation that comes from Divine Union. Other practices allowed me to change behavior. Divine Union allows me to change how I am present in the events of my life—how I actually experience the people, events, and things in my life. Divine Union takes the Spiritual Life to a whole new and powerful level.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I ever experienced Divine Union? Have I ever had that Sacred Inner Voice insert itself spontaneously into my actions and reactions to the people, events, and things in my day? How might I build on that experience? How might I begin, or begin again. to develop an openness to Divine Union in my day-to-day life?

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart: (View)
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
Introduction

Conversion of Heart (View)
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union (This Post)
Letting Go Of The Ego

(Coming Soon…)

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed


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Oct 032017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 042017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 2/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 2)


Conversion of Heart
What Does It Really Mean?

What does conversion of heart really mean? As Fr. Foley points out:

The word “conversion” usually brings to mind someone leaving one religious tradition and joining another, or perhaps joining a religious tradition for the first time.  Often it is seen as a singular, perhaps even dramatic event.

For many of us Christians conversion brings up an image of what one pastor friend of mine has referred to as the “aisle walk”. One gets up at the end of the service on Sunday morning, walks down the aisle, professes belief in Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior, and gets voted “in”. Then one is baptized. Then the “conversion” is complete. After that we engage in bible study, various forms of worship, and sometimes service. As part of those activities we often talk about developing the “mind of Christ” or “becoming like Christ” and the like, but there is seldom any focus on what it really means to do that, or how we are to accomplish it. There is no real accountability for actually making that happen in our lives. We talk about it, and sometimes we are even passionate about it, but all too often that is pretty much as far as it goes. We never get to the real hard spiritual work of developing the “mind of Christ” or “becoming like Christ”. We settle for believing in Christ without any real focus on actually “being” like Christ.

But as Fr. Foley points out:

the Hebrew-Christian scriptures present a different image.

In this image the “isle walk”  is only the beginning of what is a life long journey of growth and transformation. It is the commitment to that journey. It is the commitment to the real and often difficult and very personal inner and outer work of that journey. “The Way”, as early Christians called it, is hard work. It involves prayer and spiritual practices that help us to develop and ongoing relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God. It involves allowing that Mysterious Other to continually lead our lives, and to guide us as we go about the day-to-day events of our lives. It involves letting go of the ego driven thoughts, emotions, and impulses that often control and drive our lives. It involves doing the often very difficult work necessary to actually change many of the actual thoughts, emotions, and impulses that have become the very foundation of the way we live our lives, some of which we have come to believe are part of who we are. And maybe most important and most difficult of all it involves changing the way we are actually present to all of the people, events, and things that make up our lives. All of this is of the very essence of “the Way”. It is of the very essence of the meaning of Christian “conversion”. The “aisle walk” is just the very beginning of this conversion process. It is our commitment to the lifelong conversion process.

As Fr. Foley put it:

Yes, conversion is a process–not a single event.

Conversion is truly a life-long process. It is of the very essence of the Christian life. Things like bible study, worship, and fellowship, at their best, are facilitators of that process.

I have actually done the “aisle walk” three times over a number of years to meet the requirements of some of the churches I joined. As I am fond of saying, “It never took”. It was never enough. It never changed my life in any significant way. It never really changed the way I was present to the real people, events, and things that actually made up my day-to-day life. In short I it never led to any real “conversion” in my life.

Richard and Grandchildren

Photo by Winnie Southworth

As just one example, my natural approach to routine conversation is to be very direct and very blunt—to call “a spade and spade” as the saying goes. If I think something the other person says is wrong my natural response might be to say something like “Now that is really stupid!” or even “what the f***”. In some environments that works. For example I once worked in an environment where that was pretty much the accepted approach. I have a couple of friends where it is also an acceptable approach, and I love it. In both cases we all understand each other. We know that in the end we all care about each other. We know that these relationships are a safe place to relax and just “be ourselves” or so it seems.

And yet in the end it does not work in my other relationships. People are offended. People avoid conversations with me. It is easy at this point to make arguments like “people shouldn’t be so d*** sensitive”, or “get over yourself”. But those reactions are a part of the same mindset and typically make the situation worse.

But again to quote Fr. Foley:

In this understanding, conversion begins every time I become aware that something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.  This “something” need not be bad; in fact, it might be something very good: a job, a cause, a relationship, an activity.  The giveaway that it has become too central is that I am not free to lessen its importance in my life.  As good as it may be, it has enslaved me.  When that awareness is accompanied by the grace of remorse, the process of conversion has begun–or begun again.

Clearly this course and often offensive way of talking has taken too “to central place in my heart and life”. Just as clearly it has negatively affected my relationships, especially my closest relationships, and many other aspects of my life. In many ways it has prevented me from following the leading of that Mysterious Other in my life. It has prevented me from becoming fully “that man” (See Page??) which is so important to me. As I have looked at the truth of all of that recently, the remorse Fr. Foley spoke of has risen up in me. The conversion process has begun. Now the spiritual work of that conversion process begins.

Let me be clear. I have come to see that not only does this growth and change need to happen in those situations where it is clearly destructive, but it also needs to change in those relationships where it is seemingly accepted and even enjoyed by others. It needs to change in all of my relationships and in all of my reactions to the people, events, and things in my life. Even there it is a place where “something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life”. The call to conversion of heart here is clear.

Question for Reflection

  1. What “other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life”? When I reflect on that do I sense a sense of remorse? Am I open to the possibility of conversion of heart? Am I willing to do the spiritual work necessary to facilitate that growth?

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart:
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
Introduction

Conversion of Heart (This Post)
What Does It Really Mean?

(Coming Soon…)

Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed

 


Aug 212017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Aug 072017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 1/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 1)


 

Labrynth

Photo by Winnie M. Southworth

Introduction:

The word “conversion” usually brings to mind someone leaving one religious tradition and joining another, or perhaps joining a religious tradition for the first time.  Often it is seen as a singular, perhaps even dramatic event.  But the Hebrew-Christian scriptures present a different image.

In this understanding, conversion begins every time I become aware that something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.  This “something” need not be bad; in fact, it might be something very good: a job, a cause, a relationship, an activity.  The giveaway that it has become too central is that I am not free to lessen its importance in my life.  As good as it may be, it has enslaved me.  When that awareness is accompanied by the grace of remorse, the process of conversion has begun – or begun again.

Yes, conversion is a process – not a single event.  The Latin origins of the word reveal that it literally means, “to turn around.”  The act of turning around only points me in a new direction; but I am still standing where I was before.  Real conversion occurs as I begin, and then continue the journey of a new way of life and toward a new destination.  The Christian life is just such a journey: repeatedly becoming aware of how I have strayed from the path of the Gospel, and thus my need to change direction, a little or a lot, and return to “the Way” (as the earliest Christians called it).*

Rev. J. Patrick Foley, Ph.D.

When I was a Special Agent with the state police another Agent and I were working a really complex fraud allegation at a government agency.  We had reviewed dozens of boxes of documents and interviewed a myriad of people, some several times.  At one point when the investigation was pretty much complete we found ourselves sitting in a conference room staring silently at all of the boxes, reports, etc. for a a pretty long time, kind of overwhelmed.  Finally the other agent looked at me for a minute and said quietly “So what does it all mean?”

It seems to me we are at a similar place here.  We have talked about dozens of different aspects of prayer and the spiritual life.  We have talked about who and what that Mysterious Other we call God is and is not. We have talked about a myriad of different approaches to prayer, and quoted several different authors.  We have considered many reasons why we pray or why we do not pray.  We have talked about many of the different ways we approach prayer.  In the last reflection we talked about the importance of listening to that still small voice within where God gives us guidance, and to our presence in the events of our active lives, and we talked about how important it is to be obedient to what we hear.  So, as my colleague said, “So what does it all mean?”

What it means for me is that just saying our prayers is not near enough.  It brings me to the conclusion that, after all of the questions, topics, and reflections, in the end prayer is, at its very core, about personal growth and personal transformation, and what the monastics call conversion of heart and Divine Union.  Anything short of that is simply not enough.

____________

* Foley, Rev. J. Patrick, Ph.D., Conversion | Turning Around, guest blog post on this blog on May 25, 2012 http://www.turningaround.net/?p=229


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart:  Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough (This Post)

Introduction

Coming Soon…

Conversion of Heart
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed

 


Follow Us.

Jul 242017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book



 

Jul 102017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book


Jun 262017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 9/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 9)


Richard’s Rule of Life
My Commitments

Richard’s Personal Mission Statement

I aspire to live a holy life.

I aspire to live that holy life in the midst of my daily activities as an individual, a husband, a father, grandfather, and as a citizen in this world as it is, and as it will become.

I aspire to be in constant awareness of the Mysterious Divine Center I call God; in myself; in each person, each event, and each thing that makes up my life, whether it appears to be good or evil.

I aspire to participate in the holy life with these people, events, and things based on the directives and guidance that flows out of constant awareness of the Mysterious Divine Center.

In light of that divine guidance I aspire to give shape and form to my life and world in a way that will bring an ever increasing consonance, wholeness, and holiness to my own life and that of those I touch.

In the pursuit of this holy life I aspire to challenge myself and others, but also to respect their freedom while being true to my own life call.

Richard Southworth

I want to be this person! In the very depths of my soul I long to be this person! This mission statement is in my previous book, Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough, which was published back in 2011, and it actually predates that time. It is still valid for me today. It is still a good description of the person I feel called to be. I know that I can never fully be that person, but I can move in that direction. Longing for it, striving for it, reaching for that vision gives my life its meaning. Seeing the “just perceptual difference” as I grow toward that goal motivates me to continue on this often difficult journey. This vision calls to me in the midst of all of my other activities, in the midst of happiness and joy, pain and suffering, anger and violence, and it permeates my thoughts and reflections. The vision is the very essence of who I am as a person.

In order for me to continue to move toward becoming that person I need to make specific commitments and hold myself accountable for those commitments. I need to write those commitments down. I need to take the results of my discernment practice and write them down into what is often referred to in the spiritual literature as a“Rule of Life”. I realize that it is impractical to think that I can, or even should, do all of this all of the time, but I am committed to striving to moving in that direction. I am also committed to paying attention of what works and what does not work and making reasonable adjustments as necessary.

My Practice: I am committed to maintaining a regular spiritual practice.

My Practice

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) I am committed to one complete time apart every day as early in the morning as practical to include reading three psalms out loud (3, 51, & 95), reading a section from Preferring Christ, and a twenty minute silent contemplation.

(2) I am committed to a twenty minute silent contemplation sometime in the middle of the day.

(3) I am committed to a daily practice with Winnie in the evening to include at least Centering, Reading, Meditation, and a twenty minute silent contemplation.

(4) I am committed to taking some silent time, without any other practice, sometime each day.

(5) I am committed to reviewing one section of this Rule regularly 
 as part of my practice.

Self Presence: I am committed to paying attention to the way I am present in the events of my day.

My Presence

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Specifically I am committed to monitoring my compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses and to letting go of those thoughts, emotions, and impulses when appropriate.

(2) As a part of that I am committed to monitoring my speech to include both the content of that speech and the tone and delivery.

(3) When I am unable to do that I am committed to withdrawing from the event and taking time apart until I can.

 

 

 

My Presence: I am committed to being fully present in the events of my day. I will strive to be “that man” as described by Henri Nouwen or as I have come to call him “Abbot Richard”.

My Presence

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Who is this man? He is a person who has a great deal of attracting power for those around him. Those who meet him are fascinated by him and want to know more about him. All he comes in contact with get the irresistible impression that he derives his strength from a hidden source which is strong and rich. An inner freedom flows out from him, giving him an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities. He is moved by what happens around him, but he doesn’t let it oppress or shatter him. He listens attentively, speaks with a self-possessed authority, but doesn’t easily get rushed or excited. In everything he says and does, he seems to have a lively vision before him which those who hear him can intimate, but cannot see. This vision leads his life. He is obedient to it. Through it he knows how to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Many things which seem of gripping immediacy hardly stir him, and he attaches great importance to some things which others simply let pass.*

Henri Nouwen

My Family: I am committed to supporting my family and to deepening my relationship with each person. Specifically I am committed to:

My Family

Photo by Sandra Marr

(1) Spending time with each of them on a regular basis.

(2) Participating in family events enthusiastically while taking care of my need for quiet and solitude.

(3) Engaging is discussion and speaking my truth in an appropriate manner when I sense that I am called to do so even when my “truth” conflicts with others.

(4) Offering guidance and wisdom in an appropriate manner even or maybe especially when it is difficult or not received well.

Church: I am committed to maintaining my relationship with Walnut Grove Baptist Church for the foreseeable future. Specifically I am committed to:

Church

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Attending Sunday School and Church with my family one some Sundays.

(2) Staying home on those days when my need for quiet and solitude is particularly strong. I will do that without guilt and without apologizing for my decision.

(3) Engaging in discussion and speaking my truth in an appropriate manner when I sense that I am called to do so even when my “truth” conflicts with others.

(4) Being open to opportunities to speak, teach, or serve in ways that are consistent with my ministry goals and objectives.

 

My Ministry: I am committed to sharing my experience and knowledge of spiritual formation and the contemplative lifestyle with others.. Specifically I am committed to:

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Finishing and publishing my second book, tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer Of Our Own.

(2) Maintaining my blog Turning Around,

(3) Considering the place of both in person and online teaching and speaking in my ministry.

(4) Developing and implementing a marketing plan, including specific goals and objectives, to include my first book titled Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough, my second book tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer Of Our Own, and my blog Turning Around.

 

(Written in June 2017)

____________

Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 132.



If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life View
A Guide To Live By

Obedience View
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life (This Post)
My Commitments

(Coming Soon…)

Another series:
Reflection V
Conversion of Heart

Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough


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Jun 182017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Jun 142017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 8/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 8)


Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Few of us have the courage to burn—to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent. The divine summons is ignored, the human vocation is dodged, and the eternal banquet celebrating the final love affair, is postponed because we are so fearful. Ignorance and fear have plagued us from the beginning until now and are responsible for our multiple idolatries.

William McNamara, O.C.D.

McNamara has captured something extremely important here. Few of us have the courage to burn. All too often the divine summons is ignored. Ignorance and fear often plague us. In our context here, many of us have bought into the idea that the Mysterious Other we call God no longer speaks to us personally. Divine Union, so important to the spiritual life, is not even something to be sought after. Said another way, we have all too often come to believe that there is no “Sacred Inner Voice” (or, as my wife put it, no Holy Spirit) to trust and listen to and be obedient to—no opportunity “to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent”. We have bought into a system where reading and studying scripture and trying to abide by all the dos and don’ts we learn through that process is all there is. We can ask God for help, but there is no real expectation that God will reply—no expectation that God will actually provide the “guidance, strength, and courage” we need.

If we do consider the possibility of God speaking to us through that sacred inner voice the question of being able to trust that voice is often overwhelming. We have only to listen to the evening news to find countless examples of people who have done absolutely atrocious things and claimed to be following God’s leading. We are also well aware of some of the strange things that sometimes go through our own head as well. We cannot bring ourselves to even consider the possibility of “Listening Obedience” to that Sacred Inner Voice—to the Spirit—or of distinguishing that voice from all of the other “voices” that float around in our heads. We have no clue how to really do that, thus “the divine summons is ignored”.

The term often used in much of the spiritual literature for that process is discernment. Adrian van Kaam has referred to the process as seeking consonance**. I like “seeking consonance” because it focuses on the goal where discernment focuses on the process. The dictionary defines consonance as:

agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions.***

In van Kaam’s model, consonance consists of three primary principles: Congeniality, Compatibility, and Compassion. Competence, Commitment, and Balance, are also talked about as supporting principles. All six of these principles are necessary to the discernment process. We will look at each of these principles briefly.

Richard in Church

Photo by Winnie M. Southworth

I sense that I am being called by that Mysterious Other I call God to redefine my relationship with church — I believe that Still Small Voice—the Spirit—is leading me to rethink my commitment to church. Generally, I have learned to recognize and trust that voice, but in this case, I want to be sure I am doing the right thing. To use van Kaam’s model, I want to be sure that this choice is really consonant.

What exactly do I do? What would the discernment process look like for me to consider all of the different possibilities? Do I quit church completely and focus on developing “a religion of ones own”**** apart from church? Do I let go of my relationship with church as a major issue in my life, go to church when I feel led to, and stay home when I feel led to, and not worry about it? Do I let go of my struggle to find a church that works better for me? These and other options rise up in me every time I think of church. Clearly for me that Still Small Voice—that Spirit is calling me to change my relationship to church and I need to respond to that. Yet that voice, as I have perceived it so far, is not nearly so clear about what I should actually do. It is very clear to me that voice is calling me to the discernment process—calling me to seek consonance. What is the consonant answer to these questions? What is congenial, compatible, and compassionate. How does competence, commitment, and balance play into this?

Congeniality: Congeniality is all about being authentic—about being who we really are. Is the guidance I seem to be receiving an expression of who I most deeply am and who I believe I am called to be or is it some ego driven issue? Is what I am considering here the right thing for me personally? All other things aside, and if there were no conflicting issues what is the right thing for me as an individual? Let me be clear, this question is not the same as what do I want to do. It is better expressed as what am I called to do by that Mysterious Other I call God? How am I called to change and grow and be transformed?

I have been to many different churches in many different denominations over the years, some traditional and some not so much, and a few that were downright weird. While I found something that worked for me in some of them I have never felt at home in any of them. I am not, and never have been, a traditional Christian. I do not necessarily buy in to all of the traditional doctrine. I am either bored and/or uncomfortable in most Sunday School classes and with much of what goes on in church in general. Church, as I have experienced it, is not really congenial for me personally.

I know without a doubt that I need to define a relationship with church that is congenial for me. If I am going to continue to attend church, at the very least, I need to find a way to make peace with that. I need to define a congenial way of doing that.

Compatibility: Compatibility calls us to move beyond our own needs and desires and consider seriously the environment we find ourselves in. Is the action I am considering consistent with the rest of my life? Here I have to let go of my own personal needs and desires and consider other things in my life that will be affected. Where I live, how I support myself and such. What else in my life will be affected by the decision I am considering here? It has been said that compatibility is about choosing our battles. Is it worth it?

Church is what church is. I know that I cannot “fix” it. Maybe I could have some impact, but as much as I sometimes would like to, I can never hope to make it over into my image. I know I need to let go of that. It is not the answer. It is not really even part of the answer. I also know that I will never find a church that really is compatible for me. I have tried that without success way too many times over way too many years.
There is also the issue of family. My wife and son both want to go to church, and my wife is involved in a service group there which is good for her. I also have a granddaughter who likes to go with us. When my then eight year old granddaughter decided she wanted to go to church she called me and asked if she could go with me to church. For most things she calls her grandmother, but for this she called me. I feel strongly called to support her in that. I know that they all want me to go with them.

What about the other people at church. I was discussing the possibility of quitting church with my friend and Catholic priest Fr. Patrick Foley one day and he responded: “The church needs both your presence and your discontent.” That adds another whole dimension to the compatibility question.

Compassion: Compassion is all about caring for both ourselves and others. It is about considering both congeniality and compatibility equally. On the surface it seems that having compassion for me personally and having compassion for my family are at odds with each other. On the one hand going to church does not seem congenial for me. On the other hand not going does not seem compatible with the needs and desires of my family. Then there is my friend’s statement that “the church needs your presence and your discontent”. All of these things are important, and they are all important to me personally. The call to growth here is strong, but what would that look like? How am I called by that Mysterious Other to resolve the apparent conflict?

Balance: What is called for here is balance. Balance calls me to look beyond the extremes. It calls me to avoid either/or thinking. It calls me to look for solutions that address both my need for congeniality and and my need for compatibility. Yes, one possible answer here is for me to follow my need for congeniality and just quit church. Sometimes our call to congeniality—our call to authenticity—really does call us to disappoint people that are important to us. Yes another possibility is for me to let go of that need and focus on the needs of my family and the church—to recommit myself to church without constantly wondering if I should quit. But these are not the only two possible answers. What happens when I consider seriously reaching beyond the extremes and seeking balance?

First of all, I can choose not to go some Sundays when my need for quiet is particularly strong (congeniality), and choose to go on other Sundays when I sense a strong need to support my family (compatibility) or when there is some need at church that needs my attention. But my coach brought up something even deeper here, and even more difficult to face up to. I sense in all of this “noodling”, as she likes to call it, a clear calling to change my attitude toward church. I need to see it radically differently, and that calls for some serious spiritual practice. Beyond that, I sense a deeper calling to move beyond accepting or rejecting what is and work toward creating something that, on some level at least, works for me and that might possibility be of service to others. Figuring out what that might look like is beyond the scope of this section.

Competence: Competence calls me to consider whether or not I have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to actually do what I feel called to do. I know how to do the spiritual practice necessary to change my attitude about church. I have engaged in that practice for years and made some significant and successful changes in other areas of my life. I have a masters degree in spiritual formation, and I have worked before to create something new in church. I can do it again if I really am called to that endeavor.
If that were not the case, if there was knowledge, experience, and expertise that I was missing, that would not necessarily mean I was not called in that direction. It could very well mean that I needed to do whatever was necessary to develop that knowledge, experience, and expertise.

Commitment: When we have worked through this process and we have clarified what we believe that still small voice—that Spirit—that Mysterious Other we call God wants us to do. Where does listening obedience call us to go from here? Commitment calls us to actually make it happen in our day to day life. It calls us to clearly articulate what we feel called to do and then make a real commitment to discover what that means. It calls us to turn that calling into actual goals and objectives and to track those goals and objectives over time. It calls us to take those goals and objectives into our examination of conscience practice to be sure that it actually happens.

On the one hand obedience and commitment call us to stay the course. It calls us to, as someone put it, “fake it until we become it”*****—until it becomes a natural part of who we are as a person. That said the process is not over. We need to be constantly open to the possibility that the Still Small Voice will call us to make adjustments to our commitment or even change the commitment over time. Even if the basic commitment stays the same, if we are open some individual goals and objectives may need to change over time. Some things will work and some things will not work over time. What is congenial, compatible, and compassionate may very will change over time due to changes in our life situation. What that Mysterious Other wants for us itself may change. We need to be open to those changes and willing to make the necessary adjustments and changes in our lives.

Passion: Passion is about having “the courage to burn—to be totally called, awesomely marked thoroughly spent and imperiously sent” as McNamara put it. It is about listening carefully to the “divine summons” and being passionately obedient to it. It is about being passionate about the discernment process—about seeking consonance and what we discover through that process. It is about being passionate about “listening obedience”.

 

All of this should be approached as a part of our spiritual practice—as a central part of our prayer practice. We should ask that Mysterious Other we call God to provide the “guidance, strength, and courage” so important to that process and then we need to be open to the response.

I think is important to note here that the Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us in many different ways and through many different people, events, and things. The Spirit often speaks to us through our Sacred Inner Voice, our life experiences, our life circumstances, our family, our friends, our acquaintances, and even perfect strangers. We need to “listen” and be “obedient” to the guidance that can come from all areas of our life.

The actual result of this discernment process will be part of “Richard’s Rule of Life” in the next section.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Identify something in your own life where you feel called to grow or change. Consider seriously each of the topics we have talked about—congeniality, compatibility, compassion, balance, competence, commitment, and passion. Write down the results of your reflections in each of these areas.

____________

McNamara, William, O.C.D., Mystical Passion:  Spirituality For A Bored Society, (New York:  Paulist Press, 1977), p. 4-5
** Van Kaam, Adrian, Formative Spirituality, Volume Three: Formation of the Human Heart, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1986), pp 1-21
*** 
Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
**** 
Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World,  (New York:  Penguin Group (USA) LLC), 2014
***** 
Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World,  (New York:  Penguin Group (USA) LLC), 2014




If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life View
A Guide To Live By

Obedience (This Post)
Seeking Consonance

(Coming Soon…)

Richard’s Rule of Life


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