Invitation #2: Grow Deeper
By Peter Traben Haas
It turns out believing is just the beginning. Many Protestant Christians discover this on their own. We have our “conversions” and “receiving Jesus” experiences, and then discover we need further help and grace in all sorts of ways. Theologically, this is called the process of sanctification, and it’s a journey of a lifetime. Believing leads to growing, and growing leads to abiding, and abiding leads to transformation.
While we are wired to grow deeper spiritually, many of us reach a saturation point, and don’t know how to grow deeper on our own. Yes, there are many useful gifts for our edification produced by the main-stream Christian media machine. No doubt many of us have been enriched and equipped by Christian bestseller after bestseller. Over the years, many of us have participated in one Christian resource after the next – perhaps attending Billy Graham Rallies; reading the Purpose Driven Life Small Group study guide, or watching Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos, to name some of the most popular. And yet it seems that while the resources are wonderfully helpful for a time, they ultimately keep us coming back for more, and as a result, sometimes the Christian sub-culture looks uncannily similar to what our Western culture does best: creating consumers.
We are mostly innocent in this though, because what the resources bear witness to is a spiritual hunger for deeper growth among Christians. I’ve been very grateful for the increasing awareness of spirituality among many “top-tier” Christian writers and teachers. For example, among the most well-known “Evangelicals,” the work of John Ortberg, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and Ann Voskamp, there is a beautiful effort to help people grow deeper spiritually.
Yes, these are all wonderful resources, and yet there is so much more that so many are not even aware of, at least yet. What, you ask, might those be?
The short answer: visit a contemplative monastery for a day (or week!) and discover where the depth of Christian life is growing richly, able to sustain you and take you beyond your saturation point of self into the depth of ever-expanding transformation. Even better, integrate the wisdom and contemplative practices of the monastery for your daily life and in your local church. You and your church will never be the same – bearing the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit in deeper levels of abundance than you can imagine.
So, why haven’t you heard of this before? Perhaps, because five-hundred years ago well intended reformers closed the monasteries, isolating the church off from many positive aspects of the monastic expression of Christian spirituality, community and worship. It’s the ideal time for the Protestant church to widely return to them for help with our church dilemmas and desires for deeper spiritual growth. The monastic daily patterns of prayer, and their intentional ethos of God-devotion grounded in spiritual practices can and will transform the wider church toward deeper growth.
Many are now tired of political infighting over cultural issues. Many are discovering that there is more, and that so much that passes as “church” is a smokescreen, keeping us busy and polarized – beehives of activity, without much sweetness of divine love. And we long for the rich honey of Christ’s presence personally experienced. That was the heart and impulse of the Reformation in the first place. And it continues to be so. Indeed, waiting with open arms for our return, are the spiritual practices that have the capacity to not only satisfy our deepest heart-longings for God, but also inspire you and release your gifts.
Yes, the Reformation Cry was Sola Faith. Sola Grace. Sola Scripture. Those were important correctives for that time and culture. They have transformed the Church in very helpful and healing ways, and yet in doing so, perhaps created some imbalance. It is our view that there is a new cry arising forth from the heart of the Body of Christ. A Formation Cry for meeting the hunger for spiritual growth in our age is: Sola Silence. Sola Solitude. Sola Simplicity. In other words, these are representatives of the broad group of contemplative/monastic spiritual practices that ground our faith, that connect us with grace and that help illumine the Scriptures for our ongoing and deeper “abiding in Christ” and “bearing abundant spiritual fruit.”
So, here is how the contemplative spiritual practices, or what is called a rule of life, can help us grow deeper in our relationship with and in God. Here are several of the core monastic/contemplative practices, though this is not an exhaustive list:
- Prayer of the Hours – Gathering yourself, alone or with others, for regular periods of worship and prayer throughout the day is how the “soul that longs for God” (Psalm 42.1) gets satisfied. Morning and evening prayer have long been the “meat and potatoes” of deepening our spiritual life. It’s a way of ordering our day and life, beyond and deeper than our “householder” requirements of work. Combined with worship or Eucharist, these “pauses” through our day help us re-connect to the awareness of Spirit and to the Grace of God hiding in every moment.
- Lectio Divina – Listening slowly and prayerfully to the Scriptures is the “workhorse” of the Monastic/Contemplative practices. Spiritual reading is a disposition we bring to our reading. We read slowly, pondering and letting the deepening process occur as we listen for a particular word of God to us with the ear of the heart. As we descend from mind understanding to heart understanding, we are fed richly an integrated wisdom – a living water that quenches. Listening slowly and quietly for God’s word to us is also the daily practice of tending to the little weeds that creep up ever so innocently in the garden of our heart. Yet unless the Word of God is at work weeding them away, our inner life can be smothered out by the barrage of our normal unending negative thoughts and feelings, which are often more prolific than weeds!
- Centering Prayer – Lectio Divina may lead one into a restfulness of mind and heart and body that prepares you for the practice of Centering Prayer. In this heart-based prayer of consenting to God’s already here presence and action in us, we experience the inward healing and divine therapy that helps us, in theological language, “live alive to God” (Romans 6.11). Meditative prayer is simply the golden way to the golden rule (Matthew 6.6; 22.37). It is the means of grace the Spirit of God uses to help us be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12.1). Centering Prayer is the golden standard of sanctification. Without it, we miss out on the full height and depth, breath and width of the love of God (Ephesians 3.18). Meditative prayer is how the law of God is written deeply in our hearts. It simply is the Song of Songs, and the bedroom chamber of surrender to the Spirit. It is how we connect with the depths and how the depths connect and transform us further into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4.13). The practice of solitude pairs perfectly and mostly necessarily with meditative prayer. Solitude is the intentional disposition to remove distractions from our sphere of perception and presence so to be confronted with the fullness of who we are in the moment, but also to be saved from ourselves. For it is in the solitude and stillness that we can both discover ourselves and also be saved from ourselves. The “saving” occurs as we sink into the solitude, stillness and silence. We are saved again and again as we “return” to our heart of remembering God, and feel again the oneness that Jesus wished for us with God. God’s first word was silence. And in the silence and solitude of God’s Being-of-Endless-Love, an eternal birth of community takes place, which we call the Universe and our human unfolding herein. As we consent to the Being of Love in the silence, we participate in God (2 Peter 1.4) and experience the Love-miracle of Christ being All in All (Colossians 3.11).
- Self-observation – Otherwise known as “nepsis,”or guarding of the heart, self-observation is the chief of several other interior practices that help us see our thoughts, feelings, sensations and the provocations that precede them. In seeing and watching our mental-emotional-physical patterns, we can begin to recognize the wisdom that we are not them. In seeing, we are freeing. We are freed from their tyranny and can recognize that since we are more than the thought, feeling or sensation, we can not believe it, or go along with it. Indeed, we can see, separate and remember who and what we really are, sons and daughters of God. For this practice, there is wisdom in speaking with a spiritual friend or pastor who can help you process what may come up through your seeing. This practice is at the heart of what “self-discipline” is all about. The practice of inner observation was supplemented by other practices, such as fasting, to help us see that we are not our physical appetites and to remember God. All spiritual practices are intended, at their heart, to help us become more real. Our reality is essentially a remembering journey toward returning to Abba. As we return, we discover that it’s not we that is doing the returning. We’re not actually “going” anywhere. It’s as if God is being revealed as our self is being peeled away from our Self. Like water to wine, we are being transformed, from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3.18) until it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2.19 – 21).
These are some of the core contemplative practices that can help each of us grow deeper. Following the pattern of Jesus, such practices emerged from within the earliest Christian experiences in solitude and in community. Such contemplative practices also can be found in the world’s major religions. So, there is no question that one of the primary hopes for ecumenical and inter-spiritual relationships and healing is our shared participation in spiritual practices. In the silence, no one can disagree. By its very nature, Silence connects everyone and everything.
Most of us are not called to go and live in a monastery. However, all of us can bring the monastery to us by incorporating the contemplative practices into our daily life. If you are looking for a monastery to visit where you can see and experience many of these practices lived out in community, here are six exceptional models located in North America:
New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, California
St. Benedict’s, Snowmass, Colorado
New Melleray Abbey, Dubuque, Iowa
St. Gregory’s Monastery, Three Rivers, Michigan
Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky
St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts
2020 Contemplative Vision: An Introduction
#1: Contemplative is Christian
#2: Christians want to grow deeper, but often don’t know how
A Resource of ContemplativeChristians.com
Filed under: 2020 Contemplative Vision, 500 anniversary of the reformation, 9.5 Invitations | Tagged: Contemplative christianity, Contemplative Vision, Formation 2017, Peter Traben Haas | 3 Comments »