Do you know what silence is? Consider Robert Mulholland’s suggestion –
“We tend to think of silence as simply being still…. The practice of silence is the radical reversal of our cultural tendencies. Silence is bringing ourselves to the point of relinquishing to God our control of our relationship with God. Silence is a reversal of the whole processing, controlling, grasping dynamic of trying to maintain control of our own existence. Silence is the inner act of letting go.”
From Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M Robert Mulholland Jr, pp 136-137.
” … unto you is born this day … Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
This past Sunday evening our choir’s Christmas cantata ended with the word “joy.” No, it is more accurate to say it ended with the shout, “JOY!” A shout that echoed through the auditorium and through each person. That lead me to wonder what are the spiritual disciplines that Advent and Christmas call forth in us. That evening I could think of no better response, no better practice, than worship.
I offer today a much repeated quote from William Temple that suggests the inherent power of worship,
“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, Nourishment of mind by His truth, Purifying of imagination by His beauty, Opening of the heart to His love, And submission of will to his purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”
As a follow up to Robert Mulholland’s definition of spiritual formation it is good to hear his counsel regarding spiritual disciplines.
“Let me clarify the nature of a spiritual discipline, because here our cultural shaping distorts our understanding. We tend to think of spiritual disciplines as something that we are doing to transform ourselves…. If we’re thinking we are changing ourselves by offering the spiritual discipline, we are deluding ourselves…. A genuine spiritual discipline is a discipline of loving obedience offered to God with no strings attached. We put no conditions on it. We put no time limits on it. We add no expectation of how we want God to change us through it. We simply offer the discipline to God, and keep on offering it for as long as God wants us to keep on…. When we continue to offer the discipline, that discipline becomes a means of grace through which God works and moves to transform that dead portion of our body into life in the image of Christ. One morning you wake up and discover, often to your amazement, that the discipline is no longer a discipline; it is now the natural outflow of a being that has risen to new life in Christ…. You did not do it. God did it. But God did it through the discipline you offered.”
from Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr, pp 131-133.
In preparation for a retreat I recently attended I read Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. He defines spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (p 15). He goes on to add, “There can be no wholeness in the image of Christ which is not incarnate in our relationships with others, both in the body of Christ and in the world” (p 17}.
Thinking about Mulholland’s description of spiritual formation along side Foster’s seeing spiritual disciplines as inward, outward and corporate and combined with Willard’s thoughts on disciplines of abstinence and engagement, should help us not to see formation and disciplines as a private matter concerned with only “my personal relationship to God” and “my personal growth.”
In turning his attention to the spiritual disciplines of engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission), Dallas Willard writes,
“The disciplines of abstinence must be counterbalanced and supplemented by the disciplines of engagement. Abstinence and engagement are the outbreathing and inbreathing of our spiritual lives, and we require disciplines for both movements. Roughly speaking, the disciplines of abstinence counteract the sins of commission and the disciplines of engagement counteract tendencies to sins of omission. Life … does not derive its power of growth and development from withdrawal but from action – and engagement. Abstinence, then, makes way for engagement…. If the places in our souls that are be indwelt by God and his service are occupied by food, sex, and society, we die and languish for lack of God and right relation to his creatures. A proper abstinence actually breaks the hold of improper engagements so that the soul can be properly engaged in and by God.”
from The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, pp 175 – 176.
In discussing the spiritual disciplines of abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) Dallas Willard has the following to say,
“In the disciplines of abstinence, we abstain to some degree and for some time from the satisfaction of what we generally regard as normal and legitimate desires…. Keep in mind that the practice of abstention does not imply there is anything essentially wrong with these desires as such…. An adequate course of spiritual discipline will single out those tendencies that may harm our walk with God. By the carefully adapted arrangement of our circumstances and behavior, the spiritual disciplines will bring these basic desires into their proper coordination and subordination within the economy of the life in his Kingdom.”
from The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, pp 159 -160.
Two weeks ago we looked at Richard Foster’s grouping of the disciplines as inward, outward and corporate. Below are some spiritual disciplines identified by Dallas Willard and a way he distinguishes the disciplines (from The Spirit of the Disciplines, page 158).
Disciplines of Abstinence
Disciplines of Engagement
This past Sunday the minister mentioned the “spiritual discipline of thankfulness” in his sermon “Choose to Be Thankful” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), so this seemed an opportune time to add Thankfulness/Gratitude to our list of spiritual practices.
“Gratitude is a loving and thankful response toward God for his presence with us and within this world. Though “blessings” can move us into gratitude, it is not at the root of a thankful heart. Delight in God and his good will is the heartbeat of thankfulness.”
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
From Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, p 29.
In Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (page v) Richard Foster distinguishes between inward disciplines, outward disciplines and corporate disciplines.
The Inward Disciplines
The Outward Disciplines
The Corporate Disciplines
This may help us remember that ultimately the spiritual practices are not a private, self-focused matter.
“Utter delight and joy in ourselves, our life, and our world as a result of our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty, and goodness.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice.” — Philippians 4:4
from A Year with God: Living out the Spiritual Disciplines edited by Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller, introduction to days 346-365.