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Fasting. Solitude. Contemplative prayer. Lectio divina.
Have you heard about these practices and wanted to try them? Have you wandered from one practice to another not sure quite what to do? Are you overwhelmed by all the to-dos of your spiritual life?
We have good desires—for a more intimate prayer life, perhaps, or deeper insight from God's Word—but we don't know how to get there. So we give up our pursuit, tired from wandering aimlessly, and end up feeling guilty and more distant from God instead of closer.
In the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook Adele Calhoun gives us directions for our journey toward intimacy with Christ. While the word discipline may make us want to run and hide, the author shows how desires and discipline work together to lead us to the transformation we're longing for—the transformation only Christ can bring. Instead of just giving information about spiritual disciplines, this Handbook is full of practical, accessible guidance that helps you actually do them.
Mothers, fathers, plumbers, nurses, students—we're all on a journey. And spiritual disciplines are for all of us who desire to know Christ deeply and be like him. Here is direction for our desire, leading us to the ultimate destination: more of Christ himself.
We are hasty people bent on experiencing as much of life as we can. The faster we move, the more we can see, do and produce. The more we network, the more options will be ours. The more options, the more living we can do. For many of us the very notion of slowing down or saying no to an option is repugnant. We crowd our schedules and run late, but at least we are getting our money's worth. No wonder contemplation has fallen on hard times. In a world where people anchor their identity on the shifting seas of performance and accomplishments, contemplation seems inefficient and too unproductive for the daily grind.
But it is contemplation, not just having experiences, that truly opens us wide to life. Experiences can be lost to us in the mad rush to simply accumulate more. Contemplation invites us to enter in to the moment with a heart alive to whatever might happen. It is not just thinking about or analyzing an event or person. Contemplation asks us to see with faith, hope and love. It asks us to seek God and the "meanings" threaded through our days and years, so that our experience of being embedded in the triune life of God deepens and grows.
A contemplative personrecognizes that every experience offers more than meets the eye. They know that "bidden or unbidden, God is present." Consequently contemplatives are open to seeing the unseen world. They sift the days for symbols and scan the sunsets for meaning. They enter into the being of life, alert to transcendencies in ordinary things. They believe God may be found and reverenced if one is prepared to notice how marvelously mysterious and personal life in this world is. So contemplatives invite us into the moment and tell us to be.
A. W. Tozer writes in The Roots of Righteousness, "Historically the West has tended to throw its chief emphasis upon doing and the East upon being.... Were human nature perfect there would be no discrepancy between being and doing. The unfallen man would simply live from within, without giving it a thought. His actions would be the true expression of their inner being." But being is not rewarded in our society today. Doing is what counts.
Doing is important. But eventually we come to the end of doing. Tasks get done sooner or later. Experiences end for better or for worse. But we never come to the end of a "being." Being is a mystery that originated in the God who says, "I am who I am." Knowing God or another human being completely will always be beyond what we can know. But through contemplation, intimacy with God and others can grow. Gazing on God, our neighbor or the created order with faith, hope and love can increase our awareness and experience of both. Contemplation can lead us out of ourselves and into realities of which we only skimmed the surface before.
1. How do you respond to the word contemplation?
2. What sort of things do you contemplate? What happens to you when you contemplate?
3. How do you contemplate your spiritual journey and relationship with God?
1. Contemplate Jesus. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of God. Become quiet. Express to God your intention to rest in his love. Use your imagination: you may want to picture yourself leaning on Jesus' breast as John did or sitting at Jesus' feet as Mary did or kneeling before Jesus as other desperate people before you have. Be with Jesus. (When thoughts and distractions interrupt, gently return to Jesus. Begin again and again.) What is it like to receive God's gift of new beginnings?
2. Palms down, palms up.
Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor and your hands on your lap. Breathe deeply and relax. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of Jesus.
Turn your palms down and begin to drop your cares, worries, agendas and expectations into Jesus' hands. Let go of all that is heavy or burdensome. Relax. Breathe deeply.
When you have given your cares to Jesus, turn your palms up on your knees. Open your hands to receive God's presence, word and love. Listen.
When you feel prompted to end, tell the Lord what it is like for you to simply be with him.
3. Take a contemplative walk with Jesus. Express your intention to be alone with God. Enjoy moving your body. Smell the air. Take in the sights. Appreciate God's good handiwork within and without. Love God for his gifts and goodness to you.
4. Contemplate people. Set aside time to really look into the eyes of those you love. Listen with your heart. See them through the eyes of God. Be with them over a meal. If you like to journal, write down what you think you know as well as what is mysterious to you about them.
5. Contemplate your experience. Commit yourself to remaining present to an experience. Pay attention to any feelings that rise within you. You may feel heat in your body. You may notice impatience, embarrassment or a need to hide or defend. Attend to others and what is happening for or in them. When you leave the experience, spend some unhurried time reflecting on what you noticed. Where did you respond out of past wounds? What did this experience symbolize for you? What gave it meaning?
Excerpted from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun Copyright © 2005 by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Spiritual Disciplines and Desires
Introduction: Discovering Your Desire Part 1: Worship
Rule for Life
Worship Part 2: Open Myself to God
Practicing the Presence
Unplugging Part 3: Relinquish the False Self
Confession and Self-Examination
SubmissionPart 4: Share My Life With Others
WitnessPart 5: Hear God's Word
MemorizationPart 6: Incarnate the Love of Christ
Care of the Earth
Control of the Tongue
Truth TellingPart 7: Pray
Prayer of Recollection
Appendix 1: Spiritual Growth Planner
Appendix 2: A Series on Spiritual Disciplines for the Congregation
Appendix 3: Suggestions for Spiritual Mentors
Appendix 4: Using the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook with Small Groups
Appendix 5: Names for Worshiping God
Appendix 6: One Anothers
Appendix 7: Postures for Prayer
Appendix 8: Spending Time with God
Appendix 9: Suggestions for Fasting Prayer for the Church
Appendix 10: Seasons, Stages and Ages of Transformation
Index of Spiritual Disciplines
Posted February 10, 2012
This is not a book one reads from cover to cover. The various chapters are designed to help the person wanting to improved their faith and grow spiritually. The reader decides which area to concentrate on and then choose the appropriate chapter(s). There are various exercises and one may spend a month or so on just one area before moving on to another. I have just started on the first one, but have every confidence it will bring about the desired results.
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