Developing Particular Practices and Disciplines

by Mark Votava

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“When the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that God is dead, he was not making an ontological point.  He was making an existential point.  He was not announcing that God had died, but that our experience of God had died.  This was due, in part, to the way in which Western Christianity had focused its attention not on spiritual practice but on spiritual belief.  It had confused faith with a set of propositional truths about the Divine, rather than a personal experience of the Divine that could be undergirded and sustained by particular practices and disciplines.”  John Phillip Newell The Rebirth of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings

It seems we have lost a sense of an experience of the Divine through particular practices and disciplines.   The ultimate discipline of love, humility and compassion was what Jesus taught as a way of life.  In everyday life, this teaching has been lost to consumeristic approaches to life.  How can we build our lives on particular practices and disciplines that foster life-giving ways of living that reflect the compassion, humility and love of Jesus?

Here are 4 particular practices and disciplines that will help us in this:

1. The practice and discipline of rooting ourselves in a local community over time.  Without a sense of rootedness in a particular place, there will be no context for community to flourish in our everyday lives.  There will be no context for the body of Christ to become an expression of love in our culture.  There will be no context for humility or compassion to be expressed together in everyday life.

When we are rooted, we are known and become known be others.  This brings a sense of stability to our lives where practicing love, compassion and humility become qualities in us that form our identity in life.  We become human as things like empathy, listening, collaboration and honesty become more of a need as we are in relationship with others in our local community.

2. The practice and discipline of silence and solitude.  Silence and solitude are subversive practices in our time.  We need to have spaces to reimage what life can be without individualistic agendas that are directed by our egos.  What could this look like if we took on a deeper experience of listening in all of life?

This could give us a greater sense of perspective on the importance of love in the world.  Without love, our lives become meaningless and fragmented.  Silence and solitude keep us grounded in a practice and discipline of love.  This is how we can live into a deeper experience of the Spirit living within us.

3. The practice and discipline of forgiveness.  We desperately need deeper roots of grace, forgiveness and compassion living within us.  This is a great need in our time to become human by being kind, respectful to all people and showing the vulnerability of forgiveness.  Many of us struggle to forgive ourselves and others in everyday life.

We need to learn to love ourselves in holistic ways so that we can love and forgive others in life.  Forgiveness is something that lives within us.  God is leading us to become an expression of forgiveness in the most difficult of circumstances in life.  This takes courage, discipline and a new imagination for grace and love within us.

4. The practice and discipline of gratitude.  Gratitude will reorient our entire lives to be kinder, gentler and more patient.  Gratitude is healing and our bodies long for this in so many ways.  If we embrace a way of gratitude, this will change all our perception of life.  We will experience our humanity differently.

Gratitude is simple, but powerful.  It takes practice and courage to let this live within us.  Can we find a discipline of gratitude in the midst of our own pain, disorientation and discouragement?  I think we need to experiment more with risking gratitude over bitterness in life.

What practices and disciplines have you embraced?  What resonates with you?