“The monastic life is, above all, a life of prayer.”
Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer
Several months ago, Gary Moon invited me to contribute to Conversations: Gifts From the Monastery. “Several writers will spend a week-long retreat at monasteries from various traditions; perhaps you could represent the evangelical tradition and visit a Protestant retreat house. See if it would work for you to go,” he urged, “and write an article about your experience—about the gifts you’ve received there.”
Ahhh. A silent retreat. Where do I sign up? I cannot think of a time in my life during which such an offer would not have been attractive. But the more I thought about it, with schedules and child care, I simply couldn’t pull it off. Most of us can’t get away for that kind of retreat, though many gifts admittedly await those who can. Our spiritual lives needn’t be dependent on these times, though; we can discover the rich gifts of a deep spirituality right in our own homes. I needed to learn how to care for my own soul right in the midst of my own life with the brothers… not monastic brothers, but the three active boys who share my home.
Tonight I enjoyed several hours of conversation with a cohort of missionally focused church planters in Kansas City. After opening our time with a reading from the Book of Common Prayer, our leader invited a follow-up discussion to the prior session’s topic: A Rule of Life. While this topic may be familiar to many readers of Conversations Journal (or if it’s not, you can read more about it in Chris Webb’s excellent article), it was not as familiar to many evangelical church-planters in their twenties. Until about a decade ago, it wasn’t familiar to me, either.
You may think, Oh, that’s how spiritual formation can be, the idea du jour, a new fad in church-planting circles.
Let me reassure you, this was a very real, substantive conversation that was about more than just a Rule of Life. It started with some of these honest questions and observations:
- I tried silent prayer, but haven’t gone back to it because it felt so weird.
- Why do spiritual formation practices, and people, just make me feel guilty?
- I feel overwhelmed at the thought of mapping all my times with God for the next year into my calendar; I’m not sure I can have a Rule of Life.
- How do couples experience and encourage spiritual formation together? Or should they?
- Being a pastor is like being a freshman in high school and having to run the 300-yard high hurdles. Just when you begin to hit your stride, you face with a huge obstacle, and you’re just too short. Once you manage to get over it, you barely begin to hit your stride again and there’s another… and then another… and the race never ends. (He is seated next to his wife; they have four sons, and appear under the age of 30.)
This is real. This is the pain, the longing, the confusion. And from my perspective, this is the opportunity to serve pastors and leaders. The needs are urgent; the time is now. Personally, I feel called to stand as a bridge between these jet-fuel drinkers and the candle lighters.
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Several months ago, Gary Moon invited me to contribute to Conversations: Gifts From the Monastery. “Several writers will spend a week-long retreat at monasteries from various traditions; perhaps you could represent the evangelical tradition and visit a Protestant retreat house. See if it would work for you to go,” he urged, “and write an article about your experience—about the gifts you’ve received there.” (more…)
If you were to ask a room full of people, as I often have, what instigated the greatest level of transformation in their lives so far, the number one answer is always the same: pain. It comes under varying names, of course: “my divorce,” “my illness,” “losing my job,” “finally hitting rock bottom.” Many different ways of saying the same thing: pain. (more…)
The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth by Gerald May
“Mindy, if God takes you to the desert, go to the desert and learn what the desert has to teach you.”
I received those unwelcome but perfectly aimed words from a mentor during a particularly difficult season of my life. Unwelcome because I wanted to hear the path out. Out of the desert. Out of the disillusion. Out of the suffering. Out of the confusion. Out of the hopelessness.
Instead, I found her advice raised disturbing questions…