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    Entries in Spirituality (2)

    Friday
    Jun202014

    Why is Prayer a Struggle?

    Here are some excellent thoughts from Ronald Rolheiser:

    We are not, by choice or ideology, a culture set against solitude, interiority, and prayer. Nor are we, in my opinion, more malicious, more pagan, or afraid of interiority than past ages. Where we differ from the past is not so much in badness as in busyness. Most days, we don't pray simply because we don't get around to it.

    Perhaps the best metaphor to describe our hurried and distracted lives is that of a car wash. When you pull up to a car wash, you are instructed to leave your motor running, to take your hands off the steering wheel, and to keep your foot off the brake. The idea is that the machine itself will suck you through.

    For most of us, that's just what our typical day does to us--it sucks us through. We have smartphones and radios that stimulate us before we are fully awake. Many of us are texting friends, checking Facebook and e-mails, watching the news, or listening to music or talk radio before we even shower or eat breakfast. The drive to work follows the same pattern: stimulated and preoccupied, we listen to the radio, talk on our cell phones, and plan the day's agenda. We return home to television, conversation, activities, and preoccupations of all kinds. Eventually we go to bed, where perhaps we read or watch a bit more TV. Finally, we fall asleep. When, in all of this, did we take time to think, to pray, to wonder, to be restful, to be grateful for life, for love, for health, for God? The day just sucked us through.

    Moreover, prayer is not easy because we are greedy for experience. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen put this well: "I want to pray," he once said, "but I also don't want to miss out on anything--television, movies, socializing with friends, drinking in the world." Because we don't want to miss out on any experience, prayer is truly a discipline. When we sit or kneel in prayer, our natural craving for experience feels starved and begins to protest.

    Ironically, most of us crave solitude. As our lives grow more pressured, as we grow more tired, and as we begin to talk more about burnout, we fantasize about solitude. We imagine it as a peaceful, quiet place, where we are walking by a lake, watching a sunset, or smoking a pipe by the fireplace. But even here, many times we make solitude yet another activity, something we do.

    Solitude, however, is a form of awareness. It's a way of being present and perceptive within all of life. It's having a dimension of reflectiveness in our daily lives that brings with it a sense of gratitude, appreciation, peacefulness, enjoyment, and prayer. It's the sense, within ordinary life, that life is precious, sacred, and enough.

    How do we foster solitude? How do we get a handle on life so it doesn't just suck us through? How do we begin to lay a foundation for prayer in our lives?

    The first step is to "put out into the deep" by remaining quietly in God's presence in solitude, in silence, in prayer. If this is your first time doing this, set aside fifteen minutes for prayer. In time, you might be able to manage thirty minutes.

    Remember: Your heart is made to rest in God.

    If fifteen minutes sounds like a big step, start with one minute. Then stretch it to two. Then three. Then five.

    Create space for solitude. Slow down. Pray. Rest in God.

    To learn more, pick up Rolheiser's book, Prayer: Our Deepest Longing.

    Wednesday
    Jan222014

    The Question is Not Whether We Live the Spiritual Life.

    Photo by Stefano G.

    The question, rather, is if we live it well.

    Thomas Merton once wrote, "The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived."

    In secular cultures, spirituality remains an active concept that nonreligious persons refuse to discard. But spirituality, as concept, remains undefined and contested. It has become an antonym to religion or religiosity. It has become something that, if a person remains open to the supernatural, compels and is thought to enrich one's life. But in the absence of strong traditions, combined with the presence of pluralism, it is the work of bricolage. We piece it together for ourselves with whatever we have on hand.

    For those who spurn religion, who decry the church, or who dismiss Christianity, there is still the matter of spirituality. The spiritual person is an explorer; they are seeking answers, and have found some truths they believe worth sharing. In my conversations with spiritual seekers, I have found that spirituality is a place to begin. The question for these people is not whether we live the spiritual life--it is whether that life is lived well. This is fertile ground for conversation.

    If, like me, you are a Christian, you may ask a spiritual person what it would mean to live the spiritual life--or life--well. You may ask these questions:

    • What are your key beliefs that guide your daily life?
    • What are the sources of authority that guide your decisions and practices?
    • Who are the examples that you follow?
    • What are the teachings that you rely upon?
    • How do those teachings hang together?
    • What questions are your presently considering?
    • What answers have been slow in coming?

    When you ask these questions, truly listen. As a Christian, you might consider these questions:

    • Might there be better answers found in the person of Jesus, in his life and teachings? 
    • Might those who have followed Christ through the ages provide us with examples of remarkable lives, without which belief in God might not make much sense? 
    • What might Jesus have to teach us about living life with God well that might be counterintuitive, but compelling? 
    • How does Christ expose our faults and correct our steps?
    • What questions is this person asking that Christianity addresses?
    • How does Jesus lead us to become someone that not only does good, but is good?

    If given the opportunity, you might offer ways Christianity addresses questions about what it means to be human, our purpose on earth, or how one lives a virtuous life (don't assume too much here--I think an essential aspect of life in Christ is the confession that a virtuous life cannot be lived apart from renovation and redemption by Christ himself). Explore the differences, but do so in a way that is gentle and respectful. Speak truth, even if it might stand in opposition to your conversation partner's perspective. Be ready for sparring. Trust God will be present with you in conversation.

    I am someone who believes that Christianity has content that is definable, even while it is debateable. It is a tradition, one that rests on certain claims about ultimate reality. Christians believe our world was created by God, and that human beings are dignified creatures, made in God's image. Despite this, we believe that something has gone amiss in our world. Sin and brokenness are very real--all is not as it should be. We believe that God has revealed his character and purposes through the formation of a people, Israel. We center our life on the person of Jesus, born of Mary--a Jew. He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, and we trust in him for salvation. Jesus accomplished victory over sin on the cross. He was vindicated by God in his resurrection. We believe those in Christ receive the Holy Spirit. We believe that in him we have been incorporated as part of the family of God, the church. We believe the Old and New Testament scriptures are inspired and authoritative, that God's people are marked in baptism. We celebrate his meal. We believe Christ will one day come again, judge the earth, renew creation, establish justice, and heal the nations. And we believe, and debate, many other things besides. Those claims within Christianity I believe that are absolute are some of the very same claims that enable me to enter the debate--love of neighbor, the dignity of all human beings, the finitude of my own mind, the power of forgiveness, the hope of reconciliation, and a confidence that God is the God of truth.

    But much of the preceding paragraph is a confession, or a summary of knowledge which may or may not lead to a spiritual life well lived. If a spiritual life is to be lived well, we need more than knowledge. We need conversion. We need outside help. We need the transformation only God can render, which Christians believes comes through faith in Christ. We need a comprehensive grammar, a verbal and nonverbal language of love, an individual and communal expression of life in Christ.

    Merton, again, is instructive:

    Spiritual life is not mental life. It is not thought alone. Nor is it, of course, a life of sensation, a life of feeling--"feeling" and experiencing the things of the Spirit, and the things of God. Nor does the spiritual life exclude thought and feeling. It needs both...If man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit. Everything must be elevated and transformed by the action of God, in love and faith.

    The true spiritual life, then, one that is lived well, is one in which the whole person has been renewed by God. That life comes through Jesus Christ, who not only demonstrated and revealed this kind of life, but who continues to make it possible by the gift of his grace. For those in Christ, the greatest witnesses to the gift of the spiritual life, lived well, are those that have been transformed by his love, and trained as his disciples. Our apologetic and our witness is not only excellent when accomplishing the transmission of spiritual knowledge. It is not only accomplished through shared experiences of spiritual sentiment and emotion.

    It is done best as revelation, life lived, fully alive.

    Such a life is a grace, the gift of God.