Writing this on Easter Tuesday, it’s easy to see in the rearview mirror the efforts we made, wished we had made, tried to make, thought about making, or heard others made during the Lenten season just behind us. And now, whew!, all that struggle (or the guilt we may feel that there was no struggle) can be forgotten as we move into the joys of Easter, a season of victory and elation rather than sweat and tears.
Of course, that’s the mindset that wastes discipline rather than harvests it.
John of the Cross teaches us that spiritual theology, what is called ascetical theology, “consists in those methods and disciplines which dispose the soul to receive the motions of the Holy Spirit: it is the art of co-operating with grace.” (Thornton, 25) If we took on “methods and disciplines” during Lent that did not help us learn the art of cooperating with grace, then we were wasting our time. Worse, we were going through motions that pacified our conscience while deceiving us about our true aim.
In cultivating the spiritual life, we are seeking “the key to the art of living as fully, creatively, and indeed joyfully, as mankind is capable.”
This sounds like Easter to me: life, creativity, joy.
Did our experience of Lent launch us more fully into into life, creativity, joy?
Certainly the resurrection stories of the gospels give us some clues about how to harvest the grace that spiritual disciplines can help us to access. Luke’s story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus gives us the scaffolding of the spiritual disciplines in a most beautiful story (Lk 24.13-35). Consider the ways it teaches us about spiritual theology and cooperating with grace.
First, cooperating with grace must begin with movement. Cooperating is an active pursuit, requiring exertion. Cleopas and his companion may not understand what’s going on, but their darkness and confusion don’t paralyze them. Jesus meets them on the road.Second, the spiritual life is undertaken in relationship with Jesus. Jesus walks with them, and they companion him, even when they don’t recognize him.
Third, prayer and scripture are intertwined, mutually embedded, organically connected, and they both involve listening, questioning, wrestling, burning. Cleopas and his companion pray as they speak to Jesus, and he teaches them from the scriptures. In the pursuit of the spiritual life, prayer requires the scriptures; reading the Bible must involve prayer.
Fourth, cooperating with grace means that we ask him to stay with us. Jesus was going to go on, but the disciples ask him to remain…and he waits to be asked.
Fifth, prayer and scripture always culminate in worship, and worship, at that table in Emmaus, is corporate, incarnational, restful, satisfying. If we think worship is only what we do on Sunday mornings, we are not understanding worship at all. Worship is a posture of the heart, a readiness of the mind, an attentiveness to the Presence, a feasting on God’s goodness.
Sixth, Jesus is revealed in worship, present in worship, magnified in worship. There our eyes are opened.
Seventh, worship always returns us to community, fellowship, mutual support, and encouragement. What is the first thing Cleopas and friend do? They rush back to the community in Jerusalem with the glorious news. There all the friends of Jesus pass around the grace they’ve been given.
This is cooperating with grace, the transforming power of the four vital disciplines—prayer, scripture, worship, community. May our Easter season be rich in all four, bearing fruit in the world.
Image Carl Bloch, public domain