The Spiritual Life

The Spiritual Life March 27, 2017
Saint Anthony and Paul Coptic Icon: Photograph by Henry Karlson
Saint Anthony and Paul Coptic Icon: Photograph by Henry Karlson

Christianity is meant to be more than beliefs about God and the world, but a way of life. There is more to the faith than the rote memorization of dogmatic facts combined with occasional liturgical celebrations.  This is not to say it is meant to be a self-righteous moralism, where people establish particular moral codes which are used to lift themselves up while pushing anyone not like them down to the lowest rung of moral credibility. It is a way of life, a way of following the God who is love, a way of seeing everything reflected in relationships with God and others as a result of that love. The truths of the faith are important, because love is incapable of being love without a love for truth, but the truths must be understood as conventional expressions and pointers to the transcendent truth which are meant to be experienced and not just declared.

Knowing dogmatic definitions, following the liturgical celebrations of the year, and doing what one can to act virtuously are not worthless: they all have value and help a Christian be Christian. But being a Christian is more than all of these, it is to engage the mystery of faith which transcends all knowledge through a prayer life which is open to the glory of God.

Christians should seek to have a life of prayer, to make all life a prayer. This is easier said than done. Many, if not most, find the anxieties of daily life preventing them from having much to do with a spiritual life. They are tied to the world, focused on the world, and so the spirit and its needs are not only unmet, but they end up being ignored. When someone desires to do something about it, they do not know what to do; they try a few extensive programs, which are often geared towards those who are further advanced in spirituality, and end up finding them unhelpful and so give up without attaining much, if any, spiritual tranquility.

There is, to be sure, no one program, not technique which can be presented, because spirituality is not merely what we do for ourselves and how we lift ourselves up, but what we do with the grace of God, with the grace, not ourselves, being the foundation. Many without much spiritual practice can find themselves like Paul, falling from their high horse, suddenly experiencing the glory of God all around them, transforming them into great saints. Others, while trying long and hard to achieve a mystical encounter with God, will find themselves cut off from grace, because they assumed too much for themselves and their practice and so instead of being open to God, they really have closed in on themselves. Spiritual practice is meant to open us up, to empty ourselves of all that we hold on to which could be put in between God and ourselves, and to keep us standing at ready, willing to listen to the Word of God when the Spirit blows it our way. If we start with the proper understanding, and without undue expectation, we will find that when grace comes our way, either through a slow progress, or through a sudden realization, our spirit will soar as it encounters and realizes the glory of the kingdom of God.

Christianity is meant to be mystical, to get us to move beyond our limitations through grace, and there is no better way this can be find than in our walk with God. We must push ourselves to pray daily, to find ourselves getting in the habit of prayer at certain times, but then also leave room for the spirit to prompt us for more prayer whenever it is needed. Even if it is brief, even if it simple, if such prompting is heeded by us, we will find it slowly having fruit in our lives. For, when we cooperate with God, we slowly find ourselves engaging him heart to heart instead of merely by the intellect alone, which is what allows the faith to be truly holistic instead of another ideology which leads us astray.

It is with such caveats, I would like to recommend a simple spiritual regimen for those who say they find it difficult to live a life prayer. It is based upon my own day to day prayer life, and what I find beneficial for myself. It might not work for all, but I think, since its foundation lies in openness to God, it will at least help prepare people for engagement with God, which is what any sound spiritual practice will do.[1]

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