Upon hearing this accusation, my first reaction was to defend myself. Then to provide excuses. Then to get a little angry. But even as I was going through the motions, I knew that there was truth in what they said. I didn’t want to hear it, but there it was.
I have long fancied myself someone who believes (with Pascal) that “The heart has its reasons that the mind knows not of.” And yet the habits of the spiritual heart–devotional aspects of the Christian life like regular prayer, focusing Bible reading, and spiritual reflection–have been sorely lacking from my life. The result? A recourse to worldly wisdom, common-sense, and associated ways of doing things rather than a reliance upon God’s leading and example. Becoming so focused on the life of the mind that the life of the spirit suffers.
As an ordained minister, professor at a Christian university, and mentor to future pastors, I am embarrassed. But that isn’t all. As a Christian–irrespective of all these other roles–it is a somewhat devastating revelation. Here I am, someone who says they are following after Christ, and yet I am cutting myself off from the deep communion with God that I truly believe each human being needs.
I am not spiritually disciplined, and this lack of discipline has contributed to a faltering spirituality. Without being too navel-gazing here, let me just say this: it’s a problem.
Now, I realize that being disciplined in prayer, fasting, worship, Scriptural meditation and the like do not make God love me more. These things are not to be done so that I can “win” at the Christian life and thereby look down at others. But they are practices that help to reorient our perspective away from ourselves and the world’s way of seeing things towards new possibilities and transcendent realities. They remind us that we are not God. That our God-given spirit is as much a part of existence as is our mind or body.
Because one of the few things in my life in which I have been regularly disciplined over the past few years is this blog, I’ve decided that once a week I’ll be taking a break from my reflections historical, pastoral, political, theological, and otherwise to focus specifically on spiritual matters. The tone will be different from most of my other posts–probably more similar to a blog I wrote seven or eight years ago. It will be a chance to process through some of the reflections and experiences I will be having as I read and pray through the Gospel of Matthew this semester. Hearing the story of Christ’s life yet again and writing about its impact upon my spirit will therefore be my task. It isn’t the answer to all of my shortcomings as a Christian whose spiritual life has been rather dry. But it is at least a beginning.