As an add-on to the sermon this weekend, I offer a piece that I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club in response to Nathan Foster’s book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint. Let this serve as food for thought as you enter this week and a piece of encouragement to sign up for the Making Ordinary Saints Conference with Nathan and Richard Foster. We are hosting it at Peace on March 13-14. Check out the link for more information and to register: www.renovare.org
Let Life Be Your Teacher
By Kai Nilsen
“For some reason I was under the illusion that spiritual activities and lessons had to come from books and speakers and that there were special ways we practiced the disciplines, but they could not come from meeting a strange man riding his bike in rural Ohio, watching birds, and giving in to the wind.” (p. 29)
There are significant portions of the spiritual formation community that could be described as “bookies.” We love books. We devour books like “foodies” devour an original fare. We then go to conferences with people who wrote our favorite books in our attempt to consume more of the ancient wisdom being articulated for modern times.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that “bookie” passion. But Nathan’s narrative encourages us to open ourselves up to a more intimate source of knowledge and wisdom—Our Life!
Can you let your life be your teacher?
My guess is that many of us have learned to be distrusting of our lives and accumulated wisdom. That is why we so ravenously seek the guidance of others. Sometimes our religious training has taught us to be suspect of our inner wisdom. One particularly harmful religious narrative pounds home this thought, “Remember, we are sinners, nothing but pathetic worms. How can we be trusted to know, to articulate, to discern well the movements of the Holy One?”
For some of us, the ingrained messages of our youth remain a haunting, debilitating voice filling our minds with negativity, “You are unworthy or unacceptable or unlovable.” Emotionally and psychologically we learn to distrust our desires, our motivations, our inner compass.
Nathan’s narrative journey provides us with a wonderful and gracious counterpoint. Think about where he gleans so much of his guiding insight—riding a bike, conversations with friends, living with his wife and kids, the beauty and wonder of the natural world. What he begs us to realize is that life can be a teacher. Your life. Not someone else’s life. Your life can be your teacher.
Think about how Jesus often taught his followers. Consider the birds of the air. Do you see that fig tree? Let me tell you about mustard seeds. Have you ever had your family fall apart, one brother brashly leaving home while the other dutifully remains? Pay attention to these things, you may learn something. Your life can be your teacher.
Nathan also does a masterful job of reminding us that spiritual practices don’t need to be an “add on” to life. They can be a way of thinking differently about what we are already doing. Honestly, I used to think about spiritual practices as one more thing to add to my already crammed schedule. Thus, I had one more reason to avoid them. I’m just too busy. But, is it possible to re-think what you and I are already doing?
From Nathan’s chapter on meditation, “As I lay in bed quietly reflecting, it came as a bit of a shock to see that in commuting to work over the years, I had actually unintentionally been practicing meditation.” (p. 82)
I once heard author and speaker, Brian McLaren, refer to this as “Faithing our Practices.” In spiritual formation circles we talk a lot about practicing our faith. That little twist of a phrase, “faithing our practices,” invites us to examine what we are already doing and then ask how it could be done more intentionally, more thoughtfully as a way to experience the graciousness of God.
Do you walk your dog every day? Can you use that as your time to pray, to sing, to wonder in God’s creation? Do you commute to work? Instead of blaring mindless music can you mindfully pray for the day ahead; the interactions you will have, the needs of the people you will meet? Do you ever find yourself in the grocery store? Duh! Can you use that as an opportunity to pray not only for the workers behind the counter but all the hands of those who planted and harvested?
In other words, can you let your life—your present, ordinary, everyday life, be your teacher?
Nathan sums it up well, “I no longer see the disciplines as something unattainable, reserved for the super spiritual or stuffy monkish folks. Practicing the disciplines rather feels like a gentle and graceful attunement to seeking God in the everyday mess and simple things.” (p. 189)
It’s Monday: How will your life be your teacher today. Peace. Kai