Don’t be offended, I think I had a religious experience, and it wasn’t in a church. I was on my own, sitting outside in the dark, late at night. And something just dawned on me: ‘it will be all right’. Was that a mystical experience – I have never heard of such things happening before. Am I going nuts? Is this how prayer works? Get back to me quick please.
How wonderful. I couldn’t be less offended, Max. Most people have those sort of experiences at some time. Surveys range from 50-80% depending on how you ask the question. So why don’t we talk about them? Shy, precious, very special moments don’t want to be trampled by idiots in the pub, that would be one good reason. Another is that our education is so matrialst that we lack the basic knowledge and language for the spiritual things that are entirely normal. One guy told me he had those sort experiences fifty years before in the desert and everyone said he was balmy until he met me and I showed him a jar of blood red dirt. A third reason is that spiritual experience is not cheap. It changes you. If you want to journey into the inner galaxies, you have to deal with the false self that has infected our psyche and our culture.
The sages tell us that we need to overcome ego and hubris. Our health and joy come from being clearer than we usually are by instinct or by culture and civilisation. They also tell us that it is possible to grow into life and live in all their fullness by the practice of twelve ‘disciplines’. Just like athletes. They are Disciplines of Solitude, Disciplines of Community, Disciplines of Transformation. Here are some notes and a word cloud to poke you into thinking about it. It’s a start anyway.
1.DISCIPLINES OF SOLITUDE
What is the practise of solitude? Why and for whom is it important today?
Repentance – recovery programmes, weeping at sin, finding new paths, accountability (confession) to God and others, careful honesty, speaking the truth in love. Repentance both from and to.
Experimental (optional): describe behaviour you used to do but have repented from/to
Fasting – physical appetites and healthy souls, freedom, outward and inner controls – of sleep, sex, tongue, news, noise, wealth, convenience
Experimental (optional): miss a meal (notify kitchen), walk without shoes, take off your watch/phone,
Silence- words, thoughts, external activity, accepting tangents, listening to self and spirit
Experimental (optional): leave session without speaking and remain silent until next meal (may include the meal-depends on whether there are other guests)
Meditation (incl scripture and sacrament)– history of Christian mediation, Yoga and similar, World Centre for Christian Meditation, some types of meditation, preparation for mini-exercise.
Experimental (optional): go to church an hour early before morning Mass and meditate upon scripture or sacrament.
2. DISCIPLINES OF COMMUNITY
What is the practice of community? Why and for whom is it important today?
Work – charity support systems and income generation, work and dignity, vocation, caring for the earth, work satisfaction. Rest/Sabbath beauty.
Experimental (optional): collect rubbish and dispose of it
Obedience – leadership, followership, gifted parts, humility, planning
Experimental (optional): reflect on your leadership strengths/weaknesses.exercise.
Kindness – Judgements, love languages, planned and random acts of kindness
Experimental (optional): write letters of thanks to five people known to you
Evangel – How to be Good News for the world – gospel of salvation, healing, and social justice. Evangelisation as a spiritual discipline for the church, Respect and non-violent communication and the fruit of the spirit, How to begin social activism without becoming either a hero or an angry-turnoff.
Experimental (optional): Why are you still a Christian (or as relevant)? What is it about your spiritual experience that you/the world cannot do without?
3. DISCIPLINES OF TRANSFORMATION
What is the practice of religious habitus? Why and for whom is it important today?
Torah – renewal of the mind, Revealed/ Sacred Text, framing covenant, interpretive context, history/nature/revelation. Alternative supra-cultural point of view.
The Way – God always was and always is a mystery-revealed, way to life, openness, mystery, spirit-inspired prophecy.
Today – personal appropriation of the faith, faith-communication across generations in everyday settings, spirit-responsiveness in the everyday, move to action
Dispossession – Sabbath, Sukkot, simplicity, detachment from things, Rest, Contentment, Being led by thirst, celebration, ingathering, hospitality