Spiritual Disciplines ~ This Month's Focus

Three Spiritual Disciplines

Silence

The practice of silence provides depth to the journey of intimacy with the Almighty.  Charles Swindoll shares:

The scene is one of stillness and quietness, listening and waiting before Him.  Such foreign experiences in these busy times!  Nevertheless, knowing God deeply and intimately requires such discipline.  Silence is required if we hope to add depth to our spiritual life ... It sharpens the keen edge of our souls, sensitizing us to those ever-so-slight nudgings from our heavenly Father.  Noise and words and frenzied, hectic schedules dull our senses, closing our ears to His still, small voice and making us numb to His touch.1

Some individuals find it difficult and sometimes threatening to enter in to the discipline of silence. Richard Foster offers insights as to why silence may be such a rare commodity:

One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless.  We are so accustomed to relying on words to manage and control others.  If we are silent, who will take control?  God will take control, but we never let him take control until we trust him.  Silence is intimately related to trust.2

While daily activities of everyday life may impair an individual’s ability to experiment with silence, the retreat format will encourage time and space for the practice of silence.   The retreat setting will provide a safe place to explore deepening one’s relationship with God through silence.

Solitude

Silence and solitude work together. One must understand the connection between inner solitude and inner silence; they are inseparable. All the masters of the interior life speak of the two in the same breath.3 To enter into silence and solitude necessitates being alone with oneself and God. There may be little or no immediate gratification. Initially there may appear to be only silence. This may be difficult for some retreat participants. Often individuals "need" to hear immediate affirmation and approval, to sense that contributions and words matter. While there is considerable effort in the practice of silence and solitude and the process may not be immediately gratifying, the ultimate results are often significant in the faith journey. 

In his classic devotional writing, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas À Kempis (c. 1379-1471) shares:  "In silence and stillness a religious soul advantageth herself, and learneth the mysteries of the Holy Scripture."4 Kempis in Book One, chapter 20, also writes the following:

In quiet and silence the faithful soul makes progress, the hidden meanings of the Scriptures become clear, and the eyes weep with devotion every night.  Even as one learns to grow still, he draws closer to the Creator and farther from the hurly-burly of the world.  As one divests himself of friends and acquaintances, he is visited by God and his holy angels.5

Silence and solitude carve out time within the participant’s lives for quiet waiting in the presence of the Almighty.

Community

As important as cultivating opportunities for simplicity, silence, and solitude, the interspersing of community will allow the participants to join in fellowship and the familiar. The body of faith has been designed to live and celebrate within a community of believers together. Christian community exists when believers connect with each other in authentic and life-giving ways that encourage growth in Christ. They engage in transparent relationships that cultivate and make evident Christ’s love for all the world.6 The retreat participants will have opportunity to share the journey of the retreat with one another at regular intervals.

The development of Christian community takes time and intentionality to cultivate. Often deep and abiding community is often neglected. For the Christian, community is an expression of the faith. 

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments:

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  No Christian community is more or less than this.  Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this.  We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.7

What does this mean? It means, first that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.  It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.  It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

Community plays an important part in the process of spiritual formation.

Check back for continuing focus on additional spiritual disciplines.

1Swindoll, Intimacy with the Almighty, 40.

2Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Pathway to Spiritual Growth (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1998), 101.

3Ibid., 9.

4Thomas À Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Pivot edition (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1973), 31.

5Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin, eds., Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 150.

6Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 129.

7Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (San Francisco: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1954), 21. [This book was originally published in Germany under the title Gemeinsames Leben.]

Works Cited

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1954.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg.  Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Foster, Richard.  Celebration of Discipline: The Pathway to Spiritual Growth. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1998.

Foster, Richard D., and Emilie Griffin, eds.  Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines. San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Swindoll, Charles R. Intimacy with the Almighty: Encountering Christ in the Secret Places of Your Life.  Dallas: Word Publishing, Inc., 1996.

Thomas À Kempis. Of the Imitation of Christ.  New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1973, Pivot edition.