Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Celebration of Discipline

I am doing a two part adult first day “series” on discipline/spiritual practice on the last first day of 4th month and the second first day of 5th month. I’ll pause for a moment to let everyone figure out that I mean Sunday April 30 and Sunday May 14. (Enough numbers for you?) (Enough pretentious Quaker jargon for you?)

The Adult Education Committee asked me to do a session or two on “A Celebration of Discipline,” by Richard Foster. Thanks to Bill Samuel for the use of the link to his website which has information on Richard Foster’s life and work.


I have been thinking about this for a while and as the event now appears on the actual horizon (as opposed to being visible only as an abstraction on a calendar) I am coming to clarity on at least the broad outline.

First, I want it to be interactive, to focus Friends’ attention on developing their own spiritual disciplines or, if they do not really have a regular practice to encourage and support them in thinking about experimenting with one.

Second, I want Richard Foster’s book to be a jumping off point, not the main point, of the sessions.

The initial chapter of this very well known book will be the framework for the first session as it presents the idea that religion is about change, personal change, from an image of the world to the image of Christ/Spirit/Transcendent Reality.* This transformation cannot be done by will, beyond the willful act of putting oneself in a place where the transforming can be done, through grace, to one. And practice/discipline is willful at that puts one in that place.

This is not a new or exclusive idea, with Foster, but this introductory chapter is a very good statement of the premise.

I think it’s quite possible that the “inner/outer” discussion will come up-- when we open ourselves does the transformative power of God/Light come from outside into us (in the sense that we open a window to let it in) or does it come from within (in the sense that open a trap door from which it emerges)? **

I will use a semi socratic method of drawing out this idea from the few who will have actually done any reading before the session, or those who have read the book before and remember. I will be prepared to fill in as that is necessary.

I will go from that to a discussion (again, asking Friends to make this connection in discussion) about how this fits in with the development of Quaker testimonies--about how testimonies were considered to be outward manifestations of inward change Friends had gone through, not rules that seemed like a “good idea” to everyone and were therefore followed for their own sake. The inward transformation leads to the outward change, the outward observance of rules does not lead to the inward change.

There will have to be some discussion of the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it,” of how it might be that conforming to norms (say, simplicity) might or might not have a hand in the inward process.

Another aspect of this is the idea of the Light as the transformative power of God, as the means of both convicting and sanctifying. There are some good old timey Quaker writings about this, as well as some that are quite contemporary. I’ll have some excerpts from those handy.

The last piece for the first session will be a discussion of what constitutes a spiritual practice. There are a couple that I know Friends engage in that are not mentioned in Foster’s book (such a journaling and dancing and singing) and I want to introduce the idea that anything one can do that results in spiritual transformation could be a spiritual practice--that the “proof” is whether it moves one nearer to a life described by the testimonies or by the gifts of the spirit.

For the second session I am going to do a “worship sharing” kind of thing, with some queries meant to get people to think and talk about their experiences with various spiritual practices/disciplines. I am going to circulate the queries at the first session (at the latest) and encourage people who have never or rarely done a spiritual practice to make an attempt at trying it between sessions. I am also going to create a handout of practical instructions about getting started with some of the more common practices/disciplines.

* It’s a Beanite meeting, after all.

** As I said, it’s a Beanite meeting. For the record, I don’t think it matters. I don’t think that “believing” one or the other of these notions will keep the practices/disciplines from being the avenues for transformation they have proven themselves to be, over the centuries.

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