“Holy habits deepen into fixed patterns of life. We experience a growing preponderance of right actions flowing from a right heart” (Richard Foster in Streams of Living Water).
This powerful quote from a major figure in the revival of the concept of spiritual formation teaches us that when we are focused on the transformation of our own lives, we can also transform the world around us. This post is the eighth in a series devoted to transforming our inner selves in 2019 through simple spiritual practices. Find the earlier posts in the Category List on the menu under Transformed Lives Transforming the World.
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Transforming our inner selves is a life long journey. It begins when we recognize that our lives belong to God – not to ourselves. Every choice we make is part of that journey. We learn that we are either with God – or not. Eugene Peterson has helped me understand this journey. As regular readers of this blog know, I have adopted his phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” as my definition of discipleship.
Now I have a new phrase, the title of Peterson’s new 90-day devotional, to add to this understanding: “every step an arrival.” We now can describe a transforming life as:
A long obedience in the same direction. Every step an arrival
What a comfort this philosophy is for followers of the Jesus Way (another Peterson title.) For example, this week my little Renovare Spiritual Formation group, composed of women my age and stage of life, was brought to its collective knees by a paragraph in opinion page article in the New York Times by Arthur C. Brooks.
People often say that our problem in America today is incivility or intolerance. This is incorrect. . . . . [Our problem is] contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”
All of us cried “mea culpa” as we recognized our participation in some level of contempt in the political and even spiritual realm for people we disagree with. Much hand wringing followed. It is appropriate to disagree, we agreed. As Brooks says, “Disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth.” But it is not appropriate to live with contempt for others. So then we tried to sort out how we separate passionate disagreement over ideas with passionate disdain for people who hold opposing views. We finally agreed that refusing to include contempt for people with contempt for ideas was a choice – one that has to be made dozens of times daily and one that can become our usual practice if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts. So we all decided to practice the choice of separating people from ideas as a spiritual discipline, a soul-training exercise.
Which leads me to my new mantra: “every step an arrival.” Every choice we make to respond to life in the way that Jesus did is an “arrival.” It is a new place we have come to. And it is a new place to launch from. Hand wringing usually isn’t helpful. Guilt can be a motivator for an instant, but it is not an appropriate response for a life-time. Resolving to make different choices about our attitudes and behaviors is.
Looking at our journey of discipleship, our long obedience in the same direction, as being made up of daily “arrivals” is comforting to me. We all endure stops and starts along the our journey. We are provided with many opportunities to choose life-giving instead of life-thwarting. We find many occasions to choose to love not contempt. Therefore we experience many “steps of arrival.”
We can’t change everything about ourselves instantly, but we can change constantly if we are in tune with the model for life that Jesus presented and are listening to the Spirit of God. “A long obedience in the same direction” and notable steps of arrival create transformed lives that can and do transform the world.