I have been re-reading "The Way of the Disciple" by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, and a couple of passages have struck me, particularly given a phone conversation I had today with a physician named Dan, whom I think of as an intentional disciple. Merikakis writes that the prerequisite attitude for becoming in earnest a disciple of Christ is "the willingness to abandon the old, what is behind us, and begin to desire to be created again by the power of God's Holy Spirit." (pp. 16-17)
He also writes of the importance – and danger - of discipline in our life of prayer.
"The Glory of God is always found in movements of love, in communication of life, never in static routine, cramped piety, thoughtless repetition of official acts, conventional observance, external religious acts that could easily become the letter that kills, the continuing tyranny of the old, sinful self. The Spirit, by contrast, is wind, fire, light, water, Glory: the unexpected, the transforming, the self-communicating, the self-outpouring Power that shapes by embracing and not letting go. The way of the disciple is necessarily a way of discipline, because discipleship is the living school in which we learn how to be like Christ by intimate association with him. The discipline of Christian life, whether in its secular or monastic form, is supposed to provide a structure that systematically excludes all the pseudo-adventures and pseudo-fulfillments offered by a frivolous world. Christian discipline is there to open the way for the real adventure of the soul's quest for God and God's quest for the soul, and it would be tragic if instead this discipline became its own end." (p. 27)
I asked my friend Dan, "What gets in the way of your relationship with God?" He answered "It's partly busy-ness and partly bad habit. I don't pray as much as I used to five or six years ago." He said he can be busy at work, but his pleasures also keep him busy. There are so many opportunities, and so many things he wants to do. It's as though he's being drowned in too many options.
On a recent medical mission to Africa, he lost ten pounds. Not because the food was bad - it wasn't. It's just that is was the same every day, with no snacks. He observed that the choices we have and the things we can do get in the way of quiet and prayer. While he always feels the need to set aside time each day to intercede for people he loves, and to give God a chance to influence him, he doesn't spend time in silence the way he does on retreat with the Trappists once or twice a year. In spite of good intentions to devote one day off a month in silence, he doesn't do it. (At least not yet – I have hope for him!)
I can echo much of what Dan said, and I spend the better part of my days alone and in silence, sitting in front of my Mac. I have a morning ritual of Mass and prayers, with liturgy of the hours again in the evening and before bed. But at times even these are challenging, as I struggle to keep my mind focused on God, rather than what I'm going to make for breakfast, or when I'm going to have a chance to go to the gym, or how much I've got to work on one project or another. I also struggle with the attempt to keep God in mind throughout my day, even as I read about Him! I seldom consciously offer my work as an act of praise, and I often forget to cultivate gratitude.
I don't have much temptation from the pseudo-adventures and pseudo-fulfillments Merikakis writes about, if by these he means things like television, video games, movies and the like – being a poor friar helps there, as well as having a lot of work to do. But I DO have the temptation of becoming caught up in the work of the Institute. It's good work, and important, I believe. But the danger is that I can forget that if it's going to succeed, it's because of the grace, power and will of God, not because I spent twelve hours in front of the computer yesterday.
I don't think I'm that different from most of you (who, by the way, are sitting before a computer as you read this…) But how do you attempt to abandon your old self and "put on Christ" while taking the kids to school, for example? What disciplines help you to remain open to the surprise of the Spirit (and you have to admit that seems a little counter-intuitive; discipline opening us up to the unexpected!) Whether you are lay or ordained, what disciplines help you to remain detached from your work or pleasures? Is our full life denying us the "fullness of life" Jesus invites us to enter?