Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Note to reader: Now that “stay home” has elevated to the status of law in the state I live, my earlier thoughts about viewing this as an opportunity to develop life giving habits of developing intimacy with Christ takes on even greater weight. What a great opportunity we have! Our hours and days can pass with a dribble of squandered moments, endlessly perusing social media and fretting over the news and markets, but there’s a better way... it’s what I call, the way of the bell....
William Faulkner was once asked if the secret to writing so prolifically was to have a set time for writing, or did he write only when inspiration strikes. He said, ”I only write when I’m inspired. Fortunately I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock”. Faulkner reveals what school teachers, musicians, authors, artists, parents, and monks the world over all know. We live into our calling most fully when we bring intentionality and scheduling to it.
Let’s say you want to use some of this “time you’ve been given”, which is a time of unusual, and unreal isolation and social distancing, to grow in intimacy with your creator. Here’s what you’ll need:
Practices that will become habits - In I Corinthians 9 Paul says that he “disciplines his body” out of his desire to fully live the life for which he’s created - a life of joy, service, wisdom, and hope. This good motivation leads to actual habits in the body that will, over time, move him closer and closer to his desired goal. In the same way that climbing a mountain or playing the cello require habits, so it is with our life in Christ. We don’t accidentally come to look like Jesus any more than we accidentally write a book. Christ is both the author and source of our transformation, in the same way that a seed is the source of fruit. Yet the soil matters too, and the soil is your soul; and you’re the farmer. Here are two important habits to care for the soil of your soul.
Bible Reading - What does it mean to be human? How can we discover the life for which we've been created? Why is there so much suffering in the world? What do I do with the pain in my life? Why is there beauty and ugliness; suffering and hope; joy and sorrow? There are a million theories, of course, but we stand in the tradition of faith that believes God has spoken, and that God is knowable, through God's revelations found in both creation, and God's text, the Bible.
We are shaped by God to the extent that we seek to both receive and respond to God's revelation. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Psalm 19, where the poet reflects on the vale of responding to God's revelation in the Bible:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The point, of course, isn't to 'study the Bible'. That's led to all sorts of trouble. The point is to know and love God. Reading the Bible, mysterious as it is, is simply a means to that end. I'd like to suggest that you give daily bible reading a chance during this 'time we've been given' and I'll show you in a few paragraphs how you can get a free resource to help you meet God daily in the Bible.
Prayer - there are many kinds of prayers, but the kind I focus on for the next six minutes or so is what the Bible calls ”prayers of intercession”. This is where we pray for other people by name, lifting them up to God and asking, either for specific things if we know the needs, or simply asking that the peace of Christ be upon them, or the blessing of Christ, or the strength of Christ, or whatever it is that we’re led to pray. Maybe you’ll keep a list of people to pray for... maybe you’ll just allow the spirit of God to bring people to your mind, which is what I do. Either way, the point is that we are moving outside of ourselves and our identity, and into our call to bless and serve others.
There’s an inhaling/exhaling pattern to this practice; receiving and giving; taking in and pouring out. This is beautiful because it corresponds with how the entire universe is structured. We receive life, we give it out. We inhale. We exhale. We serve and work. We rest and restore. Why not bring your spirit and body into accordance with the universe? After all, this is the true meaning of contemplation. The world comes from Latin: con-templari, which means to bring our lives here on earth into harmony with heavenly realities. We are learning to live by a universal rhythm and so bring our life into harmony with God’s universal order.
Bells - Bible reading and prayer, though, won’t happen accidentally. We’ll squander “the time we’ve been given” on trivialities every time unless, like the farmer caring for soil, we bring intentionality to the process. This is where a bell comes in handy. You had them in school, if you’ll recall. When they’d ring, they meant something: “Time for math” or “Time for lunch” or whatever. ”There’s a time for everything” is how the preacher put it in olden days, and it’s still true. In our addiction to personal freedom though, and our rebellion to “meaningless” liturgy, we often choose “authenticity” over “order”, which is a way of saying that unless we feel like doing something, we‘ll be inauthentic in our doing of it, so better to pass on by and wait ‘til another day when we feel inspiration.
Our reasoning sounds good, but isn’t. Nothing meaningful was ever built by someone who only engaged when they felt like it. In order to overcome this, monasteries, just like schools, have bells. One monk writes, “Bells are a great help in getting monks out of bed early....but the really important thing is that in a monastery we do things not when we feel like it, but when it is time. When the bell rings, the monk puts down his pen without crossing his “t” or dotting his “i”. Such is the asceticism of time. There are occasions when it is time for something, whether you like it or not...”.
I invite you to join me in the habits of meditation and prayer during the season of the global monastery. My companion Abby and I are offering, in conjunction with a team of other spiritual leaders, a daily spiritual practice intended to help you live into these life-giving rhythms. By clicking on this link you’ll be pointed to our brand new “global monastery” page. Once there you can join with others in receiving a live scripture reading and prayer each day during the week and be part of a global community hearing the word and praying together daily! If you’re not able to make it for the live moment, you’ll be able to access the material later, as it’s archived. These exercises are intended to be a holy interruption; a “bell” in the midst of your day and a time to (re)focus and align your heart and mind with God’s peace and purpose. Though we’re not able to be physically ‘together‘ during this season of the virus, we’re able to be together virtually - bound by our common pursuit of seeking God, so that we might both receive revelation and be fortified to serve as people of hope. Each week, we’ll be focusing on a theme together, beginning with the theme of solitude week one.
This time is disruptive, disorienting, anxiety inducing, and... potentially... a gift. If, that is, we "decide what to do with the time that is given" is to seek God together so that we can be shaped to live fully into our calling as people of hope in this world. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
Welcome to the monastery!