Public and private commitments...

On and off over the past month - and certainly on and off for the past 20+ years - I've been having an irregular conversation with church people about the difference between public and private spiritual commitments.  It began when a once active worship member in Tucson said to me, "There isn't enough quiet, alone time for me in worship anymore."  Being a smart-ass in recovery I said, "Well, when you come to Protestant worship, you AREN'T alone... so what's the problem?"  To which she said, "I need more quiet time given the frantic pace of my life."  And I said, "Do you practice quiet time at home?  Do you have a regular discipline of intimate and personal prayer during the week."  And when she said no, I encouraged her to nourish that private commitment - and then added:  "You can't expect 60 minutes of Sunday worship to give you what you won't claim for yourself the rest of the week."  That pissed her off and she rarely came back.

My goal was not to piss her off, but to point out three inter-related truths:  1) there is a difference between our public and private spiritualities; 2) without a private commitment to contemplation public worship will often feel incomplete; and 3) without a public encounter with the wider Body of Christ our private meditations can become self-important and too comfortable.  We need both - the public and the private - to live into the promise of God's grace. 

This came up again last week in a discussion about helping children learn to worship when a parent said, "Sometimes there isn't enough quiet time for some of us in our current worship."  And that is probably true and needs to be tweaked, but it is also true that most of us don't make much quiet time for ourselves and God during the week as well. (reread my three points above... In an era that is over-scheduled and stressed out, attention to the inner journey is essential.

So when my friend, Black Pete, recently noted that the four spiritual practices I had written about yesterday did not include self-care and love I wondered if my old conversation was returning in another form.  But upon deeper reflection I think Pete got it right because unless self-care is part of our public spiritual commitment, there is no accountability for our private spiritualities.   No wonder the Rule of Life at Iona - and many other monastic communities - stress:

1) Daily prayer and Bible reading (time alone for quiet)
2) Sharing and accounting for the use of our resources (self-care and community care)
3) Planning and accounting for the use of our time (self and community care)
4) Action for Peace and Justice in the world (public)
5) Personal spiritual direction (private)

So in addition to the four practices of expressing gratitude, keeping promises, living truthfully and offering hospitality perhaps we should add nourishing salvation (noting that the root salve means health with spiritual and physical connotations.)  Hmmmm... more to consider, yes?


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