a spirituality of tenderness - part 7...

NOTE: Today I return to my exploration of a spirituality of tenderness with yet another amplification of what I mean by "the practices of this spirituality" before offering some concrete examples. 

My understanding of spiritual practices – what some call spiritual disciplines or even our
various commitments to Christian formation – have been shaped by three resources:  the Rule of St. Benedict, the “spiritual literacy” project of Frederic and Mary Ann Brussult and my experience with Centering Prayer as taught by Fr. Thomas Keating.  Each of these contemplative traditions emphasize a simple truth: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, body and soul requires the practice of repentance.

+  Literally repentance in the Hebrew Bible is the unity of returning (to the way of the Lord) (שוב - shuv) and experiencing a sense of solidarity with others for the wounds we have caused (נחםnacham.) It implies a change of direction in how we live, move, think, feel and speak. One text, Judges 2:18, speaks of God having a change of heart upon hearing the groans of Israel in suffering. Other texts include: Psalm 71 and Isaiah 40: 

Comfort, O comfort my people says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

+ In the Greek texts of the Christian tradition, repentance comes from the word metanoia (μετάνοια) having to do with a changed mind. That is, we have a new way of thinking. Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms, likes to clarify that metanoia is to the human mind what metamorphosis is to an insect or reptile:  a complete transformation of the being that is both more beautiful and more complete.  Consider Matthew 3:8:  “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Or Luke 24:47:

Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Both traditions insist that living into the tenderness of God’s love – and making this tenderness flesh in our generation – requires a change of direction in our daily lives and a transformation of the way we think and feel. That is, repentance demands both the grace born of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, and, a personal commitment to living into a new way of being.  Fr. Richard Rohr likes to say that too often Christians act like faith is only an abstract, intellectual set of truths to be considered rather than a transformation of our entire being. He writes: "What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead an emphasis upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), your consciousness will gradually change… We don't think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking." He goes on to observe that:

The genuinely new or different is always a threat to the small self. Unless there is something strong enough to rearrange our worldview, call our assumptions into question, and also engage our heart and body ("at the cellular level," as I like to call it), we will seldom move to new interior or exterior places. God has a hard time getting us to join Abraham and Sarah in "leaving your country and your family for a new land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1-2). Yet that is our foundational paradigm for the journey of faith.

The Dalai Lama said it well: "Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart." I would add: "Every change of heart is soon a change of mind." This is the urgently needed work of mature spirituality. Perhaps this seems strange coming from someone who writes and talks as much as I do, but my experience as a teacher has led me to this conclusion. Many folks over the years, even very good-willed people, have read and listened to my presentations of the Gospel yet have actually done very little--in terms of lifestyle changes, economic or political rearrangements, or naming their own ego or shadow selves. After all, "Isn't church about believing ideas to be true or false? Isn't religion about attending services?" Most people just listen to my ideas and judge them to be true or false. They either "like" or "don't like" them. But thinking about ideas or making judgments about what is moral or immoral seldom leads to a radically new consciousness. Transformative education is not asking you to believe or disbelieve in any doctrines or dogmas. Rather it is challenging you to "Try this!" Then you will know something to be true or false for yourself.

This is a call to repentance – contemplation AND action, giving AND receiving, birthing AND dying – it is an embodied change in the direction that simultaneously nourishes an altered, counter-cultural presence in the world and makes us whole.  


Anonymous said…
Thankfull heart is a fortable heaven which you bring everywhere

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