Spiritual Conditioning for a New Way

spiritual conditioningAlthough this series on spiritual gifts is drawing to a close with the end of Lent and celebration of Easter, our time with spiritual disciplines need not, and should not, be put on hold for another year.  Jesus’ time in the desert strengthened and conditioned him for his ministry.  His time in the desert had a purpose beyond time in the desert.  So, too, does our practice of spiritual disciplines have a purpose beyond the practice itself.

If you have taken the occasion of Lent to search yourself out and to identify the course corrections you need in your life journey, I am talking especially to you.  Searching yourself out isn’t easy, of course.  Especially if you’re honest.  I commend you for that.  Kudos.  If the product of your searching is to make life changes, an even greater challenge may lie ahead of you.  You may need spiritual conditioning now more than ever.

That’s where the rubber meets the road with spiritual disciplines.  They strengthen our spiritual condition so we’re able to act in a new way.  The tough hold sin has on us demands an equally a tough spiritual conditioning plan.  Our practice should be guided by the sins that threaten us most.  This table summarizes the spiritual gifts, that when distorted, manifest as the seven deadly sins.  It includes the spiritual disciplines of engagement that counteract sins of omission and the spiritual disciplines of abstinence that counteract sins of commission this blog has explored in recent weeks.

Spiritual Gift

Distorted Gift     (Deadly Sin)

Discipline of Engagement

Discipline of   Abstinence

Free Will

Greed

Prayer

Silence

Rest

Sloth

Study

Frugality

Sustenance

Gluttony

Celebration

Fasting

Embodiment

Envy

Service

Sacrifice

Justice

Wrath

Fellowship

Solitude

Bodily Love

Lust

Worship

Chastity

Self Love

Pride

Submission

Secrecy

The spiritual disciplines are supported by infinite grace, but like any physical conditioning program, they require planning and effort.  For someone blessed with a large family, solitude and silence don’t happen on their own.  They must be scheduled.  The more conscientious our planning effort, the more endurance and strength we will command in the moments we need them most.  There’s a scriptural basis for the physical conditioning analogy.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that distracts so easily, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Spiritual conditioning can be like a physical conditioning program in another way:  what at first seems onerous or arduous may grow into something enjoyable.   I wish you perseverance and joy on your journey into a new way of being.

Join the conversation.  What spiritual disciplines have helped you with the changes you needed most?

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Spiritual Gifts: Justice

reconciliation and forgiveness with shadow selfThere are a few questions I can count on when I do forgiveness workshops, whether I am working with church parishioners, teens or women in jail.  One is, “Do I have to tell wrongdoers I forgive them?”  Despite a genuine desire for forgiveness, there’s a part of us that wants to keep them on the hook.  Resentment is such a powerful idea, we want the ones who did us wrong to think they’re under a cloud of resentment even if they’re not.

One of the reasons forgiveness is difficult, and there are many, is that our sense of justice craves accountability.  People should be held accountable for their bad deeds.  If no one else is holding my wrongdoer to account, if it appears she is waltzing off scot free, then forgiveness challenges my sense of justice.  I may feel I deserve release from my own poisonous resentment, but he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.  I may want retribution for him but restoration for me.

Wrath—vengeful anger with a claim to retribution—is one of the seven deadly sins.  It’s what happens when our natural desire for justice veers towards retribution rather than restoration.  The spiritual disciplines of engagement and abstinence that bring our desire for justice into alignment with God’s will are fellowship and solitude.

In fellowship, we discover, are annoyed by, and eventually appreciate the great diversity of gifts and graces possessed by fellow souls.  Befriending others sustains the community, which in turn, sustains us.  The mutual care is an antidote against by-standing when justice demands we take a stand.  Moreover, when we endure irritations and aggravations, we discover just how nourishing the tokens of relationship can be—not despite our failings, but because of them, because God is present there.

In solitude, retreat from people allows us to appreciate them in new ways and to consider whether we treat them right or love them enough.  Retreat from secular influences and responsibilities inclines us to prioritize God’s will.  Creating space for solitude affords a perspective that reveals the primacy of relationship, though fraught with human frailties, because God is present there.

Reconciliation—whether between people, between groups of people, or within oneself—requires surrendering attachments in order to restore relationship.  Our most persistent attachments are our ideas about our own identity, but we can also have powerful attachments to anger and resentment, to ideas about who deserves what and to particular behavior patterns.  Anyone who has tried salvaging a relationship with an addict can attest to the wreckage visited on relationships due to the inability to surrender attachments to drugs or alcohol.  When I search myself in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation with God, I find ideas about myself that are past their expiration date.  They’re tough to surrender, even after I see they’re obstacles to my relationship with God and my own inner peace.

It takes spiritual conditioning to be able to recognize the primacy of relationship and, moreover, to have the spiritual fortitude to surrender attachments that get in the way.  The spiritual practices of fellowship and solitude can strengthen our spiritual condition.

Join the conversation.  What steers your conceptualization of justice towards retribution or towards restoration?

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.