Thursday, October 16, 2014

Checklist Spirituality

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

St Theresa of Avila writes about prayer using the metaphor of watering the garden of the soul. She writes about different ways water can get to the garden. From a well, from an irrigation channel, or from the garden being located next to the river. (And from the rain...which we're not mentioning this week ion the service.)

Digging wells, and irrigation ditches both feel like a lot of effort. Carrying buckets of water is back breaking work. Theresa's third illustration is of the garden being next to the river. No work needs to be involved because the roots of the plants can grow deep down into the soil and receive water that way.

The only effort involved is the natural process of growing roots.

This can be an encouragement and a challenge.

An encouragement because there are times when spiritual disciplines can be exhausting. I want to nurture my soul, but prayer feels unobtainable and my bible seems to be welded shut. Knowing that at some place in the depths of my life, I have roots that still draw from the water of life, gives me strength to make it though those times that feel 'dry'.

A challenge because being rooted to the source means I no longer can have a Checklist Spirituality. The hard work of digging wells and irrigation ditches, the drudgery of carrying daily buckets of water, all give me a to do list and a sense of achievement when I'm done. Praying for other people can feel a lot easier than simply allowing myself to rest in God's presence - resting feels like I'm not doing anything.

Inside each of us there is a place where our roots go deep into the living water of God. Our work is trusting that our roots will draw the nurture we need.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Well and the Water

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

When I was a child I was remember watching an Episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World that was all about water dowsing. It fascinated me so much that I made my own dowsing rods out of a spare wire coat hanger and walked around the back garden for hours. I never dug any holes by Mom's rose bushes, but I was captivated by the idea that somebody could walk around and tell you where to dig for water.

Much of my early spiritual life feels like that. I would listen to Experts telling me where I should 'dig' for Living Water. Whether it was retreats, books, revivals, preachers, denominations, particular practices, I would listen to the expert tell me how they had encountered God and then rush out and try and duplicate the experience in my life.

Most of the time I failed, or if I didn't fail, the results didn't last.

Of course when I didn't find water, I blamed myself, the 'expert' couldn't possibly be wrong. I misinterpreted what they said, I didn't pray hard enough, I had un-confessed sin that God was punishing me for etc.

I remember a Charlie Brown cartoon from when I was a kid. Linus was praying and trying to work out how to hold his hands like an antenna to get the best 'reception' from God. It seems funny to me now, but that is very much what I was doing.

I've come to realize that my interior landscape is as unique as my fingerprints. Other people can give me guidelines about where to dig wells to find living water, but they cannot speak with any certainty. I need to learn to trust my own spiritual intuition.

Digging wells is exhausting work. When it doesn't lead to water it is disheartening it causes me to doubt my own ability to hear God's voice. And there are other subtle traps I've noticed as well.

Somehow I've gotten it into my head that if I am digging in the correct spot it should be easy to connect to God. That living water will just flow naturally and effortlessly into my life. Digging wells doesn't work like that...and neither does my relationship with God. Sometimes it is back breaking work for me to connect with God. Every fiber of my being wants to stop digging, and it's only as I persist that I push through the ground to connect to living water again.

And sometimes, wells dry up.

I can get very attached to the location of a well. Particular practices that pour living water into me do not work for ever. I remember revisiting a book that was very meaningful to me at one time in my life. When I reread it 10 years later I couldn't work out what I saw in it.

Certain prayer practices work for me for a while and then they go dry.

Not all wells last forever.

The temptation for me here is I confuse the Well with the Water. I think because the well is gone, that the water is gone too.  The Well is not the Source, it is just how I access the source.

I'm learning to develop a nomadic spirituality. One that isn't afraid to trust that God will lead me to new sources of water.

For Reflection:

What wells do you currently have in your life? Where do you access living water?
Where might you be being called to dig somewhere new?