Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Reflection on the True Self

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)

"The false self is the cause of spiritual retardation; it conceals the fundamental experience of being created in the image and likeness of God." - Thomas Keating

As we continue on this journey that is the spiritual life, I am convinced that we begin to find our true selves. Finding oneself is not akin to finding a lost set of keys; in fact, it is a lifelong process, that can only truly be possible through a relationship with our Creator. We have been born into and spent our lives in sin, alienated even from ourselves and the image of God in which we were created, having built great fortresses of lies and unnatural dependencies that hinder us from seeing ourselves, others, and God clearly. We sometimes find our worth, our "selves," in our relationships with others, our jobs or callings, our money or possessions, or hosts of other places. But true identity and security can only be found in God.

God himself lives in us, and we begin to, by His grace, put on our new self, our true self, which is "like God." Christian experience is not merely negative; we pick up the cross not as an end in itself, but so that we might be resurrected with Christ. The end of Christianity is not death, but life. Let us not become merely spiritual masochists in our desires to "crucify the flesh." It seems egotistical or heretical to think of any good thing within oneself, but it is not ourselves, but God in us. And it would also seem selfish to want to find our true selves, yet as we find ourselves in God, we become not selfish but more humble and caring.

God creates nothing without purpose--no less for you and me--and this we must strive to find in Him. Allow the Light of God to penetrate the false selves we've spent our whole lives building and show them to be nothing more than misguided ideas and misplaced affections. Paradoxically, as we grow closer to God, we grow closer to ourselves; and one who has found her true self and trusts only in God for her identity has finally delighted in perfect and selfless worship of the Almighty.

-John Orzechowski

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Rule of Our Community: A Way for Living

Our community is a non-geographical Christian fellowship in which we seek to support one another in our individual families, churches, and daily work. It is not a church itself, but seeks to support the work of the church of Jesus Christ and the growth of God’s Kingdom. We seek to live as a “community without walls,” living among other believers and among unbelievers in such a way that the life of God in our lives can be seen and engaged.

We see our rule of life simply as a set of activities that facilitates spiritual development and practice. The Latin term is regula, which does not have some of the negative connotations of the English word rule. A rule “regulates” or orients your life the way you want to live. It should be something you yearn to do. It is a means of growth and meaningful expression, not a straitjacket.

The rule of our community is organized around three core spiritual practices: Contemplative Prayer, Praying the Scriptures, and Spiritual Dialogue. While numerous other spiritual disciplines—attendance at Worship, Bible Study, Christian Service, etc.—are valuable and necessary, and while we as individuals definitely practice other key spiritual disciplines, for us these three practices are core aspects of practicing our faith that identify us as a community. Through the regular practice of them we seek to develop a stable in-depth awareness of and responsiveness to God and others.

Contemplative Prayer: By Contemplative Prayer we mean a regular practice of silent, meditative prayer that is present and open to God beyond thoughts, words, emotions, and images. We believe this kind of prayer is an exercise in pure faith. It is practice in making God the center of our lives. It does not replace other kinds of prayer—praise, intercession, petition, etc.—but it helps to develop a depth of awareness and purity of heart for the practice of other kinds of prayer and for life. Examples of Contemplative Prayer practices include Centering, the Jesus Prayer, and Christian Meditation.

Praying the Scriptures: This approach to the Scriptures and prayer seeks to be fully open and present to the Scriptures, to the Spirit, and to one another. For small group practice we have adapted an approach from the ancient individual one of Lectio Divina. In our practice, a passage of Scripture or other spiritual writing is read aloud a total of four times. After the first three, we allow a minute of silence and then respond in a different way after each reading: (1) identifying a word or phrase that stands out to us, (2) sharing a brief personal reflection in response to the reading, and (3) giving expression to a simple prayer that arises in our hearts to the reading. Finally (4) we sit in silence for 3-5 minutes seeking to commune with the Spirit who speaks through the Scriptures. This practice involves intentional, skillful humility and vulnerability.

Spiritual Dialogue: By spiritual dialogue we mean dialogue that is radically open to God and to one another. It is dialogue that does not try to get things done but instead seeks to be fully present to one another and to God in the present moment, to the unfolding of his life in our lives in the present moment. While we desire to bring this kind of dynamic into our everyday lives, we set aside special times with one another for this practice, recognizing that much of life does require getting things done. This practice also involves intentional, skillful humility and vulnerability.

In regard to these three practices, we recognize that the daily dynamics of ordinary life are the proving place of their validity and value. The proof is our growth in manifesting the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in everyday life. We seek to live a life that is grounded in the unfolding action of the Spirit and that is an expression of the Spirit’s action, a life that says yes to availability and vulnerability to God and to others.

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