Friday, November 21, 2008


Last post I talked about hiding in plain sight. Using religion to hide from God or, more accurately, to tame God and keep Him from changing you. I asked what, then, is the purpose of the outward disciplines of Christianity if they can be used to hide from God.

First, we must ask what the goal of the Christian life is. The goal of the Christian life is union with God - as the Eastern Orthodox call it, theosis. Athanasius said that God became man so that men might become gods. In baptism, God gives us a life qualitatively like His own. We are to grow in this new life and nurture it. This is what the disciplines of the Church are for. Centuries of Christians have found that we grow more in God's life when we discipline ourselves like athletes or soldiers (two images the Paul uses to describe the Christian life).

So, the disciplines are useful for growing as Christians. Cursillo taught me that the Christian life is based on three things - Piety, Study, and Apostolic Action. All three are necessary to life a Christian life.

So, if we are maintaining our discipline, how can we know when we are doing so to be closer to God or so that we can feel better about ourselve and resist God changing us?

I don't know that we can. As fallen creatures, our motovation is often (always?) mixed.

I remember about 8 years ago, I had just entered the discernment process. I had been very active in the Kairos prison ministry (and I still am). Each weekend, I got such a spiritual high that I couldn't wait till the next weekend. I was worried that I was becoming a "spiritual high junkie" and was involved in the ministry because of the great feelings I received and because of the praise of others when they found out I was involved in prison ministry. I brought this to the attention of my Spiritual Director and he ordered me to serve on a team, but ask the Rector (leader) of the team to assign me to a position where I was not that involved with the inmates or with the team. I did so and,while I enjoyed the weekend, I did not get that great spiritual high. When I came back my Spiritual Director asked me about the weekend and I told him it was OK, but a lot of work with little consolation. He asked me if I was planning on serving on other teams and I said that absoultely I would serve on other teams. He then told me to shut up about my motovations and leave that to God, but to continue to serve and to the work to which I had been called.

So, If you are concerned about your motovations for obeying the Christian disciplines, then my advice to you is to put that concern before God in prayer, meditation and contemplation. Let God worry about your motovation and continue in the discipline. But be aware. Opening your motovation to God and asking Him to purify you and your motovations can be very dangerous. You will end up changed and made new.

Phil Snyder

1 comment:

TLF+ said...

Great to have you back, Deacon Phil!

Bp. N.T. Wright's Lambeth talk, "The Bible and Tomorrow's World", has a great line about the discipline of the Daily Office:

"(The authority of Scripture) is of course nurtured by the straightforward but deeply powerful tradition of the daily offices, with the great narratives of scripture read through day by day, preferably on a lectio continua basis, so that 'living prayerfully within the story' is the most formative thing, next to the Eucharist itself, which Anglicans do."

We've lost much by rendering the Offices optional (especially for the clergy - just read the Preface to the 1549 BCP to see how far we've tumbled). Too many people talk about various "spiritual disciplines", and while these can be so helpful toward theosis , they will devolve into something less without steady engagement of the Scriptures.