From the Psalms:
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 16:8-9 (BCP Version) – October 19, 2012)
Heart, spirit, body. These two verses speak to me of the necessary investment of one’s whole self, the whole person, into the spiritual and religious life. One of the most influential lay theologians of the middle 20th Century, William Stringfellow wrote: “Spiritual maturity or spiritual fulfillment necessarily involves the whole person – body, mind and soul, place, relationships – in connection with the whole of creation throughout the era of time . . . . Spirituality encompasses the whole person in the totality of existence in the world, not some fragment or scrap or incident of a person.” (The Politics of Spirituality, Westminster John Knox: 1984, p. 22) If Stringfellow is right, and I think he is, then a plan for spiritual growth should follow the Psalmist example and “set the Lord always before” the person seeking to grow. Always . . . not just an hour or so on Sunday morning.
Consider all the areas of life in which a modern person lives, all the activities that fill our days, all the commitments to self and others that we juggle: marriage (or other significant relationship), family (nuclear and extended), friends and coworkers, employment, finances, health, entertainment, volunteer service . . . everyone who makes such a list creates different or additional categories, but the point is that life is (always has been) a bundle of stuff. However one subsections one’s life, there are going to be one or two areas that are just wonderful, and one or two areas that aren’t so good; there are parts of our lives that fill us spiritually and other parts that drain us. Good spiritual practice attends to both sorts of life activities.
Some questions I ask myself on a regular basis are: What has been going well? What hasn’t? What can I do to pour-over the strengthening aspects of the fulfilling areas of life into those that are draining? What are some achieveable goals for filling up those less-than-rewarding aspects? Who is speaking in these areas of my life? Is God? Who else needs to join the conversation?
That last one for me is a big one. The Psalmist said, “Because God is at my right hand I shall not fall.” I often wonder how he knew that. The only way I know that God is present with me is through the presence of other people. For me the presence of God is mediated through the community of faith. In his first catholic epistle, St. John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 Jn 4:12-13) I only know that God is at my side when God is there in the presence of a brother or sister in Christ. So the question of who else should be engaged in my spiritual conversation is very important.
The gospel lesson for today is St. Luke’s story of the Transfiguration. Having seen Jesus transformed, Peter, James, and John are overshadowed by a cloud from which they hear a voice say, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” (Lk 9:35) That doesn’t happen to most of us very often, if at all. But Christ does come to each of us through those around us; we should engage him in conversation and listen to him. Only in that way will we be assured, like the Psalmist, that God is at our right hand.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.