I find it helpful to have a rhythm in my spiritual discipline. For one thing that helps me from getting stale in my practice. This was a major question of mine when I began taking the spiritual journey seriously in my college days. I wondered how people could “be at it” their entire lives. This was even before I knew anything about monks and the monastic life. For sure, I would have known how they could possibly do it.
Probably my wondering was rooted in an already too Americanized version of what it takes to have an interesting life. In the beginning it seemed like I was facing a choice: an interesting life vs. a spiritual life! If the choice is posed that way, it is not difficult to understand why most people would choose an interesting life! Or it is easy to understand why most of us would choose an interesting life until we are old or sick. And then we naturally shift to the spiritual life! Nothing like a move of desperation to drive us to God!
Of course this is a false choice. But if we are ignorant of the meaning of the spiritual journey, it will always seem like a poor choice to an interesting life. At least my stereotype of the spiritual life was one imbued with too much seriousness, too little fun, hardly any adventure and friends that were not able to make it in more relevant ways in life. Opting for the spiritual was not a bad choice, but quite frankly it was seemingly a sad choice.
And then a funny thing happened. I started feeling pulled by the Spirit. Instead of needing the Spirit, I felt like I wanted it. I began to have a sense that my own life would not make as much sense if I lived it on my own. I had a sense that there was a “more” to life and that “more” was directly tied to the Spirit of God. Instead of being a sad choice to an otherwise interesting life, I realized not to opt for the spiritual journey would be stupid.
I am many things, but stupid I am not! So in those college days I began those tentative steps onto the spiritual path. I did not know what I was doing; I had no roadmap. But I knew in my heart this was an important thing to do. And along the way, I began to become aware that having begun the spiritual journey did not mean I had to give up an interesting life. I could have both!
I am getting older and still am trying to choose both: spiritual life and an interesting life. I hope I am getting a bit wiser in the process. At least I am still “at it.” I am still after the “more” that I know is a fruit of the spiritual process. And serendipitously, I often wind up getting “more” out of the interesting life that I am pursuing. I feel like I am in a pleasant place of compounding interest!
To keep “at it” spiritually speaking means that discipline is embraced as a source of vitality rather than drudgery. I now understand why the monks go about life the way they do. Their discipline and way of life are not guarantees of spiritual success. But those two words probably should not be used together. Spirituality is not about success. It is about connection, communication and communion. Discipline guides and feeds this process. I have gotten that much wisdom.
So last night when I was reading the words from the litany for Compline (Night Prayer), I was pleased to hit upon these words from Psalm 16. I resonated with the Psalmist when I read, “I will bless the Lord who gave me understanding; even in the night my heart will teach me wisdom.” (16:7) Another translation says “in the night also my heart instructs me.” I like both ideas: wisdom and instruction. In Hebrew it is the same word, but I like both options to understand spiritually what can happen at night.
Then I laughed because I caught myself assuming something. I read night and immediately thought about sleep. I wondered how I could be given wisdom or instruction while I am asleep? Dreams, I wondered? But it hit me. Why do I assume that night has to mean being asleep?
I have decided to interpret the line from the Psalm to fit my own situation right now. During the day the Lord gives me understanding. I am thankful for that. At night my heart will teach me wisdom. At night my heart instructs me. Right now I want to take that to mean I will take some time at night (my Compline time) to allow God’s understanding to be distilled into wisdom.
I like the image of fermentation. At night as I ease into rest, I will allow the fermenting of the day’s learning and understanding to become wisdom. Perhaps the wisdom is the key to the “more” I sensed was possible at the beginning of my spiritual journey. No wonder it takes so much time. I am glad I did not wait until I am old or sick!