As many of you know, I like to try to follow a daily discipline of some devotional time. No doubt, the key word is discipline. It is so tempting to define spirituality and the spiritual journey in a way that excludes discipline. It is easy to make spirituality the same thing as religion. For many Christians religion is a matter of belief---of doctrine. Certainly no Jew would begin with doctrine, nor would a Buddhist. On the other hand, the Christian tends to begin a discussion on religion with some kind of “I believe” statement.
I am not against belief. It is clear to me that one cannot really be spiritual without having some kind of belief. For many it will be a belief in God. This is not where the Buddhist would begin. I certainly have my own beliefs and, hopefully, some kind of coherent belief system. For example, what I think about God should correlate with how I think about the world.
Belief systems do not necessarily have an element like discipline. I am convinced that spirituality has to have an inherent discipline or it is just a bunch of ideas. Ideas are not bad; in fact, they are necessary. But spirituality has to do with life and life is more than ideas. Life is action---often sustained action over time. And this is where discipline typically comes into the picture.
So in my discipline practice, I turned to the readings from the Psalms that were listed for the night prayer in yesterday’s lectionary. The night prayer is called Compline, which seems to imply “complete.” Compline is the last monastic communal time before the monks head to their individual rooms and to bed to rest for another day. Compline is my favorite part of the daily lectionary.
I had to laugh when I read the first Psalm that was listed for yesterday’s Compline. Early in Psalm 143, the Psalmist shares these words: “The enemy has hounded my spirit, he has crushed my life to the ground, he has shut me in darkness, like the dead of long ago.” Wow, I thought, this is a bummer! These words sound like the Psalmist has had a bad day. That is when I laughed. I don’t think I have ever considered the writer of the Psalms had a bad day.
Too often religion and spirituality are offered as recipes for living so that people never will have bad days. Of course, that is ridiculous. Nobody can live life without having a bad day. Maybe in Eden, Adam and Eve never had a bad day. But then, we all know they had a bad day---a very bad day, indeed. They fell, or so the story goes. And on their bad day were sown the seeds of all the bad days all human beings apparently are destined to have.
Listen carefully to the bad day of the Psalmist. The first complaint is that the enemy has hounded my spirit. I can resonate with this. My “enemy” takes on many forms. My enemy might be a co-worker or unruly student. It might be the guy who runs into my car. My enemy can even be me! Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. I become overcommitted---too busy---and drive myself nuts. I do not even need an external enemy! All my enemies hound my spirit. They harass me relentlessly.
The second line from the Psalmist becomes even more dramatic: he has crushed my life to the ground. I understand that teenagers occasionally get grounded. But when the enemy grounds us, that is serious! This seems like the Psalmist is halted, stymied and impotent. Hope fades and things get bleaker. I have had bad days---and bad stretches---like that.
So what is one to do? Let me offer three simple suggestions. They are not necessarily easy, but they are simple. In the first place when you are having a bad day, keep your faith. And if you don’t have faith, find or create faith. It can be faith in God, which many of us have. But even if you can’t have faith in God, have faith in something bigger than yourself. Have a faith that transcends your person and your situation. Faith helps us not be egocentric. We are not god. Discover God.
Secondly, when you are having a bad day, stay with community. And if you don’t have a community, get to work to find or create community. Community is a place where people care for you and you are asked to care. To be part of community is to be part of a place that offers meaning and purpose. Latch on to the bigger picture that community provides. Again, it is not just about you.
Finally, when you have a bad day, persevere. Develop a quality of resiliency. Authentic spirituality enables people to develop a resiliency---a quality of “bounce back.” Resiliency means that one will not get stuck in the place the Psalmist describes: being shut in the darkness, like the dead. The dead are not resilient. You are not dead.
When you have a bad day, keep the faith, stay with community and be resilient.