I try to follow a daily spiritual discipline of some reading and prayer or meditation. After all these years, I am still surprised at how it does not come easy. Intentionality counts for so much. The minute I am no longer intentional about doing it is the moment I began to fail. For a long time, I thought I would outgrow that phase, but alas, I no longer think I will. In fact, I think I could join a monastery and still have to exercise some intentionality!
But maybe it is not so surprising after all. Perhaps most disciplines---spiritual or otherwise---require intentionality. Naively I think the master musicians and athletes just do their thing---no intentionality required. But actually I think that likely is not true. Discipline is required at any level for effective growth and development.
A key piece of the daily spiritual discipline is the lectionary. As I have often remarked, Quakers don’t normally know about, much less use, a lectionary. I would have been college, or maybe even graduate school, before I even knew what lectionary meant. The closest thing I would have known was the little Upper Room booklets that had readings. Those are lectionaries of sorts.
In my daily practice I use the lectionary from the Benedictine monasteries. It guides me through scripture readings, some formalized prayers (which I don’t always bother to bring into my discipline) and a hymn. I like being part of a real monastery, because then this stuff really comes to life. I like to chant the Psalms and join in the singing of the hymn. But I am not at a monastery too often, so I have to make do on my own. And that’s ok. It keeps me on track.
Today I turned to the lectionary and began the Morning Prayer. It actually is more than prayer. As I indicated, there is a hymn, some readings from the Psalms and formalized prayers. I am always ready to engage the Psalms. Again growing up Quaker meant that I seldom turned to the Psalms. Of course, everyone memorized the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…” But that was about it.
Today I commenced reading the initial Psalm of the day. It was the first lines of Psalm 101. The Psalmist says, “I will sing of kindness and justice—to you, Lord, will I sing.” The sentiment of this first verse resonated within my soul. Now I don’t sing too much; I don’t even think I have a very good singing voice. But I like to sing and wish I had more opportunity. I like that part of being with the monks; I get to sing with them. And I would love to join them to sing of kindness and justice.
Kindness and justice are two key themes of both Old and New Testaments. Jews and Christians alike would affirm the centrality of kindness and justice. But when I ponder those twin themes, I would have thought they would be reversed in sequence. I think that justice somehow precedes kindness. In fact, I think it safely can be said that the whole Christian Bible is a clarion call for justice in the world. If the believer cannot work for justice, then I am not sure he or she can really claim to be a disciple. The Hebrew Bible prophets and Jesus alike worked diligently to call all people to be just.
Justice is the heart of any worthwhile relationship. If I am not fair to you, then the relationship is in trouble. And if I were not fair to you, what would make me think God and I are on good terms? I think my relationship with God is only as good as my relationship with all of God’s children. And God’s child may be as near to me as the secretary or student sitting outside my door. Or God’s child may be as far away as the illiterate little Chinese kid somewhere in Mongolia. And the good news is I am God’s child, too. And you should be just to me, if you are a disciple.
Kindness is a different aspect of relationship. If I use the image of a meal, justice is the meat and potatoes of spirituality. And kindness is the appetizer and desert! If justice is being fair and treating people equally, then kindness is being nice and gracious. I love it when people are kind to me. It can make a bad day better and a good day sparkle.
Being kind takes care of many potential problems. Kindness can be disarming. Sometimes people prepare for the worst and kindness brings blessings. Kindness can turn snarls into smiles. Often kindness can be a prelude to peace.