Saturday, June 28, 2003

Some additional impressions

The highlight of the week for me was making new friendships and deepening others. As we debriefed on Friday morning, I expressed my appreciation to my classmates. As always, I learned as much from their keen observations (and frequent objections to my assertions) as I did from the texts and the instructor. They all participated with enthusiasm and helped me think about things in new ways. I love being in small groups like that, where you can really engage with each other and the instructor.

I think that one stereotype we might have about monks is that they are introverts. For the most part I think this is a fairly accurate perception. That is not to say that they are unfriendly or that this is a negative thing. I just think that many of them are a little shy. But once you get to know them, they are exceptionally warm and interesting. I liked ever monk I met.

Another highlight was a great talk I had with my friend Trish. We talked in depth about the things going on and after being in class together for 9 months, the talk really deepened our friendship. She's an extraordinary person and her family is so lucky to have her as part of their lives -- and she sure does love them!

One of the junior monks, Brother Gregory, and I got to be good friends as well. We had a few nice talks. It was a pleasant reminder that in spite of a few theological differences, Christians all have a lot in common. It's like our religious DNA is 99.5% exactly the same, and the .5% of difference, while enough to justify different denominations, is relatively inconsequential.

Clearing a few things up

I realized that I may have unintentionally misled you on a few things.

1) I slept in the student dorms, not the monastery. So the bed I was complaining about was not a bed that a monk would sleep in. From what I understand, they have regular, comfortable beds. The junior monks, however, are required to sleep on beds of nails.

Not really.

I don't know if I mentioned that the living space of the monks is not available to the public. So I never actually saw their beds or where they lived. There is a point past which only monks can pass. I forgot to ask about the origin of that custom, since it is not in the rule. If anyone knows (Brother Gregory or Father Theodore?), please email me and I'll post it.

2) While the rule of Benedict calls for all 150 Psalms to be recited in the course of a week, not all monasteries follow this strictly. St. Gregory's does all 150 Psalms over a two week period. There is a new monastery in Clear Creek, OK that does all 150 in a week -- they were recently settled by Benedictines from France. The term the monks use for this practice is "primitive". We might think of it as more like Protestant fundamentalism. Even within monasticism (or maybe, especially within monasticism) there is a constant tension between following the original rule and adjusting it to the situation. There have been plenty of monasteries founded with a more primitive approach as the result of some monks being dissatisfied with what they find to be unnecessary accomadations to the rule.

Benedictine handbook

St. Gregory's has a program for oblates (people who live the Benedictine life outside of the monastery), and a worship handbook they can use to conduct the Benedictine rhythm of prayer on their own. I bought a few copies, one for home, one for the office, and one to loan out to anyone who might be interested. It doesn't have the musical notation that the worship guide at the monastery does, which means that you get to make up the chants as you go. :) It basically has Lauds and Vespers for each day of the week. So Vigils (the first set of prayers) and the mid-day prayers are left out. There is a nightly Compline that can be used.

Anyway, if you are interested, I'll be happy to show you how it works.

Back safely

I made the 480 mile journey back in about 7.5 hours. Got home in time to unload all my stuff and drive back north for my game, which we won 2-1. Didn't reinjure my ribs either, though they continue to be sore.

Right now I have two dogs passed out on the floor next to me. My friends who kept Viktor all week, Shane and Alison, left their boxer, Bailey, with me for the day. Viktor, I think, was not too happy with me last night, he wasn't affectionate at all. Today he seems to be back to his normal self -- he went outside while I mowed the lawn.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

A beautiful day

It was a stunning day here. It rained last night and a cold front came through behind it. I actually wore a sweatshirt all day today. After Vespers the sky was splendidly clear and the temperature was cool and the wind was blowing through the trees. It was just about heaven on earth.

So this is probably my last entry until Saturday. I'll get up, pack, go to Vigils and Lauds, and leave around 10 or 11. I'm hoping to make it back for a 7:30 soccer game. I'm not likely to post anything tomorrow. I'm hoping my friend Trish will send me something to post about the tour she took the other night -- I want to share it with everyone.

On Saturday I may wrap things up, but I'm thinking about keeping this going -- though I have no idea what I'll write about or if anyone would even care. I hope this has been a blessing to you, I've enjoyed writing it and there's no way I would have been able to explain it to everyone if I had to just tell you about it all at once.

I miss home, my dog, my friends, and work. And I REALLY miss my bed. I hope to see or talk to all of you soon! God bless you all!

The how, the how much, the what, and the who

Well below this paragraph I wrote something on the importance of how things are done, versus how much is done. In our discussion today, Dr. Schmidt said that another way of looking at it from the monastic perspective is the difference between what we do and who we are. Many of us are defined by what we do. The monastic approach is to be who you are, and what you do will flow from that. So the Benedictine way of working is not to separate work from spiritual life, but to let work flow from that.

I think that is probably a better way of defining it than my earlier attempts.

The robe of the other

As I think you all know, the monks wear black robes. They wear them to the prayer services and to the meals and other times as they wish (I'm sure there are a few other rules about the when and were of robes, but that's a basic overview). I found out today that monks in the tropics wear white robes because of the heat.

Anyway, I was thinking about how the robes both serve as a way of not calling attention to the monk and calling attention to the monk at the same time. An analogous example is the tuxedo. The purpose of a tuxedo is not to call attention to the gentleman, but to put the focus squarely where it should be -- on his beautiful date. All tuxedos basically look the same so that the men are unimportant and uninteresting, while the women are God's gifts to the world. The robes of the monk also serve some of that same function. There is no way for the monk to call attention to himself by wearing something extravagant or overly interesting -- he looks like all of his brothers and our attention is to be focused on their lover -- the Eternal Lover, God.

On the other hand, in today's society, the robes are so out of the ordinary that they are almost exotic. My guess is that the monks get a lot of stares when they wear their robes outside of the monastery. There is an inherent sense of "otherness" that comes with donning the Benedictine robes, and it may help the monk remember that he is somewhat separated from the rest of the world. I wonder if that sense of "otherness" makes the monks more effective ministers to those in our society who aren't a part of it themselves -- the poor, the disabled, the oppressed. Those people who are excluded from mainstream society may be better understood by those who are also on the borders of our society.

On the length of prayer

If you look at rule 20 in the Rule of Benedict, you'll run into this gem:

"Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short..."

I think that one speaks for itself.

The Monk Cup

So today a couple of the junior monks from Korea (they are part of a monastery in New Jersey) organized a soccer game. I got out there about an hour late (that whole class thing, you know), but was able to play for about 45 minutes or so and then I ran some windsprints. My friend Trish was really hoping that they'd play in their robes, but they were in shorts and t-shirts like anyone else would be. We had a lot of fun and as always I learn a lot about someone by competing with them and against them. They are good guys, all of them.

Last Friday night I had a pretty bad collision in my game and have had bruised ribs all week. I made contact again today and stung pretty bad. So if you see me over the next couple of days, please don't make me laugh.

I mentioned that after playing I ran some windsprints. As I was running them, I was thinking about my teammates in Galveston. We run together after practice as a way of improving our team fitness. It occurred to me that running the windsprints alone was a lot more difficult than running them in a group -- not physically, because my body is the same, but emotionally. It's just harder to do it by yourself. I think that Benedict understood this principle in putting together his rule for monasticism. Spiritual growth is incredibly difficult to do by yourself, but having brothers makes it more likely to happen.

The paradox of spiritual growth is that it something you do by yourself, but you don't do alone.

Final journal assignment

My final assignment is to compare what I’ve learned in the last few days against my original assumptions. Then I’m to talk about one thing that I’ve learned and discuss how I will use it to modify my spiritual life.

I hope that my many other posts have addressed the reality of monastic life in useful ways, at least as much reality as I can observe in just a few short days. I think I can sum up my experience of the monks in a short phrase: they’re human. They are like you and me – they love, they hurt, they are generous, they are selfish, they are obedient, they are rebellious, they crave affection, they crave solitude, they are self-sacrificing, they are self absorbed, and so on. Perhaps the difference is that the structure of monastic life and the reality of God create a heightened awareness within each monk of who he is.

Dr. Schmidt is fond of saying that it is spiritually perverse in the extreme to think that what God wants is not you. The prayer life, the work life, the community life and the solitary life of the Benedictines forces each monk to deal with who he is and who God made him to be. Benedictine life gently lets each monk, in relationship with God and others, shape his life into the form that God meant it to be. There is not any one thing that can be pointed to as the source of this formation, for if you took any one of the elements out, the rest would be useless. It is balance that is the key and the balancing point, the fulcrum, the center of the circle, is God.

We want to think of monks as especially holy or sanctimonious in some way, but when we do that we run the risk of denying their basic humanity and our own holiness. We are just like them. What makes a monk special is not the rule or even the life he leads, it is God. Likewise, we too are created by God in God’s image. There is little that happens here that cannot be replicated in ordinary life. However, God clearly calls some people to this type of life, just as he calls others to what we think is a normal life. We can all make time for community, for prayer, for work, and for silence. But like monks, it works best when it is done in the covenant of relationships – otherwise we run the risk of self-absorption (or really long journals!).

Of course monks are human. And if the Rule of Benedict forced them to act in ways that denied their basic humanity, instead of embracing their humanity in faith, it would not have lasted long at all. The human spirit, given to us by God, resists all external attempts at restriction.

So, having observed and participated in all of this, what’s next? As I expected, when I return, I won’t be noticeably different. This week, the rule, this experience, may serve as a catalyst for change in my life. But monasticism isn’t meant to produce dramatic, immediate change. Rather, it is like slowly polishing the diamond of the soul, one facet at a time, so that our souls can reflect the light of God.

If I were to choose one area where I think I’ll try and integrate Benedictine spirituality into my life, it will be at work. I initially thought that this week was going to be about prayer for me, but I think it has really made me think more about being prayerful in everything – prayer as a "stance" more than an activity. I’ve been thinking that perhaps I can find time during the work day to say one or two of the Psalms, as a way of reminding me of my need to approach my work prayerfully. I need to find God in what I do now, not postpone it until later in my life, as if He doesn’t have a presence at UTMB.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Living with rules

We don't like rules. Rules restrict us. Rules limit us. Rules take away our freedom. Rules hamper our creativity. Rules keep us from living up to our potential.

At least, that's what our society teaches and it's what we'd like to believe.

But the Benedictine life, driven by a list of 73 rules, gives evidence that rules, rightly applied, can give life, can develop potential, can make room for creativity.

The reality of life is that many of us operate under our own set of rules, its just that we never write them down. Our rules are based on our assumptions of the way the world works. Hard work is always rewarded. Being married will make us happy. Loving God will prevent us from suffering. Slow drivers should stay in the right hand lane. The Chicago Cubs will never win the World Series. Whatever I want is what I should get. Power is success. And so on.

I bet that if you wrote down a list of the assumptions and rules you use to run your life, you'd probably come up with a list of 73 yourself. Like for me, I almost always do laundry on Sundays. And I always wash dishes before I go to bed. I walk my dog most mornings. I read the Bible daily. Heck, I know lots of people who essentially have a rule for getting ready in the morning, because they do the same things in the same order every morning. So we all have a rule of life.

Have you ever seen any of Picasso's early art? As you know, he was the great master of the 20th century and one of the masters of Cubism. If you looked at his Cubist works, you'd think that this is a guy who didn't care about the rules of painting at all. But if you see his early work, you'll realize that he was a technically gifted drawer/painter. His non-Cubist paintings reveal that he had mastered the rules of painting. He understood painting so intimately because of his mastery of the fundamentals and his internalization of the rules of art. Only then was he really able to let his creative genius explode in ways in that turned the art world on its head. His mastery of the rules allowed him to be enormously creative.

I personally experience the freedom of communal rules on the soccer field. I know exactly what is allowed and not allowed. I know there are certain things I can do and can't do (or at least I'll be penalized for doing). And so do my opponents. These shared rules allow me the freedom to play without having to worry about whether everyone else is playing by the same rules. The rules allow me to concentrate on the task at hand, to be as creative as my limited skills allow. In fact, most of the anger and anxiety on a soccer field comes when the referee seems to be applying a different set of rules to one team or the other.

So are rules of life bad? If they are meant to control and limit, then likely the answer is yes. But rules that allow us to concentrate on our creativity and our passion, rules that make space for true freedom, those rules can be an amazing source of positive energy.

Monks of the 80s

So most of our meals have been spent with those of us here from SMU sitting away from most of the monks. Tonight we mixed in with more of them. I sat and talked with three of them and would you like to know what the topic of conversation was? Theology? Worship? Monasticism?

No way!

Actually we talked about our favorite bands and since most of us are around the same age, we talked about groups like the Police, U2, New Order, etc.. One of the monks mentioned that he thought a lot of contemporary Christian music wasn't all that good, though he liked a few of the artists. One more blow against the idea that these guys don't have fun and aren't interested in the same things as everyone else. They live in the same world we do, they just acknowledge a rule that is bigger than them.

We are all Marcionites

One of the earliest church heretics was a guy named Marcion. In a nutshell, his heresy was that he believed that the God of the Old Testament – Yahweh – was not the same God as the one in the New Testament. He believed that the Old Testament God was too barbaric to be associated with the life of Christ. Of course, the danger of this is that since Jesus claimed to be the son of that divine Old Testament God, Marcion’s teachings jeopardized the foundation of the Christian witness. He was chased out of the church.

What is interesting is how rarely most modern Christians use the Old Testament in expanding their relationship with God. We share Marcion’s squeamishness with the God portrayed in the Old Testament. And what we do choose to use from the Old Testament is often the non-difficult stuff. We have become functional Marcionites, even if our theology is officially different.

One of the things that impresses me about Benedictine worship is that it forces the monks to confront the reality of the Old Testament. There is no escaping the Psalms, the books of Kings, Genesis, or any of the other difficult books of the Bible. There is, of course, also much that comes from the New Testament – we spent all of yesterday focusing on John the Baptist. But still, I think the Benedictines are blessed with a more well-rounded sense of God through their constant exposure to the Psalms. It certainly does not make things easier, because God as revealed in the Old Testament is a lot more difficult to understand than God as revealed through Christ (not that that is a picnic). But the point all of this isn't ease, it's growth in relationship with God through Christ. If it was easy, it wouldn't be worth having.

The how

Related to the work discussion is the idea about how we do our work. One of my classmates talked about how important it was for others to perceive her as hard working. I think that we often get caught up in trying to impress people with how much we work and how much we get accomplished. It seems that the monks would take the “much” out of the equation. That is, what is really important is how we do our work. If we get a lot done, but do it in destructive ways that foster division rather than connection, then the “much” doesn’t matter. If we approach each task as something to be done well, to be done reverently, to be mastered, to be done as if God was watching us, then the how matters. What is amazing is how very productive these monks are, not because they are worried about the how much, but because they are interested in the how.

One of the most striking things about the monks is how extraordinarily passionate they are about what they do outside of the prayer services. Father Paul has an amazing passion for helping developmentally challenged children. Father Theodore has an obvious passion for teaching and students. Brother Isidore has a passion for hippotherapy (using horses to help patients). For them there is no separation between their work and their spiritual life – it is the same. And so they put the same prayerful, aware attitude into everything they do.

The how matters.

Journal assignment #4

There are four sections for tonight’s journal assignment: 1) Do you listen for God where you work? 2) In what concrete ways do you assume that responsibility? 3) If your answer to the first question is “no,” explain why? and 4) Drawing on your answers, how would you evaluate your experience? How could you improve it?

What is especially funny about this assignment is that I sent a link to this journal to my boss last night! Little did I know that work would be the focus of tonight’s journal. But I am committed to being honest, so here we go! If my resume is posted on this site next week, you’ll know what happened!

Seriously. The Benedictine motto is “Ora et Labora” – Prayer and Work. (As an aside, my grandmother’s name was Ora and I wonder if anyone knew what the Latin translation was). We think of the spiritual life mostly as prayer and worship, but the Benedictine way of life connects work to the spiritual life as well. They are not to be separated.

As I mentioned last night, however, I probably have separated my work life from my spiritual life. Now, by that I do not mean that my colleagues are unaware of my spiritual life at all. They are aware of the fact that I’m working on a theology degree, most of them are aware that I regularly fast and why I fast, and most are aware of what I am doing right now. So they are all aware that I am a Christian and I have an active relationship with God. We have conversations about God and theology and my practices, so in that sense my spiritual life is a part of work. And I have become more comfortable with this over time.

However, where I am seriously deficient is in listening for God where I work and in seeing what I do – right now – as a spiritual practice. Whatever else God has called me to do in the future, in the right now I am a fundraiser and I am called to approach that as a sacred activity that should be approached as a way of encountering God’s presence. And I can’t say that I’m really to that point yet. I often struggle with work and view it as something I have to do so that I can do all of the other things I want to do. I often see it as something that is required, instead of something that can be a blessing.

I think that one of the ways that we are most like God is when we are creating things. The Bible first introduces us to God as a creator. Yet I have found that I really struggle with the effort required to create something for the first time. I have a training module that we’ve been in the process of creating for months, but I have let it languish because I lack the energy or will or commitment or vision or something to get it done. When I finish it, I will likely have created something of real value, but I can’t seem to get there. At least I understand why God had to take a day off after creating all week! Can I see work as a form of prayer and worship? Talk about paradigm shifts!

I have joked with my friends from school that my job is to minister to rich people. One way to shift my view about my work and to find God in it is to see it as a form of ministry. I have seen the joy on the faces of donors as they have met students or faculty they support. I have seen the impact that a scholarship can have on a life of a student who might not be able to afford medical school. There is so much good done as the result of my work that it should be easy for me to find God present in it. My work can have whatever meaning I give it.

I think, perhaps, that this is something I just won’t be able to accomplish without the support of others. Perhaps it is a blessing I sent a link to this to my boss.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Thanks for the emails, any questions?

Hey, I got a few emails from friends and family, thanks for your encouragement. I feel kind of vulnerable putting this up for everyone to read.

Having said that, you are welcome to share the link to this website with anyone you think who would be interested in it. Just remind them to start from the bottom and work their way up.

If you have any questions about monastic life or anything I've written, feel free to ask and I'll answer or ask one of the monks.

One napkin

There is so little waste in Benedictine life. When I go to the cafeteria at UTMB, I often grab a stack of napkins for my tray. Invariably I grab more than I need and end up throwing away what I don't use. Somehow, without any words, I picked up the idea that wasting napkins isn't a part of the culture here. I find myself grabbing one napkin and putting it on my tray. It's a little thing, I know, but it is reflective of the impact this place can have on the smallest of details.

One of the monks, Brother Kevin, made an entire fence out of the wings of an old B-52 bomber. He also built a motorcycle out of scrap parts and then drove it around the country. Some of these guys are just amazing.

I'll never be that creative. But maybe I'll use less napkins in the cafeteria.

The myth of escape

I think that one common misconception many of us (including some potential monks) have about monastic life is that it is some kind of escape from the real world. There is this romantic notion that monks spend a carefree life in just worship and contemplation, not at all bothered by the trials of life that we mere mortals must face. In fact, I think many of us would long for that kind of escape in a non-monastic way, if we could find it.

The reality is that monastic life includes lots of work and lots of messy individual relationships in a communal environment. Like any committed relationship, there are ups and downs for the monks. Every one of the older monks I've talked to has said that there are times when he has just wanted to walk away. Imagine 38 guys living together every day for the rest of their lives. Do you think they don't ever get on each other's nerves? Do you think that their little quirks don't end up driving some other brother totally crazy? I lived in a fraternity house with 20+ guys for one year and I know there were a few that I didn't get along with all that much after just one year. This is not a carefree, solitary existence. It has humans involved; it's messy.

And the rule of all monastic orders places a heavy emphasis on work. Of course the monastic way of life centers on prayer and worship, but work is treated with almost equal importance. Believe it or not, there's really not that much time for just plain old contemplation. Today my instructor asked me if I'd had time to let it all sink in and contemplate it. I replied that the structure of Benedictine life doesn't really allow all that much time for contemplation.

But, you might ask, what's the point of monasticism then? I think the idea is not to spend time just contemplating, but rather to contemplate what you are doing at all times. The key is to find the sacred in every activity, every moment. The Benedictine goal is to experience the presence of God in every moment and everything that we experience. The structure of Benedictine life fosters an environment that constantly brings the monk back to the centrality of God's presence -- constant reminders throughout the day.

The key, for me and other Christians who are not called to a monastic life, is to find ways to foster that sense of sacred moments in the things that we do. Which brings me back to monastic work. The monks treat their work as if it is something that God wants them to do. I know that for me, I have cut my work off from any spiritual meaning -- but my task is to find God in what I do and to let my work be a way of worshipping him. A Benedictine would probably tell me that if it is to be done, God would want me to do it well.

So, there is no escape from the world in monastic life. Rather, it is a way of living that confronts the reality of life in every moment.

Priesthood of the believers

Those of you who have grown up in the Southern Baptist tradition are familiar with the idea of the priesthood of the believer. This is a Reformation era idea that continues today. The basic idea is that each Christian is capable of interpreting the Bible for himself/herself. Baptists don't believe that a church authority -- a priest, a Pope, a preacher -- has the sole authority to interpret scripture. That's the theory at least. In application, however, I would argue that the Benedictines come closer to the ideal than Southern Baptists.

For instance, on a Sunday morning, Sunday night, or Wednesday evening in any Southern Baptist church, almost half of the worship will be consumed by one man standing up and sharing with you his interpretation of scripture. Often this is presented in an extremely authoritative way (especially if he is a recent graduate of a Southern Baptist seminary). In many ways, especially given the power politics of the Southern Baptist convention, the priesthood of the believer has been subsumed into the power of the pulpit.

Compare that with the five prayer services each day in the Benedictine tradition. Combined, the services add up to about 2.5 hours of worship. During that entire time, one small sermon (a homily) is read - and it's usually an old sermon someone else wrote! In the meantime, massive amounts of scripture are read and recited and no one tells us what it means. Each Psalm is chanted and then there is a pause for meditation on what has just been said. Each person in the worship service has to figure out what the scripture means for himself/herself.

Which one of those sounds like a priesthood of the believer in a practical sense?

UPDATE: I was thinking about this last night and realized that I could be charged with only emphasizing one side of the Southern Baptist experience. Certainly there is much room for individual interpretation of scripture in our denomination -- through Bible study, Sunday School, etc.. And certainly in the Catholic church, ultimate interpretation of scripture resides with the church authorities. However, in the real practical side of corporate worship, I believe that in many ways the Benedictines have more latitude to apply the scripture to their lives than many Southern Baptists.

Just trying to provide the extra nuance....

Another kind of silence

I had a chance to kick the ball around with a couple of my classmates this afternoon. A couple of the young Korean monks are putting together a soccer game on Thurday and I'm already trying to talk my way out of class -- I want to get the whole monastic experience! Really!

Anyway, as I was walking off the field tonight and saw the sun setting across the Oklahoma fields, it occurred to me that another form of silence we've lost touch with is the silence of awe. In a world of CNN and satellite media trucks, we've lost the ability to sit back and let the story of life unfold in front of us and just shut up and marvel at it. We have to explain, comment on it, describe it, and then pause for a commercial break. How often do we just sit in awe and wonder and be quiet? Maybe that lack of silence is a result of a fear that we'd actually have to contemplate the Creator behind whatever it is we are in awe of.

New names

I thought you would be interested to know that each monk, when he takes his vows, is given a new name. Father Theodore was formerly known as Terry. In case you are confused, this does not mean that the Artist Formerly Known as Prince is a monk.

Beginning where it all ends

Speaking of death, one of the monks, Brother Kevin, took us on a tour of the Abbey last night. He said that he wanted to begin where it all ends, and so started with the cemetery, which I’ve already discussed. I bring this up because the Benedictines pay attention to death. Benedict tells the monks to keep death ever before them and says, “day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.”

It can seem like a morbid preoccupation with death, but it isn’t. In many ways our society is based on a complete denial of the reality of death. (Several months ago, a very nice Christian man I met began a sentence with, “If I die…”). The Benedictines don’t so much embrace it in any sort of nihilistic way, as they acknowledge its very real presence in our lives. It is death that forces us to give life meaning – if we never died there would be no incentive to make a meaningful life. One of our texts for class quotes someone as saying that the question is not whether there is life after death, but whether there is life before death. (Indeed, perhaps the only thing we’ve “Left Behind” in our preoccupation with the rapture is a chance at really living). The monks, who believe that we are born to die, try to make a life every day. Only when they have embraced the reality of death can they embrace the responsibility of truly living.

Journal assignment #3

Tonight’s assignment is look at the items I identified in yesterday’s assignment, and look at where I have strengths and weaknesses in the following categories: Foundations (Putting God at the center), prayer, work, study, spiritual companionship, care of my body, reaching out, and hospitality. Where do I need to round out my spiritual formation?

The difficult part of this assignment may be to give myself credit for what I do. It is easy to look at that list of categories and say, “well, I’m not doing enough here, nor here, nor here. Gee, I must not be a very good Christian!” Of course, the very nature of Christianity is that we can never reach the ideal, represented in the life of Christ. And while we must live in the tension between being satisfied and continuing to grow, I think it is important to acknowledge the positive aspects of my spiritual life. Additionally, some of you reading this may think, “wow, he’s doing much worse/better than me.” Spiritual formation, however, is not a comparative process or a competition. It is a process that happens between God and a Christian in the shape of a relationship. The only standard is the life of Christ and what God made each of us to be.

In the first category, of putting God at the center, I think this is a slowly evolving process. I am reminded of the labyrinth, with its broad outer circle that slowly moves to the center, only to move back out again. After my time in the spiritual desert, my last four years have been about slowly moving God back to the center of things. Rejoining a church, starting seminary, learning about myself, reinvigorating my quiet time, and improving my connections with people have all been about centering my life around a relationship with God. At this point, the shape perhaps is more elliptical, with one foci being God and one foci being the part of me that resists putting God at the center. I hope that the slowly those two foci will merge into one point.

My initial reaction about my prayer life is that it is a weak area. However, I choose to put fasting in this category, as a form of physical prayer (though one could argue that all prayer is physical). So it is a mixed success. I definitely need to improve the quality of my prayer, particularly the listening side of prayer. I can say what’s on my heart, but I just don’t make time to hear what’s on God’s heart. I seem to have more success with a series of small quick prayers throughout the day, than with sitting down for twenty minutes and praying. I tend to get really distracted – and surely that’s someone else’s fault!! I am hoping that the experience of this week will help me improve my prayer life.

I have some kind of mental/emotional block about thinking of my work as a spiritual endeavor. In many ways I think of my work as something I do well and have lots of skill at, but not as something I do to nurture my relationship to God. I have a difficult time opening myself up to the idea that somehow I’m accountable to God for how I do my work. I honestly am not sure how to overcome this or what to do next. This is a very thorny issue for me.

Now, as far as study goes, I think this is an area of strength for me. I love to learn and certainly seminary has been very important in focusing my studies. It has also enriched my quiet time, as I’m really enjoying reading the Bible now that I’ve got a better understanding of what is really going on. I don’t confine my studies to what’s on a syllabus, I find myself seeking out other sources of information to round out what I’m learning in the classroom. If anything, in the category of study, my biggest risk is that I’ll seek to learn too much and never seek to apply it. Knowledge only for the self runs the risk of intellectual narcissism.

I was thinking about the idea of spiritual companionship as presented in Farrington’s book and the text for the spiritual formation program, Soul Feast. In both of those texts, much is made of submitting to a spiritual director. Given my past, that is a very difficult thing to do. However, it occurred to me that by posting this journal on-line, in some way I’m opening up my spiritual life in some very dramatic ways. It may be that a model that will work better for me will be to share what is going on in my spiritual life with friends as I go along. Last month a couple of my friends from church pointedly asked me some questions about my spiritual direction – it was a little scary, but I feel like it helped deepen my relationship with them and it affirmed that I’m not heading off on some random direction on my own. Still, I think I’ll have a very difficult time finding a spiritual director.

As I was eating a plateful of bacon this morning, I was thinking about how well I take care of my body. I don’t smoke, drink alcohol or caffeine. I play soccer 2-4 times a week. I take my dog for a mile long walk most mornings. I try and get 8 hours of sleep a night. I don’t always eat completely healthy, but for the most part I do okay. I worry that when I have a family one day that this will go by the wayside. But for now there isn’t much room for improvement. Other than the bacon, but I’ve got to have a vice or two!

I definitely am weak in the areas of reaching out and hospitality. I have done a lot of thinking about my contributions to making a better society as a function of my Christianity. More and more I’m becoming convinced that I need to serve more. Matthew 25 directly challenges me to think about the places where I find Christ. Indeed in this passage, Jesus defines discipleship as a series of actions, not as a series of “thou shall nots” that are so prevalent in conservative Christianity. I’m simply not doing anything in this area. I feel so busy with everything that I tell myself that I just don’t have time to add one more thing. I suppose that I could find some ways of serving at the hospital, but have been too distracted to volunteer.

In many ways I think I have a gift for hospitality – it’s the southerner in me. I have fond memories of my parents opening up our house to ROTC cadets in Auburn. And any time I have people over to my house, I feel better for it. I think, however, that this is likely to develop more when (if) I get married. There is something about having a partner that makes hospitality seem more rewarding.

So, where do I need to add balance to my spiritual life? In some ways it is more about finding the sacred in everything I do, like work. In some ways it is about taking risks through opening up or reaching out. And in some ways it is about finding ways to deepen what I already do. It is rather painful to read all of the areas where I need to improve, though I think I should give myself credit for where I am compared to where I was. I, of course, won’t be the finished article until I am buried. Nor would I want to be.

Monday, June 23, 2003


by the way, in case any of you think I'm missing something by being on-line, I got my password from the visiting monks and there are two of them in here with me right now. The rule doesn't restrict their ability to go on-line!!

Mass, dinner, and vespers

Those of us who are Southern Baptists are used to doing the Lord's Supper (aka, Communion or Eucharist) about once a month or so. We're a non-sacramental people and so the Lord's Supper is not the focus of what we do. The Abbey has Mass every day, which means that Eucharist is conducted ever single day. For Catholics, there is no Mass without Eucharist. So these monks experience Eucharist every single day. It is really the focus of Catholic worship.

After Mass, we had dinner, which was silent, except for one brother who was reading from a lecturn. The Abbot, in consultation with the members of the community, picks a book to be read over dinner. After about 20 minutes of reading the book, a bell rings and the reader selects a passage from the Rule of Benedict to read -- thus always keeping the rule in front of the monastery.

Tonight's main reading was a selection of essays in response to 9/11. Most of it was semi-Marxist ideology hiding behind the skirts of theology. What was particularly funny about it was my classmate Trish watching me react to it. She knew from being in class with me all year that this kind of liberal theology drives me batty and that I can't keep silent in the face of it. In this case, I had too. But she enjoyed watching me squirm. I thought it was kind of funny too.

After dinner was Vespers, which was a special one that began a feast day in celebration of the birth of John the Baptist. So the responsive chants revolved around John's special import as a blessed man of God.

I began the day by complaining about Benedict's bed, but right now I think I could sleep on anything.

now accepting email

If any of you want to email me, I've put my address over on the right. You'll have to put in the ampersand on your own. I know at least two people have read this!

The name of the blog

For those of you who may not know, I love bacon. So much so that I belong to the Bacon of the Month Club. Thus, "Baconboy's blog," it is alliterative and descriptive!

Just in case you were wondering.

Journal assignment #2

My task for this evening is to make a list of all the things that I currently do that nurture my relationship with God. Then I’m to reflect on what that list says about the shape of my spiritual life.

Fortunately, the assignment asks me to look beyond those things commonly associated with the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, scripture study, etc.. Another way of asking the question is, “what nourishes my soul?”

As a teenager, I took up the task of reading the Bible through each year. I would read every night before I went to bed. By the mid-90s I had read the Bible through some 14 times. Unfortunately the rest of my spiritual life was a complete wreck and the reading became meaningless to me; I read only out of force of habit. As part of the spiritual formation program at Perkins I learned some new ways of reading scripture, none of which really quite clicked for me. Several months ago I turned back to the daily devotional program that allowed me to read the Bible through. However, I have found that my experience is significantly improved, mainly because my year of Old Testament studies has dramatically improved my understanding of what is really going on. It is amazing how much more meaningful Bible study is when you can understand the whole story. And like any other relationship, my relationship with God is nurtured through better understanding of his word.

My fellowship at church is another way I nurture my relationship with God. I believe that each of us longs for a direct experience of God’s presence, but that each of us encounters that experience differently. In a church setting, some may experience God through the preaching, some through the music, some through ministry, and some through fellowship. For me, I experience God best through the relationships with the other members of the church. As Father Theodore points out, we are to see other people as Christ incarnate. We are all made in the image of God – imago Dei. The kindness and love with which I am treated by my friends at church is a direct reminder to me of God’s nurturing presence.

Certainly my academic life at Perkins has had a dramatic impact on my relationship to God. One friend of mine remarked that school seemed to tremendously energize me. All that I have learned has deepened my appreciation for God, the many ways God has manifested himself to us, and the many ways we can experience God. I have never had so much fun in school in my life and I am so grateful for the experience. God has been with me every step of the way.

My prayer life is not where I want it to be, so I can’t honestly say that I’ve allowed that to nurture my relationship with God. However, as Richard Foster points out in his book on prayer, the desire to pray is a gift from God. So maybe I’m on my way.

However, if you view fasting as a form of prayer (someone wrote that fasting is praying with your whole body), then maybe I'm doing okay. I discovered the fast last November and have been amazed by its power. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to not have to worry about food, it reminds me that all I have is a gift from God, it reminds me that my body and my soul are connected. And it certainly has created some interesting conversations with God. I would highly recommend it as a spiritual practice.

Anyone who knows me well knows that one way I nourish my soul is through playing soccer. In a world where we are so disconnected from our bodies, except to worry about what everyone else thinks about them, soccer is a place where my heart, body, soul, and mind all work together in a connected whole. I am probably my most natural (but imperfect) self out on the field – combative, organized, supportive, critical, skillful, strategic, loyal, honorable, foul-mouthed, competitive, stubborn, smart, fierce, and tough. I can hardly think of a time where I walked off the field after a game or practice and did not feel completely alive and even at peace. The sheer physicality of the game makes room in my body for God. That’s probably not the typical answer you’d get about where someone finds God, but it works for me.

Additionally, I find God wherever I notice beauty. Aesthetics matter. And whether it is in the simple beauty of nature noticed on a morning walk with my dog or at an art museum where artists represent the reality they see, I sense the sacred in beauty. One of God’s characteristics is his role as Creator. His good creation makes manifest his existence in all that we see. And perhaps we as humans are most like God when we are creators ourselves – whether it is art, poetry, music, landscapes, children and anything else where we leave a part of our soul behind. Admiring God’s creation and the results of our creative impulse reminds me of the goodness of God and that he made me to be good.

There are, of course, other places where my relationship with God is nourished. But it seems that the real task, especially as revealed by monasticism, is to find the sacred in everything. There is an inherent tension in Christianity between being of the world and apart from the world. One solution is to find the sacred in everything. Soccer can only be sacred, can only nourish my soul, if I choose to be aware of it. School at one point destroyed my soul, but now it nourishes it. There are, of course, things that are vulgar and destructive that we are generally prohibited from doing. However, the course of our daily life gives us almost limitless opportunities to find God in everything we do. And as we do that, our relationship with God can only increase.

The Sound of Silence

I mentioned that the morning is normally spent in silent reflection over breakfast, which falls between Vigils and Lauds. As I was sitting outside waiting for Lauds, I thought about silence. It seems there are different kinds of silence: recalcitrant silence, unspeakable silence, and present silence. There are other kinds of silence, but these are the ones I’ve been thinking of.

Recalcitrant silence is the silence of stubborn protest, of withdrawal. It is the silence of putting up a wall to keep others out. It is not a lack of words, but rather a selfish silence meant to hurt, to damage relationships, or to assert some kind of autonomy. Sometimes it comes from fear, sometimes from pain, sometimes from anger. But it rarely solves the problem. I would have to admit that I have had a lifetime’s struggle against this kind of silence – it comes quite naturally to me and I have to constantly search my heart to make sure that the motives behind my silence are productive.

The unspeakable silence is a silence that acknowledges something where words just will not suffice. Often unspeakable silence deals with the very real grief that cannot be understood, but can only be experienced. One place that you can experience this is at the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.. The first time I visited there, I noticed how even the smallest children got quiet as they approached the Wall. There is something beyond words that invokes a silence there. The same can be said for Ground Zero – it is a place where words fail and silence is the only human response. But the silence of unspeakableness can show up in our daily lives as well, when we are just present with someone who has lost a loved one, and instead of talking let the unspeakable loss fill the room. There is a silence that speaks volumes, but it requires us to overcome our fear of grief and loss, the inadequacy of understanding, our inability to make the pain go away.

Present silence, as I am calling it, is silence that is inwardly aware and outwardly observant. I think this is the kind of silence that most monks hope to achieve, and that the rest of us should strive for as well. It is the kind of silence that listens deeply to the shape of our life, to the place where we look deep into our soul and find God looking back at us. It requires us to see beyond the fear, the pain, the loss, and the many layers of masks we’ve accumulated, to the place where God’s deepest desires for us are revealed. Only when we have been to that place can we be completely present to listen to others. It is from that place, the deep reservoir of our soul, that we can observe others and notice how we can serve them. It is from there that silence becomes not a way of hiding from the world, but of seeing the world as it truly is and as God wants it to be.

Our culture is a culture of noise. Try driving for an hour without the radio on. Try spending a whole night at your home without the television or radio on. We are a people that cannot tolerate silence. Do you wonder why that is? What empty space is that noise filling? Perhaps it is the quiet place where God tends to make his presence known. And perhaps we are afraid of actually experiencing the presence of God. Perhaps it is time for us to relearn the monastic value of silence.

Here are two poems by Rumi about silence:

There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows

In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.



Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You're covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you've died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.


Last night I observed a certain irony in the fact that I was here to study a way of life about letting go of things to allow room for God, as I was toting a backpack, a bag of clothes, an extra pillow, some food, and some clothes on a hanger. I did leave my soccer clothes in the car – that’s progress, right??

Benedict's bed

If you’ll recall from one of my earlier posts, Benedict lived in the 5th and 6th centuries. Well, I’m pretty sure that to make the experience more realistic, they let me sleep on Benedict’s original bed last night.

At 5:30 I learned why so many monks have short hair – it allows them to sleep that much later and make the first prayer service (Vigils) at 6:00. It is probably also easier for them to get ready, since they have to choose between wearing their black robe or their black robe.

After Vigils, we had breakfast, which was entirely silent, followed by the second prayer service of the day, Lauds. Vigils is set up to prepare the monk for the day – to remind him to be vigilant against temptation and sin and to look for the presence of God. Lauds, is about praising God for the day He has given us and for His continual presence in our lives.

I think that Benedict was wise in setting up the morning as a silent experience. I think he knew that some people get grumpy in the morning, so it’s better to follow mom’s advice and if you can’t say something nice, well, don’t say anything at all!!

Sunday, June 22, 2003

My first day

After I arrived, I walked around the campus with my friend Trish. I visited the monks’ cemetery, which is essentially a family cemetery for people whose family is the monastery. We went to Vespers at 5:00, had dinner with the monks at 5:30, then a final prayer service (Compline) at 7:00. Those of us who are here for the program then met from about 7:30 to 8:45 with the instructors to talk about the course requirements and expectations. In addition to this journal (see the first entry below), I found out that I’ll have a paper due in two weeks on some other aspect of non-Benedictine monasticism. Any suggestions anyone?

Benedictine liturgy is designed around the Psalms. It is set up so that over the course of one week, all 150 of the Psalms are prayed at the services. Tonight at Compline we prayed Psalms 4 and Psalms 91. If you read them, you see that they both have references to sleep, dreams, and beds. Benedict picked those Psalms as a way of preparing the monks for a restful night. There is a deliberate order to the way things are set up.

As far as the worship goes, I haven’t smelled so much incense and seen so many black robes since my college fraternity initiation. It has inadvertently raised some powerfully positive memories for me and reminded me of the power of ritual. It is nice to be reminded of the continuity of the past, present, and future in the timelessness of the Benedictine pattern of worship.

The Psalms are chanted, sometimes with accompaniment by an organ or guitar. The sound of all of the monks chanting/singing is beautiful in itself. I find myself concentrating too much on either the words or the chant – I can’t seem to keep up with both, so I think I’m missing the full experience. There’s a difference between reading it and knowing it and I think the monks who have chanted them so many times that they’ve memorized it can really experience the power of the words better than I can.

That’s it for now, I’m exhausted and have to be up at 5:30.

Update on the monk conference

I found out that the conference of monks here is for young monks who have completed their novitiate, which lasts a year, but have not yet taken their final vows. Many of them are in my age range. One guy, Brother Greg, from Virginia, came over and introduced himself to me as I was writing my journal.

I see all of these young monks walking around and I wonder if they are jealous of me and my ability to wear whatever I want and own a laptop and have a car, etc.. Then I realize that I’m here to learn from them and that maybe I should be jealous of them and their lack of attachment to what they wear, what they drive, what they own. Who is the lucky one here?

Journal assignment #1

My first journal assignment is to discuss my preconceptions of the monastic life and of monks/nuns.

As a person who grew up in the Southern Baptist church, I have had no contact with monks or nuns in my life. Virtually any preconceptions I have about monastic life have come from television and movies. Now, I never read or saw The Name of the Rose, so I don’t have that cultural reference. I have, however, seen The Sound of Music many times. :)

One of my biggest mix ups about monastic life was getting it confused with clerical life. I seemed to think that all priests were monks and vice versa. However, in my readings I learned that monasticism is a lay movement that allows priests to join. There are many brothers at this monastery who do not serve as priests – some of them serve as gardeners, some as car repair people, some as faculty members, etc.. Being a monk does not equate with being a priest.

I say all of this because my preconceptions, developed through my exposure to the products of Hollywood, never developed beyond this basic mix up. And so all of the negative portrayals of priests became associated with negative portrayals of monks.

Of course, I think that the most common notion people have about monks is that they must be celibate. What many people do not realize is that non-monastic priests did not originally have to be celibate (there were some married popes), but monks have always had to be celibate. I find myself to be very curious about how they manage this, especially in a culture that is both publicly sexual and yet publicly puritanical.

I think I share a common conception that monastic life must be somehow joyless and overly pious. There’s a sense perhaps that these are all people who are somehow repressed and afraid to take the risk of intimate relationships. It’s as if I assume that because they do not live a normal life, something must be inherently wrong with them. In a culture and world that glorifies what we own, defines success as having lots of stuff, being in control, and looking good and young, there must be something wrong with someone who has chosen to opt out of those goals. Right?

And I probably share the idea that monks are overly pious – people you have to put your “church face” on for when you are around them. I wouldn’t want to offend their moral sensitivities. Certainly that’s the way they are portrayed in our culture – or even worse as hypocrites.

Another preconception I have of monastic life is that it is punitive and rigorously boring. I’ll admit to being worried that I’ll be bored with the whole thing by Tuesday. The same schedule every day, praying five times a day, silence at breakfast, etc.. Too many rules!

So in a nutshell those are some of my preconceived notions about monastic life and monks. On Thursday I’ll be asked to journal what I believe the reality is.

How to read this

By the way, for those of you new to blogs, the first posts are at the bottom, so you have to read your way up....

Made it okay

492 miles and 7.5 hours later, I've arrived safely. As I parked, I ran into my friend, Trish, who will be here this week. She dropped her daughter off in Dallas on the way -- she's really psyched about this.

There is a group of about 38 monks here from all around the country for two weeks. So I'm hoping we'll get to interact with them some. One of the, Brother Michael, from South Dakota, tried to help us find where to check in. He bowed his head as he greeted me, just like the rule calls for!

I left at about 7:45 this morning. Saw some interesting billboards on the way. One was for a rent-to-own tire company in Houston. Sounds like a weird business model to me, but I'd like to start by offering to rent the tire around my waist to anyone who wants it. In Dallas I saw a billboard for a company that specializes in cleaning up homicides and suicides. Really. I guess someone has to do it, but it kind of saddens me that there is enough work out there that someone actually needs to advertise.

Found a computer lab, let's hope it will be accessible all week.

Off to explore!

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Have fun, David?

One of my friends said she wasn’t sure what she should wish for someone going to a monastery for a week. Should she tell me to have fun?? Others have wished for me that I have a great experience that exceeds my expectations. I’m not really sure how to answer the fun question or what my expectations are. I have no expectation for what kind of person I’ll be when I’m driving back on Friday. I hope I’ll have had a week where I deepened my relationship with God, but how will that manifest itself? I don’t expect to come back with glowing eyes, suited up in a brown robe, or ready to quit my job. If I make myself available to God’s presence in my life perhaps I’ll come back with a better awareness of how …. Heck, I just don’t know. God works so mysteriously that I just can’t predict or hope or expect anything and I need to be open to anything. If I can just live a little bit more consciously and aware and kindly and present in the moment, well then I guess it will have been a good week. But I can’t let my expectations get in the way of what God wants.

As for the fun question, well I expect to have fun. Though sometimes I wonder if in the modern world we have substituted “fun” for something that we are missing – perhaps a real experience with God? I’m not trying to be puritanical and boring. I have a lot of fun playing soccer, reading, at school, with my friends, tubing the Comal River, and so on, just like everyone else. But when having fun becomes the focus or purpose of any activity, when whether we have fun or not becomes the standard by which we judge something, well then maybe we have missed something. My friend wasn’t implying at all that fun should be the standard by which I should judge my week. But I expect to be challenged this week, to grow this week, to learn this week, to make new friends this week. And for me, that’s fun.

Yes, I know I’m weird.

What will my day be like?

I wonder this myself. The Rule of Benedict outlines what the day should include. Here’s a link to the basic schedule of the Abbey. Thank goodness I’ve had two years of my alarm clock ringing at 5:45 to walk my dog, Viktor, so the 5:30 wake up shouldn’t be too bad. Of course, I’m taking vacation time from work for this experience and a lot of people probably think I’m nuts to get up that early on my vacation. They may be right.

My assignment prior to the trip

Prior to my arrival I was required to read four books that we will use as the basis of our discussions this week. I purchased all of them on Amazon, so if they intrigue you, you can find them there (assuming you aren’t reading the latest Harry Potter book):

The Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia. It is this rule that drives the pattern of living that I will experience at St. Gregory’s Abbey. It has 73 chapters over 95 pages that spell out everything from what is prayed when to how the door should be answered. The longest chapter and the one that some would say I need the most, is the seventh chapter, which addresses the twelve steps of humility. People have been living by this rule for the last fifteen hundred years, so it has stood the test of time. You can read the rule on-line here.

The Rule of Benedict by Sister Joan Chittister. She takes each of the rules outlined in Benedict’s original rule and explains what they teach us and how those of us who do not live in monasteries can apply them in our lives. I found it too be full of insight, though I do not agree with everything she says and feel that she glosses over some of the more punitive elements of the rule (which have been abandoned).

Living Faith Day by Day by Debra Farrington. This author pulls ideas from many different monastic movements and uses them to help us understand how we can apply the lessons of monasticism in our walk with God. If you are interested in spiritual formation, this might be a useful book for you.

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan monk and this book is on contemplative prayer. There are lots of interesting ideas in this book – some real wisdom. On the other hand, I felt like he did not do a good job of describing approaches to reaching the contemplative state. Maybe I want a multiple step approach (put your hands here, think this thought, and voila, you’ll be talking to God) that is too easy. I’m sure contemplative states require years of practice – practice of forgetting the years of what I’ve already learned, but still I wish there had been more substantive information about reaching those states. Of course, Rohr would probably answer that it’s not about “getting there”.

Friday, June 20, 2003

What this is all about

I am going to be spending the next five days at St. Gregory's Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The week is part of an optional two credit hour class being offered as part of my masters in theology degree program at the Perkins School of Theology at SMU.

The class was announced in March and piqued my interest. I mentioned it to my mom off-hand and she really encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity. As a Protestant Christian I had not ever been exposed to monasticism, met a monk or nun, or even visited a monastery.

Fortunately, my church history courses this past year helped me develop a keen appreciation of the important role monasticism has played in Christianity as well as the development and preservation of Western civilization. Between the beginnings of the monastic movement in the fourth century and the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, virtually every important church leader, theologian, or mystic was part of the monastic movement.

I believe that God often sends his messengers – known as angels in the Bible – in the guise of humans, usually ones that are well known to us. How often do we wait for some kind of visionary answer to a prayer when perhaps God sent one of our close friends with the answer for us? In my mom’s encouragement I heard an opportunity to experience something I had not yet experienced, an opportunity to better understand one way that Christians have connected to God for 1500 years, an opportunity to participate in something that has been passed down from generation to generation, an opportunity to learn by participation, and an opportunity to make some new relationships.

The course is being taught by Dr. Fred Schmidt, who is director of the spiritual formation program at Perkins, and the director of spiritual formation for the abbey. Academic theology programs can concentrate so heavily on the informational side of the Christian experience that they often lose the experiential side of Christianity. The basic idea behind a spiritual formation program is that how we know God is just as important, perhaps more important, than what we know about God. A spiritual formation program helps students understand the spiritual disciplines – prayer, study, fasting, service, accountability, and others – that have historically helped Christians develop an improved sense of God’s presence in their lives. Perkins requires all students to participate in its spiritual formation program, which based on my experience of the last year I would say is an excellent requirement. In nine months I learned more about prayer, Bible study, and the other disciplines than I had in my entire life in the church. It has been a powerful experience that has deepened my relationship and conversations with God.

Part of the course requirement, as I understand it, is that I keep a journal of my experience. Because so many of my friends are curious about what will happen, I hope to be able to share my experience with them through this web-log (blog). I hope you enjoy it.