Spiritual disciplines have always been important to Friends, both as personal and as corporate exercises. By spiritual discipline I mean “any [regular] practice that increases one’s awareness of God and God’s ways.” The life in Christ to which Friends understand they are called requires effort and learning, even as we are at the same time enabled and equipped for that learning effort by the Holy Spirit. The sustained effort to master a body of knowledge and ability evokes the word “discipline,” analogous to the discipline of studying economics or medicine, or the discipline required to become a skilled athlete. Both a devotion to learning and a long dedication to the learning process are necessary to achieve excellence; the same is true of the discipline needed to become the whole, spiritually healthy human being God knows we can be and yearns for us to become. All require a personal commitment to the necessary discipline.
Personal spiritual disciplines among Friends are often aimed at improving our ability to hear the quiet Voice of divine guidance, to free ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally to follow that guidance, and to be able to see ourselves as God sees us, without pretence or illusion. Some of the most important of these personal disciplines for Friends over the generations have been the examen, spiritual journaling, and daily individual worship or “inward retirement.”
These disciplines are important to the Quaker understanding of our three-part spiritual journey of conviction, convincement, and conversion of manners. The first two steps involve being convicted by the Spirit that the path we’ve been following is not right for us, and then being convinced that the Quaker faith tradition is the path to which we should be committed. For some people these two events may happen almost simultaneously, for others (e.g., the Seekers of George Fox’s time) they may occur years apart.
After our convincement that the Quaker path is the right one for us personally, each of us embarks on a long process of bringing every aspect of our lives under inspection by the Spirit and changing whatever is in conflict with our new chosen path. The old Quaker name for this is the conversion of manners. As the old adage (“Live up to the Light thou hast, and more will be granted thee.”) implies, one might well expect to spend a lifetime gently refining each aspect of one’s life to bring it all into a more complete harmony with God’s yearnings and desires for us.
Friends have adopted and adapted a number of spiritual disciplines that have proven especially helpful in this process of conversion of manners. In Deeper Roots we will explore several of these disciplines over the course of the program, trying each in order to learn how they might be useful as a personal spiritual practice in the present day.
Keeping a spiritual journal has been around in the Christian world for centuries, but Friends both embraced the practice and adapted it into almost a new genre of literature. Among Friends, the personal journal became not only a means for examining one’s inner life, but also a tool for teaching others about the ways God is at work among human beings. In Deeper Roots we’ll practice keeping our own spiritual journals (no sharing of journal entries required) and read examples of the journals kept by other Friends across the centuries.
When John Woolman wrote, “May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions, or not”, he was suggesting an examen. This daily prayerful reflection on the events of one’s day is a staple of Jesuit spirituality in the Roman Catholic tradition; Friends have incorporated a form of this practice into their own daily practice. Deeper Roots will give each of us opportunity to add a daily examen to our personal spiritual practice and to explore together the benefits and challenges of this discipline.
The Advices of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) caution Friends to “[b]e diligent in the private perusal of the Holy Scriptures … .” There are many ways to read the Bible. Given the emphasis Friends place on the need for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to understand what is written in Scripture, some ways are particularly well suited for our daily Bible reading. We will provide opportunities to gain experience with lectio divina and practices such as “praying the gospels” as ways to engage Scripture at the level of heart and Spirit rather than the strictly intellectual.
We Friends desire to live in simplicity, yet we know by experience that in the 21st century the simple life is not uncomplicated. A long-time discipline of the Religious Society of Friends is making time each day for individual worship (“retirement”). In the present-day world, finding even a little time daily to spend in private worship can be a daunting challenge; yet the benefits of doing so are profound. One of the personal disciplines of all of us in the Deeper Roots program will be to spend time daily in worship, or “individual retirement”.
(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the apprentice authors, and not official statements of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) of the Religious Society of Friends.)