Back in September, I shared a portion of Bob's writings on spiritual disciplines (click here to read Part I). The first three that he wrote about were the Discipline of Sacrifice, Suffering, and Silence. Below is the balance three disciplines - the Discipline of Simplicity, Sorrow and Slowness. In re-reading these, the Discipline of Lament jumped out at me, especially during this time when many guests come to visit our work and want to "get their hands dirty" on their trip. Learning to lament - to take time to cry out to God for the brokenness of this world - is important. Taking time to be in the moment, to lament, without rushing to fix or find a solution, is difficult to do. I think West Africans are better at lamenting than North Americans, as indicated by the wailing surrounding a person's death. Lamenting allows us approach a situation with more humility, and as Bob points out, allows transformation to go from the bottom up, instead of the top down. Reading this again makes me miss his wisdom, yet I'm thankful that we still have his voice in his writings. I don't know what his purpose was in writing this document, other than to journal in some way his own spiritual journey. I hope it is a blessing to you as it has been to me.
The Discipline of Simplicity
The decision to live more simply (and as with all disciplines, we are really talking about living increasingly simply because becoming simple is a life-long process) is really a hedge against that which would distract us in order to live as we are intended. Simply allows us to see the distraction coming, allows us to prepare to rebuff it. God warns against attachment to the world around us, against aligning ourselves to idols, but this must mean more than merely being against idolatry, materialism, or consumerism, or more that merely not being distracted. Living simply means that we actively pursue a lifestyle that allows for more peace, more contemplation, more centering, and ultimately more love. God directs us to avoid the pursuit of money and stuff, because pursuing it distracts us from our real reason for existence – caring for others and for what God has given us.
The Discipline of Sorrow (Lament)
(Jer 31.15, Rom 12.15) I’m afraid this one came not from God whispering to my soul, but from my reading. It comes from the book Reconciling All Things by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Chapter 5 is actually titled “The Discipline of Lament,” and I think their thoughts on this are terrific. The message is clear and powerful: Christians, especially American Christians, need to come purposefully expose themselves to the suffering of a broken world, and once exposed, we need to weep. Katongole/Rice write: “The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the call to see and encounter the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down. We are called to a space where any action is too easy, too fast, too shallow—a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry directed to God. “ Lament “refuses to spiritualize, explain away, ignore or deny the depth and truth of suffering in this world.” And like the voice of Rachel in Ramah, Lament “refuses to be consoled.”
When we discipline ourselves to intentionally expose ourselves to enter into the brokenness, pain and mourning of others, we begin to understand it from their perspective. Again, from Reconciling All Things: “Lament slows reconciliation down because it sees the challenge of transformation not from the top but from the margins - indeed from the bottom. Lament teaches us to see the world from the standpoint of murder in Ramah, exile in Babylon, crucifixion outside Jerusalem, mass graves in Rwanda...- even from a place as small as a long marriage falling apart while both husband and wife feel powerless to stop it. Transformation looks very different from the bottom. The more global reconciliation becomes, the more self-assured it is. The more local, the more slow and fragile.” Here, words of Jeremiah recall the insult of dealing superficially with brokenness: "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace, they say, ‘when there is no peace.'”
The Discipline of Slowness
(Ecc 7.8,9; Jas 1:19) In a way, this discipline is a bit harder to ferret out, because it is tied up in silence, simplicity and sorrow. It is a call to be more careful, more deliberate, and less casual with the way we live our faith. It is a call to, as my Liberian brothers always say, “Take time.” This discipline reminds us that we are in a war, and to allow ourselves to become indifferent or haphazard could lead to spiritual disaster and wreckage. One of my favorite phrases, in fact my life’s motto is “pay attention.” It means take nothing for granted, keep your eyes and ears open. Paying attention is harder the faster one travels. On the road of life, the fast mover misses more of all the lessons about the journey than the slow mover. And of course, there are no shortcuts to sanctification anyway. Moving slower allows us a chance to understand the nature of the spiritual epic swirling around us.
Our culture, of course, is addicted to fast. Our culture teaches us that patience is for suckers and that slow and deliberate is the same as boring and uncool. And nothing is worse in America than being boring and uncool. Ultimately, and like all disciplines, going slow is about love. One more quote from our friends Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, in Reconciling All Things: "A friend of ours recounted an experience he had while working with an international group of Christian missionaries on a plan to combat poverty. During the meeting, one participant suggested it might be helpful to invite some poor people into the process to help the group think more deeply about how to lift people out of poverty. Another participant quickly disagreed. "That would just slow us down," he said. He was exactly right. But maybe slowing down is what we need.”