30 Nov Access Ancient Christian Practices
Thomas Merton observed that culture is nourished when each member remains true to a calling achieved through solitude. In responding to this inner voice, I found a third way–one that eventually led to authentic community. My path should encourage all who switch religions or who simply disaffiliate from a childhood tradition. Researcher Diana Butler Bass found that those who fall outside of traditional sectarian boundaries still retain spiritual interests. Some may even come to assume the label “a congregation of one.”
On a high wire, balancing identity issues and family dynamics, I held onto faith as one grasping an unwieldy oxygen tank. Though isolating and cumbersome, I kept it close because of the breath of life it provided. I lived on high doses of the Holy Spirit, something I liken to “libido for the soul.” It fueled my passion for Jesus and kept life invigorating and purposeful.
Practicing the presence of God in my ordinary life didn’t require a sanctuary. I attended to my inner life by reading, writing, praying, and meditating. I often attained what the mystics call “joy”—a contentment richer and more profound than anything the world could offer. Because my peace transcended any cultural boundaries, I never experienced what one would call “loneliness.”
Having successfully moved through what Merton, calls the “wilderness period of existential crisis,” I proceeded down the path of wholeness in Christ. I meditated on the Bible, using the Catholic technique, Lectio Divina. I read small sections out loud and engaged with the text, focusing on transformation, and not information. As I let its meaning seep deep into my heart, mind, and soul, I developed an attitude of knowing that I had nothing to prove and nothing to gain, save intimacy with God. To quiet my desires, I reflected on the passage, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
The study participants in Marsha Sinetar’s book, Everyday People as Monks and Mystics, modeled insights, techniques, and lifestyle changes that resembled my own. Sinetar uses the terms “Monk” and “mystic” loosely to refer to all who hunger and thirst for God. Not malcontents or psychologically unhealthy, they simply engage life on their own terms and express sacred values important to their identity.
Sinetar defines “self-actualized” as psychological wholeness. Because of its unending nature, one never finishes the journey. She describes two values within this umbrella–social transcendence and self-transcendence. No doubt, Jesus reflected both when he said, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39) I had already let go of secure ways by pulling back from acquaintances and activities that didn’t shape or fulfill my goals.
My earlier insecurities may have paved the way for this change. Growing up, I would sometimes look at others and recognize something different within me. I had this dual focus as I grew into popularity. Even though a member of the group, I could stand apart with an objective eye as to my role.