Progressive Christianity is full-on tickling this year. And those whose ears are itching for a little spice in their spirituality won’t be disappointed with the contemplative writings of Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., a “Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess,” who teaches monastic spirituality and going into the “divine silence’ of contemplative prayer. Her latest article, Embracing Mystery in the New Year: Ten Essential Practices, instructs Christians to welcome ambiguity by adopting some spiritual disciplines. She starts with a beckoning that should sound familiar to those in the Spiritual Formation movement:
Imagine if your New Year’s wasn’t about fixing or improving, but about deepening and transforming, about embracing the holy mystery at the heart of the world.
Well, that doesn’t sound all that awful, does it? Who doesn’t want a deepening relationship with our Savior; one that transforms us into the image of Him? Sign me up for those practices, right?
Not so fast. Let’s examine those ten essentials Christians must follow, according to Paintner:
New Year’s resolutions often come from a place of lack, or of thinking we know how to “fix” ourselves. Unfortunately, they are often fueled by a consumer culture that is eager to have us buy more and more things to improve ourselves. Embracing mystery, on the other hand, honors our profound giftedness and depth and acknowledges that coming to know ourselves and God is a lifetime exploration.So my invitation to you, dear monks and artists, is to shift your thinking this year. Welcome ambiguity. Learn to love the holy darkness of mystery. Dance on the fertile edges of life. Let what you love ripen forth.
Here are ten essential practices to help support you in this journey:
- Breathe deeply. Our breath is our most immediate and vital connection to the life force that sustains us moment by moment. Let yourself be filled with awe and wonder at the marvels of this intimate gift. Sit for three minutes savoring that you are breathed into.
- Embrace night wisdom. One of the great gifts of dreams is that they upend our desire for logic and immerse us in a narrative that reveals the shadows we must wrestle with and the joys that call to us, whether or not they make sense to the waking world.
- Dance freely. We live so disconnected from our bodies. Dance has been part of human culture for thousands of years as a way to experience union with ourselves, one another, and the divine. Each day put on one piece of music that you love, close the door, and dance. Pay attention to what rises up in the process. If you resist, even better—dance with your resistance!
- Follow the thread. Each of us has a unique unfolding story and call in this world. We don’t “figure this out” but rather we allow the story to emerge in its own time, tending the symbols and synchronicities that guide us along.
- Trust in what you love. Following the thread is essentially about cultivating a deep trust in what you love. What are the things that make your heart beat loudly, no matter how at odds they feel with your current life (and perhaps especially so)? Make some room this year to honor what brings you alive.
- Let the rhythms of nature guide you. We live our lives in a constant state of stimulation and productivity. We are often exhausted and overwhelmed. When we turn to the natural world we find with each day, each moon cycle, and each season a rhythm of rise and fall, fullness and emptiness. Trying to live all the time in rising or fullness is exhausting. Make some time to embrace the falling and emptiness of life, which immerses us in an experience of mystery.
- Release what is no longer necessary. We accumulate so many things in our days, perhaps you have discovered at Christmas that you have a new pile of stuff that now requires energy to maintain or worry about. Reflect on what is most essential. Then ask yourself, what are the thoughts, attitudes, or expectations about life that keep you from freedom? How do you try to control the direction of your life rather the yielding to grace?
- Remember that you will die. St. Benedict writes in his Rule to “keep death daily before your eyes.” This is never an act of morbid obsession, but a reminder of life’s incredible gift. Any of us who have brushed near death, or had loved ones pass away, know this wisdom in profound ways. This is another paradox of the spiritual life: a vibrant relationship to our mortality is essential to a vibrant relationship to life.
- Ask for the wisdom of your ancestors. Each of us is the inheritor of generations of stories that beat through our blood. Each of us has mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, who wrestled mightily with living a meaningful life. We can call upon this great “cloud of witnesses” to support us in our own wrestling. We can listen across the veil between worlds.
- Open yourself to receiving a word for the year ahead. In quiet moments what are the desires you hear being whispered from your heart? Is there a word or phrase that shimmers forth, inviting you to dwell with it in the months ahead? Something you can grow into and don’t fully understand?
Did you see anything in this list about being in prayer, or drawing close to Jesus Christ through the Bible? No, instead you are hearing New Age “Christianity,” which is not centered on Him at all but on our own selves.
“Embracing night wisdom” or “asking for wisdom of your ancestors” replaces embracing God’s wisdom; “trust what you love” replaces trusting in the one true Savior; “let the rhythms of nature guide you” replaces letting the Holy Spirit guide and convict you; and finally opening yourself to receive a word is not really about the Word of God, but instead a word that shimmers from the whisperings of your heart.
- Henri Nouwen’s Affinity Toward Eastern Mysticism – A Valid Reason Why Christian Teachers and Leaders Should Not Promote Him (lighthousetrailsresearch.com)
- The Narrow Gate: Eastern Christian Spirituality and Eastern Religion (orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org)
- Letter to the Editor: Lectio Divina in South Africa Among Dutch Reformed – “Is there really a different way of reading the Word?” (lighthousetrailsresearch.com)
- Is “Jesus Calling” in your library? (standupforthetruth.com)
- Spiritually Abusive Religion or Religious Leader (watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com)