I found out last night that I have the privilege of returning to my alma mater, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, to speak at the annual Alumni Chapel. It's strange because I always had this picture in my mind of being there again, on that red-carpeted platform, in the place where I was trained (by education and experience) and readied for the journey that came next and continues to come each day. One of the truly deep impressions that was made on me during my time at MVNU was through being exposed to Henri J.M. Nouwen. The work and writing of Nouwen became a touchstone for me, basically saving me from the sick cycle of religious behavior that I found myself caught in during my early 20's. His book The Life of the Beloved continues to haunt and inform the way I live and the clinging of my soul (Ps. 63) to God. I understand that he had failings, as we all do, and plenty of people want to debate whether or not the whole "spiritual formation movement" is valid. I'm writing a post on that soon, so I'll keep my words on it brief here. However, I can't deny what happened to me when I engaged that small book and looked at myself as one taken, broken, blessed, and given. I would challenge you to do the same.
For today, I wanted to share an insight from Nouwen that I believe is so important for those of us engaged in the "conversation for transformation" (see, it's not just a clever subtitle for a blog). Discipline, under grace, can bring us into a life that we couldn't imagine.
Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.
Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.
Father, let us train ourselves to be what we cannot be by effort alone. Let our training make room for your grace, and let your grace do the work of transformation, with your Spirit acting as midwife to the new birth you are bringing about in us and in our world. Peace.