This summer, I have committed to reading widely again. I was surprised when I read Andrew Lang’s article “7 Books that Shaped My Spirituality” because I have read none of the books he listed. Then I looked at his background and saw that he is an alumnus of Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation, which is very different from my understanding of Christian centered spirituality. My spirituality is shaped by the Bible, and Rohr and Lang are influenced by all religions.
Within the last fifty years of Christianity there has been an emphasis on continuous development of spirituality. Seminaries and Christian universities offer courses on spiritual formation, and there are spiritual directors who do spiritual training one-on-one. Renovaré, which was started by Celebration of Discipline author Richard Foster, seeks to ensure that pastors continue to develop their own spirituality as they lead others. There are people who practice spirituality on a wide scale by incorporating a broad level of resources and there are people who practice spirituality on a narrow scale by saying that anything not connected to the Holy Spirit or praising the Triune God is idolatrous and therefore displeasing to God.
Spiritual development or centering one’s life each day is very important. I start my daily spiritual centering in the early morning. This can last from 30 minutes to one hour. I begin by reading the Our Daily Bread devotion for the day, then I read a couple of chapters from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Following this, I use a hymnbook to sing at least 10 songs (I find that I rarely know half of the songs in our hymnbooks – both English and Romanian). Then I look over the prayer calendar from the organization The Voice of the Martyrs and I pray for the countries and people listed on the prayer calendar and the people in my own life. I do not feel that God is going to punish me if I skip my prayer time, but my days are more balanced when I have this time with God, and we can go over what I have to do that day. I become more aware of the presence of God and of the fact that wherever I go and whatever I do, I am his son and thus his representative.
In addition to what I do (almost) every morning, there are books that I have read and reread on spirituality. I have found them tremendously useful and, with the exception of the last one, I have read these books entirely.
St. Augustine, Confessions
E.M. Bounds, On Prayer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Cost of Discipleship
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Thomas Kempis, Imitation of Christ
Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life and Changed into His Likeness
J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Blaise Pascal, Pensées, The Provincial Letters
I’ve come to realize that reading the Bible and spiritual books is not the only way to enrich your spirituality. Through my daughter, I have come to see the influence of art as well. I do not understand art the way she does. She can focus on a painting for over one hour, while I am done in five minutes. What I do have is a love for poetry from my early childhood. I read poetry almost every day. I find that poetry expands my vocabulary and understanding of beauty, and it enriches my understanding of God, humanity, and the entire universe. Even considering a single word can build your spirituality. I take words like shalom and ask myself what it means to live in the shalom of God. The narrow view is that it means peace; the wide view is that it means wholeness and abundance.
DK is a good friend from my college days. After spending a good amount of time in prayer at the end of a year, he writes a prayer for the year to come. This was his prayer this year: “Lord Jesus, break in me whatever needs breaking. Heal whatever in me needs healing. Fill whatever in me needs filling. Anoint whatever in me needs anointing.” I look at this prayer, and it is a frightening prayer, but it is also a prayer of a man who has had a global ministry and blessed thousands of people.
Another friend has written a book entitled God’s Ideal Country. The book is a response to Marx, who claimed that Christianity was the opium of the masses who believe in the Kingdom of God in the next life. My friend’s argument is that we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but we live as though we do not believe that God is willing or able to do this. In the midst of all of our difficulties, how do we live spiritually in God’s ideal country? My peasant mother did not read his book, but she had her own motto and tried to create a corner of paradise in the house in which we lived. For me in the final analysis, spirituality means drawing closer to God and creating a space where He reigns.