Spiritual practices, secret or shared? This is the title of the 13th chapter of Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christian. This question has bugged me since I began the process of acknowledging and answering my call to ministry. Spiritual practices, are they a public display of faith or are they private? I took the middle-ground on the question and found a “happy medium” and thought that I had solved the question. A few years later, while working with our church’s high school catechism class, this question resurfaced in my life, and here it is again. I guess this means that if the question keeps resurfacing then I have not answered it or have not done so adequately.
The question arises in McLaren’s book through an email dialogue between Dan and his “spiritual-Yoda”, Neo. The question about prayer and studying of the Bible, when measured by quantity vs. quality, that is the amount of time your devote to the spiritual practice rather than ensuring that the time spent is meaningful, is raised. This is the same question that I was thinking about three years ago while sitting in a hotel outside the Mall of American in Minneapolis, MN.
It was a frigid winter evening, I guess that’s typical in Minnesota, and I had just started my first year in seminary. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, and on top of that I was not prepared with the spiritual practices that would be necessary for the journey that was before me. There is no handbook given to seminary students or new Christians (other than the Bible). I felt like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights during his first ESPN interview. I knew what to do with my hands, but was not sure how to do everything else.
Neo and Dan come to the conclusion that the modern-day idea of consumerism and individualism has driven us (a collective us) to more public forms of worship. Dan describes feeling uncomfortable with the lyrics of many of the more popular contemporary Christian music –
“it’s all about ‘me’. How Jesus makes me feel, what he does for me, how he loves and forgives me. The language is almost erotic he holds me close, embraces me, and so on…nothing wrong with this, but I wonder – does this represent a kind of narcissistic and over individualized spirituality?”
Dan and Neo would argue that as Christianity moves out of the modern era spiritual practices will become more private again. I do not think that this reduces the practices to something you do in your own home and not share with anyone. I think there will be a balance between what is done publicly (or shared publicly) and what is kept between the individual and God.
I am not sure if this answers the question – spiritual practices, secret or shared? – or if more questions are now raised. But maybe that is a good thing. Perhaps that will just require me (or us) to seek God more, with more intentionality.