A Spiritual Self-Exam: Old First E-pistle 03.01.12

A Spiritual Self-Exam: Old First E-pistle 03.01.12

A friend who doesn’t go to church said recently, “I have specialists in my life for my taxes, my heart, my relationships with my wife and kids, even for the end of my life. But I don’t have anyone to help me stay strong spiritually.

I resisted quipping “that’s what church is for.”

He asked if I could offer some pointers. I felt I was being solicited for insider trading tips!

But he did get me thinking. Helping people to grow spiritually — at the risk of sounding crass — it’s one of the basic products or services the church peddles. Shouldn’t I have advice to share with him? Maybe if I were helpful, he might wonder what church could offer…

Thinking about his question, I realized, for me “spirituality” isn’t necessarily any “hard to explain” or “rarely experienced” other-worldly experience or commitment. I’m not sure it even has to be overtly “theistic.”

Instead, spirituality is adopting a reflective approach to life… acknowledging there is more than meets the eye, realities deeper than the clashes of the material world. Life is richer for the meanings that underlie (or overarch?) the physical.

Being UCC, I don’t believe there’s only one way to be spiritual. No single road that leads to living spiritually. I appreciate the creativity of different faith traditions.

I can also recognize different styles or practices within a single tradition. We draw our spirituality from our own unique combinations of worship, service, reading the Bible, prayer and meditation, leading, following, giving, receiving, in community, alone.

In all the diversity of how God created us, different ways lead to and through the lands of the Spirit. In other words, though I am a pastor, I can’t tell someone else which path to take. Instead, that act of mapping, and more often than not making one’s own path walking is something to be worked out between each individual and the God of his or her understanding.

But I have developed ten questions. They help me check in with myself and with God. And they orient me to the work I need to do. Sort of a spiritual self-exam. Not a test with a score, but some parameters by which i can measure if I’m moving ahead. And help me figure where I need to build up, and where I need to learn restraint, and what I should count on.

My questions might help you too.

Though I’ve numbered them, there’s no hierarchy of importance. You might just read them, and go with which whatever one engages your interest or calls for your answer…

1. Am I content with who I am becoming? Every day, I’d like to be getting closer to whom I will ultimately be. How’s my progress?

2. Does faith open me up to the world around me and its people; does it deliver courage for the surprises, challenges, mysteries and disappointments? (Or does it sequester me in hopes that narrowness will insulate me from all these?)

3. Do I have roots that make facing life’s storms less daunting?

4. Is my sense of connection — with God, with others, with the world — growing? Do I understand what strengthens my experience of connectedness and what breaks it?

5. Is my life mostly a conduit? In the Holy Land, there are two great bodies of water. In the one fish splash, birds bathe and crops climb the slopes all around. Around the other, there’s hardly a sign of life. The difference? The first, the Sea of Galilee… for every drop it takes in, it also puts forth. The other, the Dead Sea, receives and receives, but never gives away. Therein lies the difference of life.

6. Am I able to forgive myself for my brokenness? Humility is compassion for oneself. Do I extend the same grace to others?

7. Do I understand I don’t have to do EVERYTHING. God’s interest in me isn’t for what I can accomplish, but because I’m loved. Anyway, others’ different ways are often better than mine. And if there’s no one to do something… perhaps — regardless of the positive effect it could have — this means now is not the right time for that thing to be done.

8. Is there a quiet place (most likely not a location!) for me? To allow myself to get frantic, even over the important things on my plate, is to let the devil win. There’s power and purpose in planning and prioritizing, but I remember from way back, “Jesus simply walked around and did the good he encountered.”

9. Do I have some sense of my God-given gifts and how God means for me to put them to use? Humility is accepting one’s strength and power with gratitude.

10. Can I count on a sense of well-being that doesn’t comes from me, so much as from having found my rightful place in the universe? Only in this sense, can we make sense of Jesus’ exhortation that we find joy in all seasons, even in suffering.

See you in church,

Michael

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