Presbyterians Today

FEB-MAR 2018

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Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay | FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 21 I walked away from the church at age 15. I wasn't unique. Many teens walk away from the church, although it's more common today than when I did it in the mid-1970s. No matter what the year, teens walk away from church for many reasons — spiritual laziness, lack of inspiration from worship services, worldly distractions, peer pressure (it's not cool to go to church), the attraction of other beliefs (including agnosticism and atheism). But I walked away for reasons that were a bit different from those of many of my friends. I wasn't seeking less. I was seeking something more than I thought was available from the church. I was seeking an authentic, experiential spirituality — although I never would have said it in that way back then. In short, it felt as if there was nothing spiritual about the church of my youth. From my 15-year-old perspec- tive, church attenders were more interested in being part of a church either because it was the social thing to do in our town, or to check "worship" off their task of weekly things to do, albeit with the hope that this task would pay dividends in the afterlife. I, though, wanted to experience God. I wanted to see, hear, touch and follow God. But I wasn't getting guidance on how to do that from the church. In fact, the church seemed to lack any interest in the guidance department. So I embarked on my own pursuit of God that led me on a journey of spirituality, including early stopovers in Buddhist and New Age thought. Eventually I came back to the church at age 24, joining the church I had abandoned earlier. But this time I saw what I couldn't see before: Spirituality is hard to nurture in a vacuum when we are our own gurus. This is why Christian spirituality has always flowed out of community. There's a reason the early church worked so hard to create Christian communi- ties. Without them, spirituality can easily become self-absorbed. The spiritual connection But community is only one aspect of Christian spirituality. Over the last 20 years there has been a sig- nificant increase in interest among Christians in the spiritual tradi- tions of our past. More Christians, including many Presbyterians, are engaging in practices such as con- templative prayer, reflective reading, journaling and guided meditation, especially in the context of small groups and church practices. The rediscovery of Christian spirituality, which began in the 1960s and 1970s, has been nurtured through the influence of an ever- growing number of influential Catholic and Protestant writers and teachers. It has sparked a much-needed growth in awareness of Christ's presence everywhere, calling us to a deeper way of life that nurtures the fruits of the Spirit, such as compassion, gen- erosity, self-discipline, patience, kindness and peace. It used to be that spiritual disci- plines were something only monks and nuns, and some Protestants, did in solitude, but even their solitude was still in connection with community — the monastery or the church. They might engage in solitary prayer walks to con- template God's wonders; fast to sharpen prayer and to "let go to let in God"; sit in quiet prayer to listen to God's "still, small voice"; sit in contemplative silence to center on God. For several centuries spiritual disciplines were something only a few in the church were interested in, as the church emphasized a more intellectual approach to faith. These were people hunger- ing for more of God. That spiritual Strengthening community and faith BY N. GRAHAM STANDISH Churchwide spiritual disciplines ISTOCK.COM

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