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b. How the Disciplines Promote Spiritual Growth

As discussed in our 'Mission,' spiritual growth is complex and often unpredictable. It may occur suddenly and unexpectedly in the midst of a life crisis, as circumstances conspire to make us more aware of God's presence in our lives.  Yet it may also be realized gradually as the fruit of a deliberate, life-long quest to deepen our relationship with God.  It may be experienced by loyal members of faith communities as well as those who have been indifferent or even hostile toward spirituality.

Regardless of the specific circumstances in which growth takes place, the disciplines promote spiritual development in many ways.  In the most general sense, the disciplines invite us to discover many different modes of divine presence and action in the world -- the many complex and mysterious ways in which God relates to us, to our faith community, to the wider social world, and to the entire community of creation.  The disciplines also cultivate a variety of different modes of perception that enable us to 'tune into' these modes of divine presence.  As we practice the various types of disciplines, we may encounter the sacred in a quiet, contemplative mood as well as the more lively atmosphere of a peaceful public demonstration.  No single type of activity or experience can enable us to glimpse the full depth and breadth of God's presence and guidance in the world.  However, with the help of God’s grace, each of these diverse practices may broaden our spiritual awareness and perception in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

In the sections below, we discuss more specific ways in which the disciplines facilitate spiritual growth.
  The first four sections focus on basic dimensions of spiritual formation.  From the perspective of developmental psychology, we will describe how the disciplines help us to address needs and develop capabilities that serve as essential foundations for spiritual growth.  We will also explore the ways in which the disciplines shape our inner faculties -- our thoughts, feelings, and desires or aspirations -- so that we may become more 'available' to perceive and to respond to God's presence in our lives.  In addition, we will discuss how the disciplines encourage us to integrate our spiritual values into all of our roles and relationships, as well as significant 'life projects' such as our career, our hobbies, and our civic and political involvements.

We then explore relationships between the disciplines and specific experiences, events, and trends that more directly reveal God's presence in our lives.  The disciplines may serve as catalysts for spiritual experiences of extraordinary depth, power, and clarity.  They may evoke these experiences as well as help us to recognize and interpret them.  They may also help us to recognize and interpret events and trends that reveal God's presence and guidance in our lives.  Events include such phenomena as serendipity and synchronicity.  Some classic trends include pruning, purification, and spiritual conversion.  

In the final section we claim that, by facilitating all of these dimensions of our spiritual growth, the disciplines enable us to work with God in a more conscious, trusting, and committed manner as God pulls and pushes us toward greater spiritual maturity.



1)  Meeting Basic Needs through the Disciplines

The eight types of spiritual disciplines address developmental needs that serve as essential foundations for spiritual growth.  According to Hall's theory, these include needs for food, clothing, and shelter; for healthy, nurturing relationships; for a sense of competence and achievement; and for a basic sense of identity.  For those who receive it, personal service often provides basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.  For those who provide it, service develops a capacity for empathy -- the ability to understand and appreciate another's thoughts and feelings.  This capacity is vital in the formation of mutually rewarding relationships.  Faith-sharing also develops key relational skills, including the capacities to listen to others and to express oneself in an open and honest manner.  Both theological reflection and spiritual mentoring help one to develop a clearer sense of one's identity by enabling one to form a view of the world and to discern one's personal vocation within it.  Rites of passage or initiation (rituals) may also clarify one's identity by spelling out the key roles and responsibilities that one should assume as one enters a new stage of life.

When basic needs are not met and basic capacities are not cultivated, it is much more difficult to respond to God's presence and guidance in one's life, to participate actively and effectively in one's faith community, and to serve the wider society.


2)  The Formation of Our Inner Faculties: The Development of Spiritual Virtues

In the inner dynamics of our consciousness, the disciplines shape our thoughts, feelings, and desires in ways that help us to recognize and respond to God’s presence and guidance in our lives.  Regarding our thoughts, disciplines such as contemplation and theological reflection help us to slow down and gain clearer insights into ourselves, the world, and God.  As we become more centered through the practice of the disciplines, we may feel more calm about superficial things and events, yet more passionate about causes that strike at the core of our spiritual views and values.  We may, for example, feel more compassionate towards others as we share our lives in our personal witness and in faith-sharing groups. 

The disciplines also awaken strong desires to do things that promote our spiritual growth -- that deepen our relationship with God, that improve ourselves, that build up our faith community and serve society at large.  Through structural service, we may discover a passion for social justice and environmental stewardship.

Over time the disciplines help us to form virtues or consistent habits of thinking, feeling, and desiring that promote our spiritual growth.  Our thoughts may be shaped by the virtues of diligence, honesty, and humility.  All of these virtues enable us to construct accurate views of the world and to revise them when necessary.  We may gain control over negative feelings such as envy, bitterness, and despair, and replace them with a sober optimism, a buoyant feeling of self-confidence and acceptance, and a sense of ‘generosity of spirit’ toward others.  We may become less passionate about values and activities that we recognize as superficial, hedonistic, or self-absorbed.  Instead, our desires will be buttressed by the virtues of compassion, patience, prudence, self-discipline, and perseverance as we more consistently strive to develop ourselves and serve others through the disciplines.  This 'inner work' of the disciplines is reflected in our external behavior.  They help us to speak and act in mature and constructive ways that embody all of the virtues mentioned above.


3)  Building Relationships through the Practice of Spiritual Disciplines

The disciplines also help us to integrate our spiritual values into our various roles and relationships.  They provide an ideal forum for establishing and deepening relationships. When practiced with others, they enable participants to learn about each other’s deepest beliefs and values, and they create a common reservoir of experience and shared meanings that can become the basis for rich and rewarding relationships. Practicing a common rhythm of spiritual practices is especially conducive the following types of relationships.

Family Life

The common practice of spiritual disciplines provides opportunities for family members to relate to each other on a much deeper and more authentic level. Faith-sharing groups may provide parents with opportunities to discuss and share effective ways to relate to their children. Children for their part get to experience their parents and other relatives as moral and spiritual role models. They may then develop a greater sense of respect for their elders and the values and views that they espouse. Spouses get a chance to focus on the beliefs, values, and experiences that bond them to each other. They can also explicitly focus on their goals for the spiritual development of their families and on strategies for achieving these goals.

Friendship

In his classic work The Nichomachean Ethics, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle claims that the basis for true friendship is a mutual regard for another’s well-being. With Aristotle, we propose that friendships are forged by friends’ mutual desire for each other’s psychological, spiritual, and moral integrity and growth. The spiritual disciplines described above and the moral disciplines described below (see section e) provide excellent opportunities for friends to cultivate and express this mutual regard for one another’s well-being.

Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships in particular are vastly enriched by the common practice of spiritual disciplines. Popular culture, in the form of movies, television, and music, bombards young and old alike with messages focusing on the physical aspects of romantic relationships. We propose that this focus on sensuality and sexual gratification is ultimately not fulfilling. Rather, we maintain that the most rewarding romantic relationships are built on moral and spiritual bonds that develop as couples explore and express their common views and values. We thus propose that couples should build their relationships through the common practice of these disciplines. If they are truly compatible, they will form bonds that unite them through shared experiences of grace and conviction.

We do not propose that sexual activity is necessarily bad or exploitive.  Rather, we advocate an ethic of temperance and discipline so that couples may develop relationships based on psychological and spiritual compatibility rather than sexual desire. This applies to married couples as well, who may benefit from periodic sexual abstinence in order to focus on the spiritual intimacy that is symbolized through their physical union.

The Eos Network does not reject homosexual relationships or families. We are concerned, rather, with the quality of romantic relationships. Our standards are high for all relationships, regardless of the gender of the persons involved.

Relationships between Citizens in Civic and Political Life

The practice of moral and spiritual disciplines among groups of citizens is vital to the common good of society. It allows for the acknowledgement of common spiritual beliefs and moral values that persons in different traditions may share. These common perspectives may become the foundation of a shared conception of the moral purposes of society as a whole. Particularly through the discipline of structural service, citizens from different faiths can forge a consensus on standards for good government as they evaluate political candidates and public policies.  They may then communicate their views in the public square with clarity and conviction.  For a discussion of how structural service may be practiced by all citizens, see our proposed "Ministry of Political Education and Action."


4)  How the Disciplines Shape the Ways in Which We Pursue Life Projects

The consistent practice of the disciplines may also lead to changes in our most important life projects -- our career, our church participation, and our civic and political affiliations.  We may revise the way we value our career; we may even switch to another career that better embodies our views and values.  We may pursue new roles and projects in our faith community, in civic organizations, or in a political organization.

Though we may take on a few more projects, these should not leave us 'frazzled' and burned out.  They should all reflect the same set of views and values.  They should all be part of an integrated spiritual quest.  They should all play a role in the development of the different dimensions of our personality.  They can all provide ways to serve the communities in which we live.  We believe that, when we strive to effectively serve others and develop ourselves in all of our projects, it is easy to get motivated.  It is also easier to discern when we need to take time for rest and rejuvenation.  The different types of disciplines can help us to engage in career, service, or family projects with great effort and a strong sense of purpose.  They then call us to step back in order to ‘recharge our batteries’ through such practices as contemplation, ritual, and faith-sharing.

It may take a while to gain a clear and stable sense that one is becoming spiritually integrated or mature.  We may have to reorient many relationships and projects in our lives.  We may even have to withdraw from some relationships and drop some projects.  Yet these struggles should, in the long run, lead to a greater sense of peace, clarity, focus, and intensity.  Our lives will still, of course, be challenging.  But we should perceive God calling us forth and empowering us to engage in the struggle -- the drama -- of growth.  Our struggles should consistently bear fruit in our personal growth and in our contributions to our families and to our community.


5)  Extraordinary Experiences and Events as Signs of God’s Presence and Guidance

Special types of experiences and events may reveal, in a sudden and graphic manner, the presence of God working in our lives.

Serendipity and Synchronicity

Experiences of synchronicity and serendipity are perhaps the most uncanny and extraordinary experiences that may be illuminated by the practice of the disciplines. Synchronicity involves some extraordinary coincidence that has significant meaning. Perhaps we are thinking of an old friend whom we haven’t seen in years, and then run into them. Or perhaps we finally reach clarity in our discernment of a career and then immediately run into someone who can help us to prepare for it.

Serendipitous events are simply unexpected discoveries that have some significant meaning in one’s life. For example, one may discover a book in a garbage can that changes one’s perspective on some important matter. Or one may sit next to a stranger, strike up a conversation, and realize that this person has some breakthrough insight that enables one to understand some puzzling problem in one’s life.

The different types of disciplines are useful for both recognizing and interpreting these extraordinary events.  We may learn about them in theological reflection, record them through journaling, recount them in witness, and relate them to others in faith-sharing groups.  We can also gratefully reflect on them in contemplation and celebrate them in rituals.  However, it is particularly important to share these events with an experienced spiritual guide so that one does not misinterpret events that may not be particularly meaningful for one's spiritual growth.

Peak Experiences

Very dramatic experiences of insights, feelings, and desires are termed ‘peak experiences.’  They may also be called ‘mystical experiences.’  Such episodes are marked by an intense awareness of God’s presence and guidance in one's life. In the midst of these experiences, one may feel deeply affirmed by God, intimately connected with others, and/or passionately driven to pursue some vocation or project. These experiences are especially uncanny when they are preceded by prolonged bouts with anxiety or despair. Sometimes they follow the experience of a profound sense of powerless – a sense of ‘letting go’ or ‘giving up’ in one's struggle to deal with one’s problems. As one ‘hits rock bottom,’ one may encounter a very meaningful spiritual writing that speaks to one's experience with great clarity. Or one may suddenly gain insight into some profound spiritual truth.  When one’s life is less troubled, one may not be open to such insights. But in the midst of crisis, these experiences can take hold of us and change our lives in profound and unexpected ways.

However they may be caused, peak experiences may enable one to gain a new awareness of God’s grace and presence in one’s life. One may be given a new sense of inspiration, clarity, focus, and generosity of spirit (for further discussion of religious experiences and major life changes, see the section below "Broader Life Changes: The Disciplines and Spiritual Conversion.")

The disciplines may enable one to have, recognize, and interpret a peak or mystical experience.  They may render one more available for such a peak experience simply because they help one to experience all aspects of one's lifestyle with greater depth, intensity, and spiritual awareness.  One may thus have a peak experience in some activity unrelated to one’s spiritual practice.  One may also, of course, have powerful experiences while one is engaged in the disciplines. The disciplines may lead one to moments of profound insight. They may elicit powerful, transforming emotions. They may focus and form our desires and aspirations in ways that are very different from most other types of activities. 

Just as important, the different types of disciplines provide opportunities to share and interpret peak experiences.  In the discipline of contemplation, one may meditate on the experience with gratitude and hope. In the disciplines of faith-sharing and spiritual mentoring, one may share the experience with others, discern its significance, and allow it to transform one’s life in radical and enduring ways. Through service, one may express and share the feelings of compassion and love that one has gained through this intense encounter with the sacred.


6)  Recognizing Life Trends that Reveal God’s Guidance

Many religious traditions claim that there are characteristic ways in which God works through a series of events and circumstances in our lives in order to lead us toward spiritual growth.  Some of these are described below.  As with the extraordinary events and experiences described above, the disciplines can help one to identify and interpret these ‘divine designs.'  In theological reflection one may learn to recognize these trends by studying classic ways in which God is thought to work in our lives.  Journaling, a contemplative practice, can help one to record one's experiences and begin to discern significant trends in one's spiritual awareness and growth.  The discipline of witness compels one to further reflect on and clarify how these trends fit into one's spiritual journey.  The disciplines of faith-sharing and spiritual mentoring call one to share these experiences with others in one's faith community.  A personal relationship with a spiritual guide may be especially helpful as one explores the ways in which God is acting in one's everyday life.

Trends that Involve Challenges or Crises

One may realize, at the end of a particularly challenging series of events, how God has been working in one’s life, helping one to stretch and grow in unexpected ways.  Individuals in all major faiths describe how God has used a challenge or crisis of some sort in order to make them more vulnerable and thus more 'available' to perceive God's presence in their lives.  These individuals may be more or less aware of this process as it is occurring.  If they are aware of it, they may struggle through it with tenacious faith and determination.  If not, their growth may be a surprising outcome to a difficult and chaotic situation.  In the latter case especially, one can appreciate, with awe, humility, and gratitude, how God 'the opportunist' may work through all types of circumstances in order to bring about growth and meaning. 

The practice of journaling may help one to search for meaning in these challenging situations.  The disciplines of faith-sharing and spiritual mentoring may be helpful for interpreting them.  One may, with the aid of peers and spiritual guides, closely examine episodes in one’s life, searching out the ways in which God has worked through them in order to help one to gain spiritual awareness, wisdom, determination, and generosity of spirit.

Pruning
 

A more specific example of this type of trend is called ‘pruning.’  In this dynamic, one may perceive God's desire to limit one’s involvement in some relationships or projects so that one may deepen one’s commitment to other relationships or projects.  God may in this way be trying to tell us that we will grow in our spiritual vocation if we pursue a certain set of projects or relationships, even if we do not really want to do so.  As we pursue these commitments, we may discover that we have become more well-rounded and more capable of serving others as instruments of God's grace.  Since this process involves 'letting go' of some persons and projects, it is often difficult and unpleasant.  It may take a while to look beyond these losses and see new opportunities for growth and service that are opened up for us.

Purification

In the process of purification, God orients us away from aspects of our personality and lifestyle -- from habits of thinking, feeling, desiring, and acting -- that hinder our spiritual growth.  This process is different from pruning because the relationships and projects that are being 'trimmed' in pruning may not be spiritually harmful; they may simply distract us from other involvements that are more essential to our vocation.  On the other hand, the habits that must be transformed in the process of purification are definitely obstacles to growth.  These obstacles may include vanity, pride, excessive anxiety, or an attachment to material wealth and comfort.  It may be quite difficult to overcome these obstacles, especially if they are deeply ingrained in our personality, lifestyle, and identity.  All of the disciplines may facilitate the process of purification.  It is especially helpful to become aware of this process by reflecting upon it in one's journal and by discussing it with a spiritual guide and with fellow members of a faith-sharing group.  One may then learn to more willingly cooperate with God as one discerns how God may be changing us in order to invite us to adopt a more meaningful lifestyle and pursue a more fulfilling vocation.

Even as we recognize God working through difficult situations, we may still wonder why the path of growth has to be so unpleasant. In this situation as well, the disciplines may provide opportunities to share our bitterness and to explore how others in one's community and faith tradition have coped with the drama of growth. We can bring this experience to contemplative prayer, express it in faith-sharing groups, and study the ways in which prominent spiritual writers understand the role of suffering in spiritual growth.

Experiences and trends that reveal God's presence and guidance are not always so unpleasant.  In the process of pruning, for example, one may be ready or even relieved to withdraw, at least temporarily, from relationships or projects that have long been obstacles to growth.  In addition, as one becomes more spiritually mature, one may more readily accept personal losses as well as the need for continual purification and renewal.  And, of course, God works in our lives in pleasant as well as challenging circumstances.  We may discern God working through a series of inspiring and energizing events, each of which brings greater clarity, compassion, wisdom, and generosity of spirit.

Broader Life Changes: The Disciplines and Spiritual Conversion

Any of the experiences and trends discussed in this section may be part of a broad and profound shift in one’s world view and values.  In a spiritual context, such a shift is called a spiritual conversion. A spiritual conversion may be a gradual, life-long process of discovering God’s presence and guidance in one’s life; or it may be a sudden and dramatic awakening of spiritual awareness. 

Since conversions involve a significant reorientation of one's views, attitudes, and values, those who experience them undergo a period of purification in which they transform aspects of their personality and lifestyle that hinder their spiritual growth.  In gradual conversions, this purification may take place over many years.  In more sudden conversions it represents a dramatic break from one's previous way of being.  It may involve a period of intense inner focus as one works with God to reorient one’s life in response to one’s spiritual awakening.  In this process, one may withdraw from significant relationships and life projects as one develops a new sense of identity and purpose.

The disciplines can lead one toward a conversion experience as well as help one to interpret it.  Over time, the consistent practice of the disciplines can facilitate a gradual conversion of one's views and values.  Or, a particularly powerful experience of one or more disciplines may trigger a sudden conversion.  As one is going through a conversion, fellow members of a faith-sharing group may help one to interpret the experience. One may receive helpful advice and guidance from spiritual mentors. One may make more sense of one's own experience by studying the conversion experiences of others as these are described in classic spiritual texts.  One may also inspire others by sharing one's conversion experience in the discipline of witness.

The disciplines may thus help the converted to draw wisdom and support from their faith community as they reorient their lives.  When they practice the full range of disciplines, these individuals may discern how their conversion is calling them to explore new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting; and to transform their most significant roles, relationships, and life projects.  The consistent practice of the disciplines should thus provide a stable structure of activities for harnessing the new vitality of their relationship with God.

More General Signs of God's Presence and Guidance

Finally, even if clear trends and turning points in one's spiritual journey are difficult to discern, God's presence may be affirmed more generally over the course of one's entire lifetime.  Individuals may simply look back on their lives and discover that the disciplines have helped them to form more intimate relationships, to develop greater psychological strength and resiliency,  and to participate more meaningfully in the programs and projects of civic, spiritual, and political organizations.  


7)  Moving Toward Greater Surrender to God’s Forming Presence

Affirmation and Trust
Above we describe how the disciplines help one to recognize, interpret, and celebrate manifold signs of divine grace and presence.  Whether one discerns God’s presence through uncanny events, dramatic experiences, or through the gradual enrichment of one’s life, this recognition conveys a sense of acceptance and affirmation that profoundly reinforces one's faith.  It helps to cement a relationship of trust in which one may surrender more fully to God’s forming hands as God shapes one and invites one to serve the wider world.  

Integration and the Establishment of a Broader Rhythm of Living
Supported by this confident and trusting relationship, one may discover ways to grow and to serve others in all of one's roles, relationships, and life projects.  One may thus integrate spiritual values into all dimensions of one's personality and lifestyle.  In this way, one's rhythm of spiritual practices may enable one to establish a broader rhythm of living that draws one toward greater depth and meaning in every aspect of one's life.

Participation and Imitation
Through this process of integration, one may be able to participate more fully and consciously in God's designs for the spiritual growth of all persons and for the development of just and sustainable societies.  In one's own life, one may be able to more consistently emulate the divine compassion, wisdom, and commitment that are revealed in these designs.  

Revelation
In this process of spiritual growth, one may thus glimpse, however imperfectly, the depth and mystery of God’s relationship to the world. God may demonstrate an intimate knowledge of the details of one’s own life.  One may discern God’s presence within one’s faith community.  One may awaken to God’s presence in public events and social movements.  It is dumbfounding to ponder how God can work within all of these contexts, yet this sense of awe and mystery, along with one's growth in wisdom and generosity of spirit, draws one forward in one's spiritual quest.  Through the disciplines, one may seek out a multitude of ways in which one may encounter the sacred each day and serve as a participant in God's mysterious designs, large and small.



c. Complementary Relationships between Different Types of Spiritual Disciplines: Cultivating Momentum and Motivation in One's Spiritual Formation

As one gains experience in all of the different types of disciplines, one may discover that each type engages a unique cluster of emotional, intellectual, social, and physical needs and capacities.  Contemplative activities cultivate emotions such as serenity, inspiration, and generosity of spirit.  Faith-sharing groups give one a chance to build intimate relationships with others.  Theological reflection may help one to gain insight into the dynamics of spiritual growth.  Works of justice develop intellectual and social skills involved in political dialogue and action.

As one’s spiritual practice becomes more consistent and comprehensive, one may discover that these differences are complementary.  That is, as one engages one set of capacities and addresses one set of needs through one type of discipline, one may become empowered and encouraged to engage other capacities and address other needs through other types of disciplines.

For example, a powerful contemplative experience may give one a sense of courage and conviction that one wishes to express through structural service.  Structural service may, in turn, require careful theological reflection on society and social dynamics.  One may then gain wisdom through theological reflection that one wishes to share with others in a faith-sharing group.  The insight and support gained from one’s peers may help one to plan a more successful strategy for social action.  This struggle for justice may then lead one back to contemplation in order to renew one's spirit through meditation or prayer.

By practicing these types of disciplines, one is alternately inspired to cultivate a desire for justice, to learn and reflect, to support and be supported by others, to act with clarity and conviction, and to return to contemplation in order to 'recharge' one's spirit.

Growth in one's on-going relationship with God adds to this dynamic.  Each type of discipline provides a distinct opportunity to discover how God is acting in one's personal life, in one's faith community, and in society at large.  A holistic rhythm of practices should thus draw one more intensely toward the mystery of God's nature and God's relationship to the world.  With a sense of awe and 'intrigue,' one may more clearly discern God's intentions in one's spiritual growth, in the development of one's faith community, and in broader patterns of social change.

Driven by one's desire for greater depth and meaning, one's spiritual quest may thus develop a sort of natural momentum or rhythm: the consistent practice of each type of discipline should motivate and prepare one to practice the others.  Over time, the different types of disciplines may be woven into a dynamic rhythm of spiritual formation that is shaped by
one’s personality, lifestyle, gifts, and interests, and by the transforming power of the disciplines themselves.

We should mention that, for many people, beginning to cultivating a holistic rhythm of spiritual formation can be a lot like starting a physical fitness program.  As one begins to get in shape, it may take a while to get used to the exercises, overcome initial discomfort, and feel the vigor and confidence of being physically fit.  Similarly, as one starts to practice the eight types of disciplines, some types may seem unfamiliar, awkward, tedious, or even boring.  However, if one continues to explore all of the disciplines in a spirit of faith and hope, one may gradually discover the unique value of each discipline as well as the many ways in which the various types complement each other.

The following are examples of dynamic relationships between the different types of spiritual disciplines.  These relationships may be combined in many diverse ways as one cultivates an engaging rhythm of spiritual formation.



Rituals

As discussed above in the definitions of the disciplines, rituals are integrating activities.  In a structural sense, other types of disciplines are often integrated into ritual formats.  For example, periods of silence and meditative song within rituals may provide opportunities for contemplation.  Also, one may be expected to fast -- a discipline of the body -- before a ritual in order to heighten one's spiritual focus and intensity.  

In another sense, rituals clarify, summarize, and integrate insights and meanings that one may experience in the practice of the other disciplines.  Repeating examples given in the definition above, songs in rituals may extol the generous spirit of personal service.  Key symbols may summarize insights gained in theological study.

Rituals and Theological Reflection
Particularly through rites of initiation and passage, rituals may be important ways in which members of groups learn and express their self-concept and group identity.  These rituals may communicate to participants the behaviors that are expected of them, the responsibilities that they must assume, as well as the opportunities that they may enjoy as they pass through the various stages of life.  Gaining this sort of knowledge about oneself and about the values of one's community is a primary goal of theological reflection.

Rituals, Faith-Sharing, and Mentoring
Many rituals represent the unity of the worshipping community though songs, gestures, symbols, and the common recitation of creeds or oaths.  These ritual elements help participants to understand and celebrate the special, sacred nature of the bonds between themselves and between themselves and the divine. This bonding is created and reinforced as persons share intimate details of their spiritual lives in such disciplines as faith-sharing groups and spiritual mentoring.

 


Contemplative Practices

Contemplative practices such as quiet prayer and meditation are essential because they encourage one to be more introspective, centered, mindful, and focused on one’s spiritual growth. For many, the intense and deeply personal character of contemplative or 'inner' experiences gives them the inspiration and energy to practice the other disciplines in a consistent and committed way. Such an experience of God’s presence and guidance may thus animate and focus one’s efforts to cultivate a well-rounded spiritual life that fully engages all of one’s gifts and capacities.

Contemplative Practices, Service, Faith-Sharing, and Spiritual Mentoring

As they encourage greater awareness of God’s presence in one’s life, contemplative experiences may enable one to be more available for others through service, faith-sharing, and spiritual mentoring.  These disciplines provide opportunities to share the acceptance, compassion, and wisdom that one may gain through these ‘inner’ experiences of grace.

Contemplative Practices and Theological Reflection

The focused and consistent practice of contemplation may facilitate rich experiences in which one becomes graphically aware of the presence and guidance of God in one’s life. These experiences of the love and the mystery of God naturally dispose one to theological reflection. The experience of grace compels one to reflect on oneself, others, and God in a new light, with greater wisdom and insight.

More specifically, theological reflection deepens and mellows one’s experience of grace through contemplation as it provides concepts and images that one may use in order to articulate the profound insights gained in these introspective experiences.

Conversely, pondering the nature of God in theological reflection may lead one to contemplate the depth and mystery of the sacred in ways that are not easily captured by language and concepts.  In this way, contemplation and theological reflection ‘play off’ of each other in an interesting tension.  As one experiences God’s presence in contemplation, one seeks to understand this experience.  Yet one may also realize the limited ability of concepts and images to fully grasp the mystery of God that one may encounter in contemplation or, for that matter, in any of the other disciplines.

Contemplative Practices, Faith-Sharing, Spiritual Mentoring, and Witness

Since contemplative experiences are often transforming and liberating, helping one to find new affirmation, meaning, and purpose in one’s life, one is often eager to share them with others and discuss how they have changed one’s life. Describing these powerful interior experiences in activities such as spiritual direction or faith-sharing groups is essential for gaining perspective on one’s faith journey and for forming strong bonds within communities.

As explained above, the discipline of witness may involve describing ‘inner’ (contemplative) experiences to others outside of one’s faith community. This sharing may encourage them to learn more about one’s tradition in order to experience the sense of affirmation and clarity that often emerges in contemplation. These nonmembers may also wish to respond with stories of their own similar experiences. Such situations provide excellent opportunities for building relationships both within and beyond one’s faith community.

 


Theological Reflection

Theological reflection involves the systematic study of the human person, society, the world at large, and God; as well as the relationships between these entities. Sources for this reflection include scriptural texts, traditions of theological reflection, the human and natural sciences, philosophy, and the actual experiences of oneself and one's community. The practice of the full range of spiritual disciplines provides a rich source of experiences from which one may draw wisdom and insight. Without these sources of experience, theology can easily become arid and separated from the drama of spiritual life and growth.

Any powerful experience of God's presence and guidance in any discipline can lead one to theological reflection.  After experiencing a profound sense of affirmation and encouragement in a discipline, one may seek to further understand the divine being who has somehow revealed itself.  Buoyed by this experience, one may also examine oneself with greater courage and openness.  In addition, one may try to better understand human society and the natural world in order to further discern God's presence in the wider forum of creation.

By thus encouraging careful examination of one’s most powerful and significant experiences, this discipline seeks to cultivate a respect for wisdom and a reflective temperament.  In doing so, it may help one to avoid falling into an enormous trap in the path to spiritual growth -- a lapse into excessive ' emotivism' and fanaticism.

Overall, theological reflection plays a stabilizing role in the practice of all of the disciplines, since it helps individuals to form a cognitive map of themselves, the world around them, and God. This map guides one in all of one's roles, relationships, and life projects, including one’s spiritual practice.

Theological Reflection, Witness, Faith Sharing, and Mentoring

By providing one with categories and frameworks for understanding one’s experiences and beliefs, theological reflection makes it easier to share one's experiences with others through the practices of witness, faith-sharing, and spiritual mentoring. One gains a vocabulary and a worldview through which one can understand and express what may be revealed and/or confirmed in one's experiences of God’s presence and guidance. These concepts and frameworks enable members to express the shared meanings that hold communities together. They thus form the basis for creating and maintaining common perspectives within a group, and they help a group to acknowledge and deal with differences in a clear and coherent manner.

Theological Reflection and Service

Theological reflection can guide one's acts of service as it helps one to gain a fuller understanding of the needs of others and how one might most effectively address them. Clear analysis and careful planning is especially important for structural service. Through the study of sociology one can gain an understanding of how individuals are formed by the social institutions in which they participate. As one more clearly understands this dynamic, one can then assess the impact of these institutions’ values, policies, and programs on the well-being of individuals and groups. On the basis of this assessment, one can then work to ensure that these groups truly serve the needs of those whose lives they touch.

Theological Reflection and Ritual

By clarifying the meaning of core texts, symbols, and ritual actions, theological reflection facilitates one's understanding of and participation in ritual practices. By enhancing one's understanding of important turning points in one's personal development, theological reflection may help to clarify the significance and meaning of rites of passage and initiation. Theological reflection thus provides believers with a clearer understanding of themselves and of the deeper meaning of their ritual traditions. With this greater awareness, rituals should be opportunities for gaining wisdom and building community rather than boring and repetitive obligations.

 


Faith-Sharing and Spiritual Mentoring

Together, these two disciplines enable participants to form supportive and intimate relationships that have a pervasive effect on one’s spiritual growth.  The relationships formed within them provide support and direction through mutual encouragement and good example. The spontaneous warmth and affection within them help participants to endure the challenges and setbacks that are a part of spiritual growth. The collective wisdom of a community can be broadened as participants share and refine ideas and insights.  In short, these practices enable individuals to develop and renew the clarity, stamina, and generosity of spirit that are necessary for spiritual growth.

Faith-Sharing, Spiritual Mentoring, and Theological Reflection

Mentoring sessions and faith-sharing groups should provide safe and open forums for sharing reflections on human nature, God, society, and the environment. Participants should have opportunities for raising questions and doubts, and for deepening insights and ideas that they have formed. As mentioned above, theological reflection provides the language and concepts for articulating these thoughts. Without the conceptual clarity and precision that one may gain in theological reflection, faith-sharing groups and mentoring sessions can lapse into confusing discussions in which participants are unable to ‘connect’ with each other in meaningful, engaging, and enlightening ways.  The consistent practice of all three disciplines is thus essential for maintaining the intellectual vitality of a faith community that learns and grows together.

Service, Faith-Sharing, and Contemplation

Personal service may provide opportunities for both faith-sharing and contemplation. People often find it valuable to come together after service projects in order to relate the thoughts and feelings that they experienced as they were interacting with those whom they served. Participants may also wish to quietly reflect upon how their outreach is motivated by their faith. They may wish to further discuss how service deepens their faith.



Disciplines of the Body and Contemplation

Disciplines of the body are often practiced in conjunction with other disciplines.  As discussed in the definition of this discipline above, techniques such as deep breathing enhance the sense of calm and focus that facilitates contemplation. 
Biofeedback, a more ‘exotic’ contemporary technique, may help one to learn to relax and become more aware of one’s physical reactions to one’s thoughts, emotions, and desires. Using this technique, one may become better able to control these inner faculties and enter into a contemplative mood.  Many also find therapeutic massage to be an aid to contemplation, helping them to relax and gain release from anxieties and concerns that restrict their openness to God and others.

Fasting and the Other Disciplines

Practically all faith traditions maintain that one may
gain a greater sense of spiritual clarity and intensity by fasting before and during the practice of other disciplines.  They hold that this denial of ordinary physical comforts enhances the experience of important rituals.  Fasting is also believed to improve one’s alertness and focus during contemplation.  In addition, it may be integrated into structural service.  Many persons have fasted in order to protest some injustice that they hope to persuade some government or other institution to address.

Fitness Activities and the Other Disciplines

Many individuals have discovered that praying or meditating during fitness activities is an excellent way to become both energized and centered.  Many also claim that exercise helps them to gain the focus and vigor needed to engage more fully in all of the other disciplines.  After one exercises, one may be more able to sit still and be reflective. One may become a more patient and alert listener in a faith-sharing group. In addition, fitness activities may give one a greater sense of confidence and courage, which may in turn enable one to initiate challenging strategies for social reform.



d. Two Principles for Creating Balanced Rhythms of Spiritual Formation

Both individuals and groups must gradually discern an optimal rhythm of spiritual formation. For individuals, this search is a life-long process that involves much self-reflection. It demands that one maintain a full rhythm of spiritual practices and adapt this rhythm to one’s changing roles, relationships, and life projects. Only then can one experience a rich and meaningful spiritual life with a multi-faceted vocation. For groups, it requires a consistent search for the best ways to instill in members the values and vision that are expressed in the organization’s mission. Practically all persons and groups require some encouragement and direction to grow to a point at which the full richness of this rhythm may be experienced. It is easy to get into a groove of practicing only a few types of disciplines, due to a lack of knowledge about or interest in the others, or due to a lack of the social support necessary to do so. One may also have powerful experiences while practicing certain disciplines and then focus on these types. Similarly, one may be very adept at the skills used in some disciplines, such as the analytical skills necessary for theological reflection or the musical skills that are helpful in rituals. Whatever the reason, persons and groups may neglect some types of activities in favor or other, more familiar types, thus limiting their opportunities for spiritual growth.

The following are some principles for guidance that may help individuals and organizational leaders to consistently pursue a balanced and comprehensive rhythm of spiritual disciplines.

1) Balance Familiar and Challenging Types of Practices

As implied above, perhaps the most basic rule for guidance and support in spiritual formation is to build on what is familiar and comfortable – that is, to continue to practice those disciplines to which one is strongly attracted. One should also, however, challenge oneself with new and unfamiliar types of disciplines in hopes of discovering new types of religious experiences, new ways of encountering the sacred, and new opportunities for building intimate relationships with other members of one’s faith community. One may in this way discover new aspects of one’s personality and vocation. These new insights may then lead one to transform one’s lifestyle, roles, relationships, and life projects in novel and unexpected ways. Both the familiar and challenging must thus be integrated into a holistic rhythm of spiritual formation.

2) Adapt a Rhythm of Spiritual Formation to Personal and Group Characteristics

Certain psychological and cultural characteristics of a person or group may provide insight into what might be familiar and what might be challenging to them. Therefore, a second principle for discernment is the need to adapt a rhythm of spiritual disciplines to the particular characteristics of individuals and of the social groups to which they belong. The process of discerning optimal rhythms should thus take into account such factors as participants’ life stage, major life changes, personality type, learning style, special talents and abilities, 'vocation,' economic class, and ethnic background. An awareness of these factors should help practitioners to adapt their rhythm of disciplines to their temperament and lifestyle. They should be able to better predict and understand their preferences for certain types of activities. And just as important, they may be able to identify and practice those types of disciplines that are less familiar and more challenging.

Life Stage

With regard to life stage, persons and groups can adapt their rhythm of spiritual practice to the needs and priorities that are appropriate to their particular age group. For example, a teenager or young adult may devote more energy to more active and social disciplines such as structural service or faith-sharing groups than to quieter types such as contemplative practices. This seems appropriate, since this may be the most effective way to harness their high energy levels and their keen desire for social interaction. As one ages, one may be drawn to more introspective types of disciplines such as theological reflection and contemplation.

Developmental Needs

Individual development does not always unfold in the neat, chronological stages discussed above.  The 'hierarchy of needs' developmental theory described in our 'Main Tenets' will help individuals to identify their most pressing needs regardless of their age.  These needs may involve physical security and safety, self-esteem, a sense of belonging and support, or a sense of identity and purpose.  After clarifying their priorities, individuals may then create a rhythm of spiritual practice that addresses these needs most effectively.  

Major Life Changes

In a similar way, major changes in one's life may have a significant impact on one's spiritual practice.  One may, for example, get married, start a new career, become a caregiver for an elderly relative, or experience the loss of a spouse.  Most individuals would find it necessary to adapt their rhythm of formation in order to cope with the new challenges and opportunities that accompany these significant transitions.

Personality Type

Personality type is another factor that influences one’s attraction to certain spiritual practices. For example, an introverted person may gravitate toward contemplation and theological reflection. An extrovert may enjoy witness and personal service.

Learning Style

Similarly, persons may gain insights more effectively in some contexts than others. Those with a 'kinetic' or active learning style may gain spiritual wisdom in physically engaging practices, while those who learn through images or texts may be more engaged by sacred art or spiritual texts.

Special Talents and Abilities

When one has a 'special' knack for a particular skill, it may certainly be considered a gift that one can share with others through one's spiritual practices.  One may therefore focus more on spiritual practices that incorporate this skill.  For example, a person with keen psychological and spiritual insight may devote more energy to spiritual mentoring.  An extraordinary speaker may feel called to preach at rituals and share his or her spiritual journey through acts of witness.  Hobbies and recreational talents are just as significant as abilities that seem more directly related to ministry.  Good athletes, for example, can lead groups of persons in 'contemplative' types of exercise that are both centering and energizing.  Persons who are gifted in knitting or crochet can lead a service project in which they help the elderly or homebound to develop a new hobby.

Vocation

In addition, each person develops their own unique cluster of roles, relationships, and life projects within their family, workplace, and community life. This may be understood as their vocational focus. Persons will vary their rhythm of spiritual practice according to this constellation of roles and commitments. Busy parents, for example, may consider it essential to set aside more time for centering and contemplation and for sharing their experiences with other parents in faith-sharing groups. Single persons may devote more time to structural service projects that require a great deal of energy and commitment.

The Different 'Moods and Movements' in One's Spiritual Journey

On a more basic level than one's vocation, one should adapt one's rhythm of practices to the different 'moods and movements' that one may experience over the course of one's spiritual journey.  For example, one may experience more active periods during which one may have to coordinate complex projects or work through difficult relationships.  At some point (preferably before one burns out!), it may be healthy and necessary to become more withdrawn and introspective so that one may renew one's body, mind, and spirit.  One may need to "detach" oneself from difficult relationships and projects for some period of time, if this is at all possible.

During this period of withdrawal, one should change one's rhythm of practices in order to accommodate one's need to rest, recharge, and refocus.  More contemplative and nurturing disciplines such as meditation and spiritual direction may form the center of one's spiritual practice for a while.  After one has regained one's energy and perspective, one may then return to a more active, 'extroverted' rhythm.


Economic Class

One's economic class may have a substantial influence on one's rhythm of formation.  A focus on service may enable wealthier persons to share their abundant resources with others.  Particularly for those who have not experienced the challenges of poverty, these activities may open up new ways of understanding and empowering others.  On the other end of the spectrum, persons with little money may focus on becoming socially and politically empowered through structural service.

Ethnicity

In addition, one’s ethnicity may have a major influence on one's spiritual practice.  Some groups may favor styles of worship that should be taken into account when creating a program of spiritual disciplines. Individuals in ethnic groups that favor subdued, contemplative, and individualistic styles of worship may benefit from more expressive and interactive ritual forms, or from experiences in faith-sharing and witness.  In the opposite situation, a person may be a member of an ethnic group whose spiritual observance is more expressive and emotional. They may, for example, deeply enjoy lively worship and witness.  But it is also important for members of this group to cultivate contemplative disciplines in order to explore new ways to express their faith and encounter the sacred.

If one is a member of an ethnic group that is somehow oppressed by other groups, one may focus more on practices that help one to deal with this struggle.  One may place more emphasis on changing social institutions through structural service.  It may also be especially important for one to share one's experiences of oppression in faith-sharing groups.


Review and Summary

The guiding principle throughout this process is to create and maintain a familiar yet challenging rhythm of practices. One should practice those disciplines to which one is naturally attracted, yet also explore others that are unfamiliar and require greater effort and mindfulness. In this way one may develop the personal talents and gifts that one has already discovered, yet continue to explore different ways of experiencing the sacred in new and unfamiliar contexts.

The purpose of creating an 'optimal' rhythm of spiritual formation is to experience a sense of momentum and motivation as one practices the full range of disciplines. We thus understand spiritual disciplines not merely as techniques that one consciously and methodically cultivates, but also as more spontaneous expressions of the energy and fulfillment that one may experience in the course of one’s spiritual journey. The disciplines provide a variety of ways to seek God’s presence, to be available for ongoing personal transformation, to form deep and lasting bonds with others, and to participate in inspired social change.



Broader Signs of an Optimal Rhythm: Gaining Greater Meaning and Depth in All of Our Roles, Relationships, and Life Projects

If we can establish an optimal rhythm of spiritual practices,  we will not merely have a richer experience in our spiritual lives.  We should also experience greater depth, meaning, and motivation in the wider rhythm of our daily lives.  As discussed in the section above on the role of spiritual disciplines in spiritual development, the benefits of spiritual growth should extend into all of our roles, relationships, and life projects.  Our relationships should be more constructive, open, honest, trusting, and spontaneous.  Our projects should be more varied and engaging.  

Though we may have more commitments in our lives, they should not leave us feeling empty and burned out.  A healthy rhythm of spiritual disciplines should help us to discern which relationships and which projects enable us to better perceive and respond to God's presence and guidance in our lives.

This process will not be easy.  We may have to reorient or even drop some unhealthy projects or relationships.  We may occasionally overcommit ourselves and have to pull back from some very worthy involvements.  Yet despite these struggles, we should, in the long term, gain a greater sense of meaning and motivation in our lives.  In the broader rhythm of our roles, relationships, and projects, an optimal rhythm of spiritual practices should help us to more clearly and concretely recognize how God is calling us to develop ourselves and serve others.


Journals for Cultivating a Rhythm of Spiritual Disciplines

In order to help persons to cultivate a holistic rhythm of spiritual formation, we will provide members with the opportunity to create journals in which they may plan and reflect on their different spiritual practices.  Individuals will be asked to describe spiritual activities that they plan to do either by themselves or with their faith community.  They will also be asked to identify the different types of spiritual disciplines that are integrated into the activities.  They will then be asked to reflect on these activities after they have participated in them.  Specifically, they will be encouraged to explore how the practice of some disciplines may motivate them to engage in other types of disciplines.  Gradually, we hope to enable journal writers to plan a variety of activities comprising a rhythm of spiritual formation that is best suited to their unique personalities and interests.

Journals will be available in both on-line and printed versions.  All participants will be encouraged to discuss their journals with a spiritual guide.  If participants are unable to find a guide in their local community, we may be able provide them with a guide who can correspond with them over the telephone or via e-mail.



For next section, return to Spiritual and Moral Vision


f. Moral Disciplines, Virtues, and Norms in the Broader Arc of Moral Development

Like spiritual disciplines, moral disciplines provide individuals with opportunities for developing patterns of thinking, feeling, desiring, and acting that help one to consistently act in wise and compassionate ways. These patterns or habits are called moral virtues. The following are some of the moral virtues that we value in our vision of moral formation.

Moral disciplines cultivate general moral virtues such as self-control, initiative, and perseverance. They also promote honesty, openness, and assertiveness in human communication as well as simplicity and frugality in the disposition of material goods. They encourage moderation in diet and physical fitness. Combined with simplicity and frugality, these virtues also help one to preserve the environment, since fewer resources are needed to satisfy needs for food and material goods.

Norms or "moral rules" are prescriptions or proscriptions of specific behaviors that either promote or detract from the well-being of persons, societies, and/or the environment. They are the so-called "do’s" and "don’ts" within moral traditions. They show how to more concretely express virtues in one’s everyday attitudes and actions. An example of a norm is a proscription against stealing. Another is the imperative to treat one’s body with care and respect. Moral disciplines shape one’s will, emotions, and intellect so that one may adhere to authentic moral norms and see how these norms promote personal growth, social justice, and ecological integrity.  Like spiritual virtues and norms, moral virtues and norms help one to navigate the life-long journey of moral development. 

Like spiritual conversion, the process of moral conversion involves substantial changes in one’s personal values as one becomes a more mature and integrated person. Moral disciplines both lead one toward conversion and help one to maintain higher ideals through a holistic rhythm of moral formation.

g. How Moral Disciplines Help One to Integrate Moral Perspectives into One's Roles, Relationships, Life Projects, and Strategies for Moral Decision Making

Moral disciplines help one to integrate one’s values and virtues into one’s everyday life in a variety of ways. Here we will focus on just two: one’s roles in the workplace and as a citizen.

Career Discernment and Collegial Relationships

In the discipline of contemplation, one may explore how to express one’s deepest values and convictions through one’s choice of jobs and one’s relationships with one’s colleagues. Since so much time and energy is spent in the workplace, we place a high value on the quality of these relationships. In peer counseling sessions, co-workers can explore the moral and spiritual implications of their careers. These sessions may also provide opportunities to discuss different ways in which their organizations can promote the common good. We believe that one’s relationships at work should embody many of the same values as one’s family, church, and civic relationships. These values should guide one’s attitudes and behavior in many different social contexts, all of which represent opportunities for us to cultivate an integrated and consistent sense of identity.

Relationships between Citizens in Civic and Political Life

The practice of moral and spiritual disciplines among groups of citizens is especially important for the well-being of society. It allows for the acknowledgement of moral principles and values that all persons may share, regardless of their creed, ethnicity, or race. These common moral perspectives may become the foundation of a shared conception of the moral purposes of society as a whole. It is recommended that moral and spiritual disciplines be practiced by civic and political groups of all kinds, to the extent that this is possible and appropriate to the mission of these groups. Particularly through the discipline of structural service, citizens can forge a consensus on standards for good government as they evaluate political candidates and public policies.  They may then engage in informed activism on behalf of candidates and policies that they support.  For a discussion of how structural service may be practiced by all citizens, see our proposed "Ministry of Political Education and Action."

Moral Disciplines and the Cultivation of the Skills, Strategies, and Attitudes that Encourage Effective Moral Decision-Making

Moral disciplines, as well as moral virtues and norms, bear fruit in sound moral decision making by individuals and groups. Developing competence in moral decision-making is another key goal in our spiritual and moral vision. We propose to help each other to make wise and compassionate moral judgments through a four-step process: Step 1) gain a comprehensive understanding of both the facts and the values at stake in a challenging moral situation , Step 2) identify the different norms that may be relevant to the facts and the values in question, Step 3) use imagination and good judgment in order to identify possible courses of action that would best express the most relevant norms and values, and Step 4) carry out a course of action with courage and conviction.

The skills and attitudes required for this strategy are especially important in ambiguous situations that often arise in the messiness and drama of the human condition. We will emphasize to members that responsible moral decision-making is seldom an easy and painless process. Trade-offs and compromises between competing values are often inevitable. In addition, we will prepare each other to revise moral judgments when it becomes clear that we did not make the best possible judgment in a particular situation. We may have not understood the situation as well as we thought. Or we overlooked an important norm. Perhaps our choice of action was off the mark. Regardless of where we might err, the important thing to do is to simply acknowledge our flawed judgment and adjust our actions accordingly.

This aspect of our moral vision requires an extraordinary level of honesty and humility, yet it is essential both for personal moral growth and social progress. Our programs in mentoring, peer sharing, and counseling programs will be designed to provide individuals with opportunities to share their everyday struggles and encourage one another as they strive to attain high standards of integrity and moral maturity.

h. Discerning Relationships between Different Types of Moral Disciplines

As one gains experience in the practice of moral disciplines, one may discover many ways in which the different types of disciplines mutually reinforce each other.

The various types engage different faculties and address different needs through different types of experiences. Contemplation may give one a sense of inspiration and conviction. Peer counseling gives one a chance to gain wisdom and confidence from the experiences of others. Intellectual formation may clarify our vision of some object of study. Structural service develop our capacities for dialogue, planning, and social action. Gradually, one may discover that these differences are complementary, that practicing some types of disciplines motivates one to practice the others: addressing some needs through some disciplines makes us available to cultivate other needs through other disciplines as one strives for deeper meaning and integration in one’s moral formation. Contemplation may give one a sense of inspiration that one wishes to express through structural service. One may learn about structural service (social action) through intellectual formation. One may then relate one’s experiences to others in peer counseling. These peers may then be inspired to participate join one and raise a common voice group in support of some social cause.

Through the various types of disciplines, one is thus alternately motivated to center one’s desires and emotions, to learn and reflect, to encourage others, and to act with courage and conviction. As each type of discipline compels one to engage in the others, one may begin to discern how they are related to each other in the rhythm of one’s moral formation. One may thus seek to establish a rhythm of moral practices that is shaped by one’s unique talents and interests, as well as the transforming power of the disciplines themselves. In the next two sections, we will discuss how the disciplines reinforce each other in a rhythm of moral practice, as well as how one might adapt a rhythm of practices to one’s unique interests and lifestyle.

i. Complementary Relationships between Different Types of Moral Disciplines: Cultivating a Rhythm in the Moral Formation

As discussed above, the eight types of moral disciplines may be practiced according to a rhythm of moral formation. When practiced consistently, this rhythm develops a sort of natural momentum. That is, the practice of one type of discipline may motivate one to subsequently engage in others. There is thus a sort of mutually reinforcing dynamic that operates among them. Eventually, with commitment and self-discipline, one should be able to cultivate a holistic sense of balance and maturity by engaging in this rhythm of activities. One should experience greater consistency and integrity in all of one’s roles, relationships, and life projects. One’s moral formation should thus become an energizing and integrating part of one’s daily life.

The following are some brief examples of these dynamic relationships between different types of moral disciplines. In each section, we first describe a specific type of moral discipline and then discuss some relationships between this type and other types. These disciplines may be combined in many different ways to create an enriching rhythm of moral formation.

 


Rituals

Rituals are perhaps the most visible types of moral practices. They are performed on a regular basis, usually by large crowds in large, communal spaces. Functionally, rituals summarize, condense, and amplify the core meanings and values that are embodied in all of the other types of disciplines. Particularly through rites of initiation and passage, rituals may be the primary ways in which members of a group learn and express their identity as individuals and as group members. For participants, they are intended to provide clear answers to questions like "Who am I?" "What do I stand for?" "How do I contribute to and gain support from my community?" Rituals answer these questions through the use of a variety of symbols and symbolic actions. In addition, the atmosphere of rituals is often affectively solemn and deeply moving. This adds to the expressive intensity of the symbols. Rituals can thus serve as powerful integrating activities, weaving together meanings communicated in the practice of other types of disciplines. Rituals often integrate other types of disciplines into their formats, such as contemplation, peer counseling, and mentoring.

Rituals and Contemplation

Generally, the solemn atmosphere of rituals is conducive to contemplation. Periods of silence, song, and self-reflection within rituals all create opportunities for quiet introspection.

Rituals, Peer Counseling, and Mentoring

Many rituals symbolically represent the unity of one's family, organization, or community though a variety of songs, gestures, and spoken responses. They help participants to understand the solemn nature of the bonds between them and the values that they espouse and represent. This strong sense of unity is reinforced in smaller group activities such as peer counseling and mentoring, in which group members share their values and principles on a more personal and intimate level.

 


Contemplative Practices

Contemplative practices provide opportunities for deep introspection into one's values, identity, and world view. For many persons, contemplative experiences are the most personal and most intense experiences of value and meaning in their lives. These types of experiences bring focus, clarity, and energy to one's beliefs and convictions. They may thus motivate one to practice all of the disciplines in a consistent and committed way. In this way they animate one's efforts to cultivate a well-rounded rhythm of moral formation that fully engages of all of one's gifts and capacities.

Contemplative Practices, Service, Peer Counseling, and Mentoring

Because one may emerge from contemplation with a clearer sense of one's identity and values, one may be able to be more open to and available for others through service, peer counseling, and mentoring. These more interactive disciplines give focus and direction to the generosity of spirit and wisdom that one may gain from contemplative practices.

Contemplative Practices and Intellectual Formation

Contemplative practices provide one with the time and space for reflecting deeply on oneself, on one's values, and on the nature of character and moral maturity. In turn, the concepts and categories learned in intellectual formation may help one to more clearly understand and communicate how one has grown from these powerful introspective experiences.

In addition, from a developmental perspective, as one gains a greater sense of self-possession, self-discipline, and self-knowledge through the practice of contemplation, one may become more curious about others -- one may be drawn to understand one's family and friends in more accurate ways. One may explore what "makes them tick" using psychological theories of personality and development. Intellectual formation helps one to gain this knowledge in a focused and systematic way.

Contemplative practices and intellectual formation thus complement each other in a variety of ways as one seeks to gain insights into oneself, one's social world, and one's vocation in society.

Contemplative Practices, Mentoring, Peer Counseling, and Moral Witness

Since contemplative experiences are often transforming and liberating, helping one to find new meaning and purpose in one's life, one is often eager to share them with others by witnessing – by sharing one's experiences of moral growth and describing how they have changed one's life. Sharing these types of experiences is essential for forging strong bonds within communities. Describing moments of moral insight and conviction may also encourage others to join a civic group, school, or church to which one belongs. They may hope that by doing so they may associate with mentors who may help them to experience the same sense of moral clarity and purpose that one expresses in one’s testimony.

Some individuals in one’s audience may have had similar experiences in their own moral formation that they may wish to share in a peer counseling context. Being open and honest about one’s values in the public square thus provides an excellent opportunity for building relationships both within and beyond one's immediate communities.

Contemplative practices thus relate to practically all of the different types of moral disciplines. By promoting greater self-knowledge, they facilitate transformative insights into one's beliefs, values, lifestyle, and life projects. These insights bring energy and focus to all aspects of one’s moral formation.

 

 


Intellectual Formation

Intellectual formation involves the systematic study of moral character and its role in personal development and social progress. Sources for this reflection may include the wisdom of religious and philosophical traditions, the human and natural sciences, and one's own experiences. The practice of the full range of moral disciplines provides a rich source of experience from which one may draw wisdom and insight. Intellectual formation provides one with a cognitive map of oneself, society, and one’s broader environment. This map in turn guides one in all of one's roles, relationships, and life projects, including the practice of these disciplines.

Intellectual formation is also essential in the process of forming one's temperament. It encourages careful reflection on one's most significant values and ‘philosophy of life.’ This discipline thus seeks to cultivate a respect for wisdom and a reflective temperament. It enables one to remain open-minded and to avoid excessive emotivism and fanaticism.

Intellectual Formation, Moral Witness, Peer Counseling, and Mentoring

As mentioned above, by providing one with frameworks for understanding and communicating one’s moral perspectives, intellectual formation makes it possible for one to more effectively share these perspectives with others through the practices of moral witness, peer counseling, and mentoring. One gains a vocabulary and world view through which one can articulate the wisdom one has gained to one's peers, mentors, and children. This common vocabulary is essential in the process of constructing and reinforcing the shared meanings that hold communities together. These shared meanings may also bring focus to an organization's mission and a sense of purpose to its activities and policies. Intellectual formation thus helps communities create and maintain their common perspectives, as well as deal with conflicts and differences in more coherent and constructive manner.

Intellectual Formation and Service

Intellectual formation greatly enhances one’s acts of service as it helps one to gain a fuller and more precise understanding of the needs of others. With regard to structural service, it provides a framework for understanding how individuals are formed by the social institutions in which they participate. Particularly in the form of social analysis, intellectual formation helps one to identify these institutions and evaluate their impact on the moral development of individuals and social groups. One can then act more effectively within these groups in order to ensure that they serve those individuals who depend on them for their welfare and development.

Intellectual Formation and Ritual

By clarifying one's understanding of symbolic objects, texts, and actions, intellectual formation facilitates one's understanding of and participation in ritual practices. More specifically, by enhancing one's understanding of important turning points in one's personal development, intellectual formation may help to clarify the meaning and significant of rites of passage and initiation. Intellectual reflection thus provides one with a clearer understanding of oneself and one's moral tradition. With this greater awareness, rituals should be opportunities for gaining wisdom and strengthening community rather than boring and repetitious obligations.

 

 


Peer Counseling and Mentoring

The supportive and intimate relationships formed with peers and mentors in one's family, workplace, civic groups, and church have a pervasive effect on the practice of all of the disciplines. These relationships provide an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and good example that guides and inspires one as one strives for greater moral integrity.

Peer Counseling and Intellectual Formation

Peer counseling groups provide a forum for sharing ideas about morality and its relevance for individuals, society, and the natural world. They also provide opportunities for addressing questions and doubts that one may have concerning one's beliefs, moral convictions, and actions.

Peer Counseling, Service, and Contemplation

Personal and structural service may provide opportunities for activities that are related to contemplation and peer counseling. People often find it valuable to share their experiences of serving others, discussing their thoughts and feelings as they learn about the needs of others first-hand. They may also get together in order to contemplate how their outreach is motivated by their conscious or unconscious values. Peer counseling groups provide excellent opportunities for these types of activities.

 


Disciplines of the Body

Disciplines of the body have traditionally been practiced in order to slow one down and make one reflect deeply on one's life. Fasting in particular has been used to encourage people to turn away from ordinary activities and pleasures in order to gain greater focus on their spiritual and moral development.

More recently, many authors have been discussing the importance of fitness activities for holistic spiritual and moral formation. They claim that these activities help one to develop the energy, discipline, and confidence needed in order to engage more fully and eagerly in the quest for moral and spiritual growth.

Disciplines of the Body and Contemplation

Fasting, as mentioned above, has long been considered an aid to contemplation. Also, if fitness activities are done in a quiet, solitary atmosphere, they can provide opportunities for reflection and contemplation. When completed, they can leave one relaxed and calm, ready to sit still and be reflective, or be a more focused and attentive listener. Another popular technique -- the use of biofeedback -- may also help one to learn to relax and focus more effectively. Many also find therapeutic massage to be an aid to contemplation. The various meditative techniques associated with yoga, including the regulation of breathing and the maintenance of good posture, provide ways to bring focus and depth to contemplative practices.


j. Two Principles for Creating Balanced Rhythms of Moral Formation

Individuals and groups must gradually discern an optimal rhythm of moral formation. For individuals, this search is a lifelong process that involves much self-reflection. It demands that one maintain a full rhythm of moral practices and adapt this rhythm to one’s changing roles, relationships, and life projects. Only then can one cultivate an enduring sense of moral integrity and purpose. For groups, it requires a consistent search for the best ways to instill in members the values and vision that are expressed in the organization’s mission. Practically all persons and groups require some encouragement and direction to grow to a point at which the richness of this rhythm may be fully experienced. It is easy to get into a groove of practicing only a few types of disciplines due to a lack of knowledge about other types, a lack of interest in them, or a lack of support or encouragement from one’s mentors, peers, or managers. One may also have powerful experiences while practicing certain moral disciplines, or be very adept at the skills necessary for practicing them (such as the analytical skills necessary for intellectual formation). As a result, persons and groups may neglect some types of activities in favor of other, more familiar types, thus limiting their opportunities for moral growth.

The following are some principles for guidance that may help individuals and organizational leaders to consistently pursue a balanced rhythm of moral disciplines.

1) Balance Familiar and the Challenging Types of Practices

As implied above, perhaps the most basic rule for developing a rhythm of moral practices is to build on what is familiar and comfortable -- to continue to practice those disciplines that are most attractive to you or to the members of your organization. However, it is also important to be challenged with new and unfamiliar types of disciplines in order to discover different types of experience that facilitate moral growth. By confronting this challenge, individuals may discover new aspects of their personalities and vocations, thus transforming their values and lifestyle in unexpected ways. Members of organizations may discover new dimensions of each others’ fundamental values and convictions, thus enabling them to relate to each other in deeper, more mature, and more intimate ways. Both the familiar and the challenging must thus be integrated into a holistic rhythm of moral formation.

2) Adapt Moral Practices to Personal and Group Characteristics

Certain psychological and cultural characteristics of a person or group may provide one with insight into what might be familiar and what might be challenging to them. Therefore, a second principle for discernment is the need to adapt a rhythm of spiritual disciplines to the particular characteristics of individuals and of the social groups to which they belong. The process of discerning optimal rhythms should thus take into account such factors as a person’s life stage, personality type, special talents and abilities, vocational foci, and cultural environment. An awareness of these factors should help practitioners to adapt their rhythm of disciplines to their temperament and lifestyle. They should also be able to better predict and understand their preferences for certain types of activities. And just as important, they may be able to identify and practice those types of disciplines that are less familiar and more challenging. By focusing on these more challenging activities, they may be able to broaden the range of their formative practices and deepen their moral growth.

Life Stage

With regard to life stage, persons and groups can adapt their moral practice to the needs and priorities that are appropriate to their particular age group. For example, a teenager or young adult may spend proportionately more time on structural and peer counseling than on contemplative practices. This seems appropriate, since this may be the most effective way to harness their high energy levels and keen desire for social interaction. As one ages, one may be drawn to more introspective types of disciplines such as intellectual formation and contemplation.

Personality Type

Persons with different personality types may also be inclined to practice certain types of disciplines more than others. For example, an introverted person with keen analytical skills may gravitate toward contemplation and intellectual formation. An extrovert may excel at witness and personal service.

Special Talents and Abilities

When one has a 'special' knack for a particular skill, one may focus on moral disciplines that incorporate this skill.  For example, someone who is an inspiring speaker may focus on sharing his or her experiences through acts of moral witness.  A gifted counselor or therapist may spend more time and effort facilitating peer counseling groups.

Vocation

In addition, each person develops their own unique cluster of roles, relationships, and life projects within their family and community life. This may be understood as their vocational focus. Persons may vary their rhythm of moral disciplines according to this constellation of roles and commitments. Busy parents, for example, may consider it essential to set aside time for centering and contemplation, or for sharing their experiences with other parents through mentoring and peer counseling.

Cultural Background

Finally, one’s cultural background plays a significant role in shaping one's rhythm of moral formation. This concept encompasses such factors as one's gender, race, and class. For example, wealthy persons who have not been exposed to the experiences of impoverished people would benefit from personal service, which may open up to them new ways of relating to and empowering others. Lower income persons may benefit from being socially and politically empowered through structural service.

The key throughout the discernment process is to create and maintain a comfortable yet challenging rhythm of practices. The characteristics discussed above may help one to identify the most comfortable practices for individuals and groups, but one must always strive for challenge and growth in one’s moral formation. In this way one may remain centered and focused, yet continue to grow in self-awareness and to integrate one's values into all of one's roles, relationships, and life projects.

Concluding Remarks

In summary, regardless of the variations in optimal rhythms of moral practices, the goal of moral formation is to experience a spontaneous sense of momentum and motivation as one practices the full range of disciplines. We thus understand moral disciplines not merely as techniques that one consciously and methodically cultivates, but also as more spontaneous expressions of the energy and fulfillment of living according to values deeply felt and understood. In this way, one may consider moral disciplines to be reliable and proven ways by which one can liberate one's desires to relate authentically to others in all of one's roles and relationships. They provide a way to be more fully alive and available for ongoing personal transformation, for forming deep and lasting bonds with others, and for participating in inspired and systematic social change.


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