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
with the help of God’s grace, each of these diverse practices may broaden our spiritual awareness and perception in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
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.
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 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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Affirmation and Trust
Rituals, Faith-Sharing, and Mentoring
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
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
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.
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
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 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 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.
and Spiritual Mentoring
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
Spiritual Mentoring, and Theological Reflection
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.