I finished a book this morning that I have been slowly reading since just before I left home. It’s called Finding Our Way Again. Isn’t that a great title? It’s about restoring to our lives some of the ancient traditions of faith that have given both sanity and sacredness to so many who have gone before us. The best bit is that the entire book is an introduction to a coming series which will write about each one of these traditions individually. And the really best bit is that Phyllis Tickle is the editor of the entire series, which for me, assures that it will be good. I have just in the last year or so been introduced to her writing and I find reading her to be like coming home. Her writing draws me in like the campfire draws the children. They are practically climbing into it to feel its warmth as they hover around its edges. Phyllis Tickle’s writings turn me into that hovering, excited child, both her autobiographical writing and her spiritual writing…and there is lots of crossover between the two, which is probably why I love her so much. I so appreciate the art of seeing the sacred in the everyday. To have eyes to see the miracles that are constantly around us is a skill that I hope to one day practice as well as Ms. Tickle does.
So, the great thing about reading the book to the series that is actually just an introduction is that there is no pressure. Soon to come will be all the teaching on all the different practices, right? So for now, as I read this introduction, I am free to just drink in the hope and anticipation of the series to come. And therefore to enjoy the stories, the quotes from saints of old, the history of the threefold ancient way (I particularly enjoyed this part) and general reasoning for the reintroduction of such practices into our hearts, minds and souls. But I was convinced before I ever began this book that these practices (in particular, fixed-hour prayer, Sabbath, fasting, communion, pilgrimage, the observance of sacred seasons and giving) are habits we all desperately need in our lives. About 10 years ago, I read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline for the first time. I was completely enraptured by this book, to the point of distraction. I immediately went about doing exactly what Richard Foster says you shouldn’t do which is to try to master all the spiritual disciplines at once and to the purpose of being able to say that you have mastered them, which is pride, which is the greatest stumbling block one can have in a faith journey. So after driving myself a bit batty, I also had toddlers, so I am to be forgiven for all lapses in sound thinking, I RE-read Celebration of Discipline and set about to digesting about one chapter a year…or less. I have since had many conversations with people who were reading Celebration of Discipline and having similar experiences to mine, where they were overwhelmed and not sure where to start or they were trying to do the whole book at once. I still think that this book is an incredible classic and should be read over and over again, slowly, deliberately, in groups and families and all sorts of communities, but I am also super excited about a new series that is going to address one discipline at a time. I imagine that to be able to focus one’s attention and energy in the reading of an entire book on one practice will be like a yoga class just on breathing. At first you are like, What! A whole hour just on breathing? And then when it’s over you’re like MORE MORE MORE, because you didn’t realize how desperately your body needed to just breathe.
The author of Finding Our Way Again writes that much of what the series will address is restoring a kind of sacred normalcy to the rhythms of life. That sounds so appealing to me. Faith isn’t a to-do list. It’s a way of life.
As I have read through this book, I have been personally struck by a couple of things. The first is how much I am longing for the practices that are communal (even though I am not naturally a super social person), which makes me more excited for the books in the series on these particular practices. I have encountered less writing on these disciplines (an entire book on communion!) than on the more inward disciplines. The second realization I have had is that I have set myself up this summer, though not intentionally, to naturally experience a lot of the more inward disciplines. Simplicity, solitude, silence, prayer. With so much stripped away, I am naturally experiencing these more. Take simplicity for example, I feel that over the years I have truly worked towards the discipline of simplicity. Richard Foster wrote an entire book on simplicity (Freedom of Simplicity) that is very practical and was an immense help to me in finding my way through this discipline without constantly beating myself up. John Piper’s teachings on simplicity have been equally influential for me. And reading The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne this spring has further renewed and refined my desire to make my life simpler. And also the lives of my children, who have to fight more than I do, the constant social demands to both do and acquire more. Just before we left, I was cleaning out my house (to get ready to pack and to make space for a friend to stay there) and I was trying to purge everywhere, but especially with clothing. I took piles and piles of clothes out, but still there were full closets when I left. But after two weeks of camping, my clothing needs have naturally simplified themselves. I brought more than I could possibly use while we are camping, and I certainly brought entirely too many tank tops and short sleeved items. Shockingly, I even brought skirts. And though I just might put on a skirt when we check into our house (very soon!), I certainly didn’t need three or four. But I didn’t have to do any work to come to this point of simplicity. It has just been a natural consequence or benefit of the life we are currently living. All those years of trying to simplify when all I really needed to do was to move into a pop-up camper! Silence and solitude have been equally enacted upon me much the same way. I am not naturally inclined to talk to strangers (though I been braver than usual lately, necessity makes us grow!) and I am without my friends and family, and (much to those same friends and family’s chagrin) without a cell phone or even cell coverage, in many circumstances. So the stage was naturally set for me when I reached the third section of this book on finding our way, when the author introduces the ancient threefold way, to experience the first of the three which is katharsis. The author describes katharsis as the gate through which we enter the ancient way and its practices. I remember as we drove the very lonely roads of Wyoming that Taido said, I would think that if you grew up here, you would have to be the kind of person who was pretty comfortable with yourself. In a place so desolate, you would have to face your demons, and you’d be free from the influences of a lot of the world, though I fear TV is quickly reducing the good that isolation can do for a person and perhaps internet too, because just think, dear reader, that I have a voice even as I am writing this, which lessens my aloneness in the rainforests of British Columbia. But I digress. Katharsis is a sort of purging of the soul, which is simply easier to focus on without the distractions of phone or social engagements of any kind, and so I hope that being far away in Canada will help me move through katharsis and on (but not leaving katharsis behind, because you take each practice with you into the next phase) to fotosis and then all ready for theosis when I come home. Because that third one involves other people. As I read through the section on theosis at the campground yesterday, I looked up at Cole for a minute (he was swinging his light saber at Ben and Simon) and wondered if he might be ready for the threefold ancient way. It was a fleeting thought. Though he might understand it, I am pretty sure you need to actually desire the effects in your life to begin to practice it. Oh well. That is something to pray about. Handy that I already have the next book in the series, In Constant Prayer.