An introduction to Celebration of Discipline
Everyone things of changing humanity and no one thinks of changing himself.If you've made it here, welcome to the great adventure!
(Leo Tolstoy, quoted by Richard Foster from Frank S. Mead's Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, p. 400)
First, I want to give thanks to Messy Christian, and others who began blogging through Richard Foster's spiritual classic, Celebration of Discipline. When I read about it, I got a twinge of guilt - because I had a virtually untouched copy of Celebration that had collected dust on my shelves for, well, years. (It's interesting to note that my copy is a 20th anniversary edition, even though the 25th anniversary edition has been out since 2003.)
At the time, I didn't think I was ready - spiritually or emotionally - to make a commitment to the study. (After all, I was having trouble with the discipline of even every-other-day blogging!) But with the start of a new school year, and a series of endings and beginnings in my own life, this just seems to be something that has been on my heart for a while. So if you're still with me, welcome!
If you're like me, you may have some trouble understanding what discipline means, in this context. For some, it brings up the idea of some sort of pseudo-monastic deprivation - something one has endure in order to get "enlightened" or "spiritual." Especially for folks new to spirituality and folks who do not necessarily want to accept all of Christianity at first, this may seem like just more works-righteousness - "if I do this, and do that, and do the other thing, then I'll feel better, or look better, or get the (fill in the blank) that I need."
What drew me to this text is that it echoes a great deal of the spirituality at the core of the 12-step programs - the 11th step of which says that [we] sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. And here, on pages 44-45 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, is where the intersection between the 12-step community and the Christian community occurs. Bill W. writes:
If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism [or anything else!], many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.
Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?
Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.
Foster quotes Henri Arnold, "We...want to make it quite clear that we cannot free and purify out heart by exerting our own 'will.' " He then points out that this experience is common to all the great Christian devotional masters - St. Augustine, St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, you name 'em.
Both the 12-step practices and the Christian faith tradition tell me that I can't "think my way into right action" - I have to act my way into right thinking. The disciplines, then, are a way of acting which leads to thinking more about God and desiring to draw closer. The beauty of Foster's work is that he has distilled immense amounts of Christian experience across the centuries to provide us with 12 practices which have been common to people of faith for generations.
One of the things that seems to appear only in the table of contents is an actual list of the actual Disciplines as Foster describes them. His list of 12 disciplines are broken into three groups:
Inner disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study;
Outer disciplines: simplicity, solitude, submission, service; and
Corporate disciplines: confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
For the first week, I'd like to suggest that the foreword, introduction, and chapter 1 (The Spiritual Disciplines) will be our longest reading. But I think reading the introduction will be critical - because in reading it, I realized how much brokenness that Richard Foster brought to the process of creating Celebration of Discipline. He didn't write this book because we needed it - he wrote it because he needed it.
Later in the week, I'll post some suggestions and some pitfalls to avoid in reading and using this text and this study.
For now, if you have a blog, and post on the CoD topic, send me the link, and I'll create a weekly summary of posts from participants. I'll be creating a link-list with the folks who have acknowledged that they're "in" with us, as well.
Happy reading - and thanks for joining me on this journey! Soli Deo gloria! (to God alone be the glory!)