"Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing. We simply go along with the many 'musts' and 'oughts' that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord." Henri Nouwen, The Way of The Heart, 12Seminary is tough... especially at Princeton.
But I'm not just talking about the weight of the academic burden--the homework, the reading, etc.--I'm talking about the pressure of "musts" and "oughts." And, most importantly, I'm talking about what those "musts" and "oughts" do to the soul.
Now, it's not just because Princeton Seminary is some ivory tower, demanding academic excellence, disconnected and disinterested in the spiritual health of individuals (although some would attest that to be the case). It happens everywhere. Think about your context. Do not Henri Nouwen's words ring true--"our calendars are filled with appointments...we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing"?
The truth is--and I've taught this i n youth ministry for years--that we are being spiritually formed, like it or not. And we will either be formed intentionally by God through our response to God's invitation, through practice, or we will be formed unintentionally by the world without our permission. Point is, if we're not intentional about our souls, they will be taken from us.
This is perhaps especially true in ministry as it is especially true in seminary. I say "especially" because it is in these contexts that we are least likely to be on our guard. One might be tempted to expect that since they are doing the work of God, thinking about "spiritual things" all the time, they can take their hands off the wheel a bit. One might be tempted to expect that their context will form them into a healthy spiritual person simply by virtue of it being a so-called "spiritual" vocation. I might have been tempted to think that, just by being in seminary, I'd be formed into a more spiritually healthy person--more devoted to Christ, more receptive to God's leading, more trusting in God's provision and presence. But I, along with many others in similar contexts, many of whom may not be able to name it yet, have not been so spiritually formed just by being busy with the things of ministry, theology, Scripture, etc. In fact, I have had to face the fact that I might now be as spiritually unhealthy as I've ever been--more frantic, less receptive, and less willing to trust in God's provision. I just think, say, and do... because that's what I ought to do.
My environment has told me what to be, and I have responded unquestioningly.
"You need to be smart, you need to be ambitious, you need to impress people, you need to be a leader... must... must... must... ought... ought... ought...."
And so even in this "spiritual" context, I don't like the way I'm being formed. I'm not sure that it's really worth it.
I'm not sure I'm ready to heed this yet, but perhaps the prescription to all this is just to stop. Spot strategizing, stop pursuing, stop trying to be the best pastor on the block, the best theologian in the world, the best student. Just stop. Listen to God. Respond to God's invitation... even the invitation to take up the cross and to become nothing.
Spiritual practices, I believe, are not the ascent into some brighter cosmology, above and away from the world's expectations. They are the descent into the tolerance of failure to fulfill expectations.
Spiritual practices are not about bettering oneself, they are about accepting the possibility that you might not get better, you might not cross their finish line, and in that acceptance to be accepted by the God of grace. Spiritual practices are about giving up.
Once you've given up... given up on the temptation to be something, produce something, force the world to right... then, one can only trust, that there you will discover the living God, there you will discover the joy of being, of creating, of serving. There we will discover what our thinking, saying, and doing are actually worth--not as a means to "measure up," but as a loving response to the acceptance of a God who loves. And the world will be a better place for it.