No doubt it has been stated many times and in many ways, but bears repeating: we live in an information age. One might add a technological and information age. Research, marketing, articles, books, and more are available at the touch of a keyboard and click of a mouse. If someone from another universe were looking in on our societies across the globe, they might assume that we have a wealth of information that makes us more knowledgeable than any other time in history. And as history moves forward, we can only predict that onslaughts of technological innovation and massive amounts of information will continue to be at our beckon call.
But can we say all this information and knowledge have made us wiser?
First let me clarify, the last thing I am is a Luddite. I love technological advances. I like good automobiles, heat in the winter, and AC in the summer (I live in Texas for crying out loud!). I enjoy the internet and computer technology that allows even a lousy typist like myself to type an apparent flawless document without any of you who might be reading this blog knowing how many typographical miscues I’ve made. I also like the medical advances we’ve achieved. Even back in the dark ages, 1958, when I was in the fifth grade, I underwent an appendectomy. Not hardly a century before that time acute appendicitis like I experienced was a death knell for people. So no, I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination.
Spiritual Disciplines & Wisdom
Richard J. Foster, some years ago, authored a book entitled Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Foster approaches his work and understanding of spiritual disciplines from a Christian worldview, one I share. But I’m going to discuss spiritual disciplines in a way that I hope interests anyone in this topic. Foster discusses twelve disciplines. Intermittently over the next couple of years, I might decide to focus on any one of those disciplines as a topic for this blog. For this month’s entry, I want to simply provide an introduction to Foster’s discussion with the hope that, regardless of one’s worldview, we might understand why our age calls for what Foster believes to contribute to a deepening of life, and what the Psalms speak of as deep calling to deep. [Next month’s blog will focus on what Foster’s discussion of the discipline of study because, given our information and technological age, it is important, I believe, to reflect on how we approach and deal with such massive amounts of material at our fingertips.]
The Disciplined Life as a Door to Liberation
Foster describes the spiritual disciplines as a door to liberation. He strongly believes that people need to develop the skills, for lack of a better word, to meditate, to worship, to think. Presently, we are living in a time where meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual values are once again coming to the forefront of people’s thinking. I am witness to this in the field of counseling, where research in mindfulness has exploded in at least the last decade, if not the last 20 years. I remember a time when spirituality was a topic considered somewhat of a taboo in counseling. Likewise, so-called neutral-value counseling was considered to be the more ethical stance of the therapist. Although an ethical counselor does not seek to proselytize clients, we recognize today that both clients and therapists hold values that they bring into the counseling room, including spiritual ones. From Foster’s perspective, one of the first things that the spiritual disciplines liberate us from is our own shallowness. He speaks to a concern that many people who practice mindfulness recognize about our culture when he says, Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant gratification is a primary spiritual problem. He adds that we live in a materialistic age, one in which we simply lack the knowledge of how to go about exploring our inward lives. Interesting notion indeed, given we live in such an information age.
A second phenomenon from which the disciplines can help as escape entails our own ingrained habits. Think of the things that might contribute to one being trapped in a superficial existence. Shopping, spending, eating, watching television – all come to mind. Not that these things, in-and-of-themselves are totally rotten, but they are the kinds of things that become a concern based on to what degree we let them rule our lives. To what things do we turn readily and repeatedly when we get bored with day-to-day routines that make up life? Breaking some of these habits requires that we develop other habits that take us deeper into an understanding of what it is to live. Foster makes no bones about it; spiritual disciplines call for deep people. He dose not mean by this, gifted intelligent people, or those who love to sit around all day reading philosophy. Anyone can benefit from the spiritual disciplines in respect to his or her own path.
But Foster offers a counterbalancing caution: developing the habit of discipline does not mean we turn the practice of spiritual disciplines into a rule-laden should or must, what Foster calls a law. The research into mindfulness exercises addresses the same phenomenon. If we try too hard to control being mindful, we lose the experience of what it is to be mindful. The place of spiritual disciplines is to bring fulfillment (not just happiness) in living. The disciplines help us face the vicissitudes of life, much like some of the research into mindfulness and acceptance addresses. So here we are in this information age, flooded with knowledge, an age where possibly the new priesthood are the scientists themselves, some of whom willingly wear the robes. And we have these dialectical tensions between science and spirituality, our ignorance and understanding, and our knowledge and wisdom. How should we then live, as one theological thinker posed the question, in the face of today’s onslaught of information?
Foster’s work, Celebration of Discipline, is a call to deeper living. But the last thing we want to experience is our haughtiness and arrogance tied to our pride about being deep people. Such a mindset belies the notion of deepening whatsoever. Foster’s approach is most definitely spiritual and grace-oriented from the perspective of a Christian worldview. Spirituality is becoming a topic the globe over, as West meets East in terms of research into mindfulness, meditation, and the practice of certain disciplines. We are face-to-face with the age of information, science, and knowledge on the one hand, and an age seeking deeper understanding, wisdom, and spiritual transcendence on the other hand. How do we navigate the tensions of this existence? Next month, I will begin part of that dialogue with a focus on the what Foster describes as the spiritual disciplines of study.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D./August 14, 2015