Foreword from Disciplines 2019

Sky Small

Recently, a friend reported to me that her husband, upon returning from a three-day retreat, had begun to get up early each morning to read the Bible and to pray. “Frankly,” she admitted, “I worry that something may be wrong. Sometimes he even kneels!” The change my friend saw unfolding in her husband was only the first chapter in a beautiful story of inward and outward spiritual transformation.

Daily devotion can indeed be risky business—when it expresses, in the words of John Wesley, “a desire to know the whole will of God, and a fixed resolution to do it.” In my own experience, how- ever, even an experimental ten- or fifteen-minute practice as simple as reading scripture, journaling thoughts, and quietly listening can create an opening between us and God that changes our direction forever. How much more transforming then to live a life shaped by the Word!

Disciplines is an invitation to let your life be shaped by the Word. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) is one of the core convic- tions of Christian faith. The mystery of the Incarnation, however, doesn’t begin and end with Jesus of Nazareth. As in my neighbor’s experience, the Word that became flesh in Jesus can come alive in us as well. This is the whole idea and promise of Christian faith. As Athanasius put it, “[Christ] became what we are that we may become what he is.”

Being shaped by the Word, becoming “what [Christ] is,” man- ifests in a process of change from the inside out, not the other way around. Undergoing change from the inside out means learning to live from a listening heart rather than from my daily gush of good ideas, ideals, and moral judgments concerning God’s will. Rather than promptly imposing these revelations on other persons or on the organization I lead before they’ve been sifted, living from a listening heart requires inner work and deepening self-awareness.

Over the years, one spiritual practice in particular has kept me moving on my stumbling walk with Christ. Praying the scripture helps me to listen deeply and consistently beyond my own reflections, “to be guided by the word of the scriptures,” as Bonhoeffer put it, and “not become victims to our own emptiness.” It’s a process that the Benedictine tradition calls lectio divina. My perseverance in the daily practice is strengthened by my participation in a weekly class that studies the lectionary, with Disciplines as our daily guide.

The ancient pattern of lectio unfolds naturally in several movements. Robert Mulholland and Marjorie Thompson elaborate on the pattern and present the movements of lectio in a new way for our day in The Way of Scripture, a seven-week spiritual formation process for individuals and groups. The movements are silencio, preparing to read scripture; lectio, ingesting the Word; meditatio, wrestling with God; oratio, letting God know how we feel; contemplatio, abandoning ourselves to God in love; and incarnatio, the Word becoming flesh in us.

Working prayerfully with scripture in the practice of lectio divina guides us not only through reflection and identification with the text (the point at which we usually stop), but on to encounter with the living God who then returns us to the world in newness of life. Our center shifts from being in the world for God to being in God for the world, a subtle but critical distinction.

So, friends, I invite you to join me on the way of Christ with Disciplines as our guide to praying the scripture in 2019. May the Word that became flesh in Jesus become flesh in you in a life that grows from your intimacy with God.

—Stephen Bryant Publisher, Upper Room Ministries 

Loving the Insights

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