Slowing Down

I raced back from my clergy meeting this morning to write my blog before I race off to the Oak Harbor Police Precinct. My article is about….slowing down. I have a confession to make that won’t surprise anybody: I walk too fast; live too fast, think too fast, eat too fast, and contemplate too fast. The life I have lived for the past 34 years in ministry has often been characterized by speed, scanning, scrolling, and summarizing. In college, we used to refer to this approach as the “Cliff Notes” version of life. But here’s the spoiler alert: We were not created to live this way.

I love what Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright has said about our pace of life on the journey of discipleship: “It is only when we slow down our lives that we can catch up with God.”  What an amazing paradoxical truth. Turns out, our speed actually causes superficiality and shallowness. This is why “Sabbath Rest” is so pivotal to the Creation narrative story. It was a cornerstone to paradise in Eden. Resting in God. with God, and for (more of) God is the big idea behind calibrating our pace and journey through life.

I recently read and processed the book by Rich Villodas entitled “The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.” He is the pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, NY. He brings to light what is already painfully obvious about our cultural reality: “We are covertly and consistently being formed by a culture fashioned by shallowness.” We must learn to live, breathe, eat, sleep, work, and relate in an entirely different way.

Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama, reminds us of the importance of walking in the cadence of our Creator God, a three-mile-an-hour pace of life. Learning to walk and not race through life is a super challenge for many, especially those of us who can be more like the busy Martha who wants to serve and do for Jesus (see Luke 10:38-42). Becoming “Deeply Formed” in our life of discipleship requires a birthing process that can be long, painful, and messy. The Apostle Paul uses this analogy when writing to the Galatian Christians. “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Moving from one current/old reality to a new world and life is not a quick or simple transition.

Pastor Rich Villodas suggests five guiding values or life habits (Monastic “Rule of life” = big idea) to shape us far below the surface into the very depths of our true, authentic self.
1 -  Contemplative rhythms for an exhausted life
2 -  Racial reconciliation for a divided world
3 -  Interior examination for a world living on the surface
4 -  Sexual wholeness for a culture that splits bodies from souls
5 -  Missional presence for a distracted and disengaged people
These “guiding values” help to create a margin for slowed reflection, integration, and growth. Villodas put it this way: “A deeply formed life is a life marked by integration, intersection, intertwining, and interweaving, holding together multiple layers of spiritual formation.” If I only pay attention to the top, visible, 10% of my life, the totality of my truest self, the one hiding beneath the waterline of life, remains untouched, unaffected, and un-transformed. This is not discipleship, but “religion” and “presentation.”

The best gift you and I can give to our broken world is the very best version of who we were created to be. The only way we can do that is to invite God “below the surface” to touch and transform every part of our lives and stories. Discipleship, as followers of Jesus, is not about “being good and staying out of trouble.” Discipleship is all about falling in love with God and desperately wanting to become just like Jesus in every aspect of our lives.
The traditional habits (disciplines) of Christian spiritual formation (scripture reading, prayer, meditation, loving your neighbors, serving, generous giving and sharing, listening, caring, serving, stillness, silence, learning, observing, journaling, holy conversations, attending to the ordinances (baptism and communion) are all meant to bring us into cadence and presence with God. This is not a quick, simple, or easy journey. We need a committed community of fellow followers to help us all succeed.

While the world we live in specializes in “faster & busier,” we need to specialize in slowing and listening: “Be still, dan know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Ho easy (and beautiful it is) to sing about being still:
Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end
Katharina von Schlegel, 1752
How hard and complicated it can be to practice and master this habit of the heart and rhythm of life. We must embrace a journey that leads into a deeply formed life in Christ. Villodas summarizes it this way: “When I speak of being deeply formed, I’m specifically referring to a way of being in the world that’s marked by new rhythms, contemplative presence, and interior awareness, which results in lives that work for reconciliation, justice, and peace while seeing the sacredness of all of life.”  This is what is meant by the Benedictine “Rule” of Life. While the world will continue to “swallow people in its pace, hostility, distractions, and shallowness,” we need to embody and impart the sacred dance of disciplined and devoted life that is built upon rest, trust, obedience, and joy.

Into this life, Jesus says, “Come, follow me!”

Pastor David 😊

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