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4.12.2006

The Discipline of Spiritual Adventure

Tuesday's UPI column

So There I was…

Halfway across the state of Texas working on a spiritual discipline.

I am mildly allergic to the entire concept of discipline. It smacks of work. It stinks of tedium. These things do not call to me. But I do desire to be a deeply spiritual person. Not the kind of pop-faith consumer who has a new guru or path with every season. I am ready to settle down: to choose one path and stick to it, and spend the second half of my life mastering it. To do this I am afraid that I must practice a spiritual discipline or two.

The purpose of practicing any spiritual discipline is twofold: to aerobically exercise the soul and to increase awareness of The Divine. The traditional practices of prayer, fasting, simplicity, and so on, have great merit, and I occasionally work at them. But I have found a new discipline that suits me, and stretches me in ways I never thought possible. It is the discipline of Spiritual Adventure.

The Discipline of Spiritual Adventure is not just simple thrill seeking, but the intentional choosing of the less certain way in order to allow the Divine maximum room to move. When we are outside of our comfort zone, when we are on an unknown path, our senses are heightened, including our spiritual senses that so often lay dormant as we proceed through life on autopilot. We pay more attention to detail. We are aware of, and communicate our thoughts and desires, more diligently to our Designer. We listen better.

Choice is an essential piece of Spiritual Adventure. We must acknowledge, embrace, and take responsibility for the freedom we are given as eternal children of a Divine Creator. An adventure that is not freely chosen is a detour at best, and sometimes a nightmare. Many of us use our freedom to so fill our lives with busyness, structure and control that there is no room for adventure. We do this almost with out thinking, unconsciously barricading our life against the unknown. But I tell you, it is still choice; it is intentional, and intention counts.

It is not a spiritual adventure if you are treading a well-worn path. Fresh road is required. Navigating not by memory, but by a combination of reason and trust. To practice this discipline you must become aware of crossroads when you come to them. Often they are not marked or obvious. Daily we make decisions that will change our entire future; often it is only in hindsight that we see it. The discipline of Spiritual Adventure says that we can develop foresight and a present awareness that allows us to be fully conscious participants in our choices. And beyond that it tells us that the universe is trustworthy and that we can renounce fear, and trust our Creator and our own spiritual senses to keep us away from real disaster when we choose uncertain paths. A crossroads is a pivotal place where fear wrestles with obedience. It is one of the best places I know of to develop discernment, or wisdom listening.

But we do not seek this discipline purposeless, we seek it with the desire, the craving, to see with our own eyes the movement, influence, and evidence of the Divine. We can only see this when we get our plans, agendas and ourselves out of the way. There are no preplanned spaces in my Daytimer for miracles.

Spiritual adventure can be fun, but often it isn’t. It is always stretching. Even a genuine miracle can be scary at the time -- just ask Jonah. It doesn’t always feel safe, but practiced properly it is safe. In fact, it is much safer than living a spiritually unaware, unawake life.

Simple risk taking is betting on your luck, or your skill; and like any bet the odds can be good, or the shot can be a long one. Spiritual Adventure presumes that there is another player, and that the other has your true best interests as its goal and guiding principle. This is an essential truth: yes, the house always wins, but you and the house have intimate connections.

When we walk in expectant, Holy boldness, we are alive to the moment, holding only the ground we stand on, ceding all else to possibility. Divinity loves this. It makes excellent dance partners of us, and Divinity loves to dance. Often Divinity leads, but it enjoys just being with us, and lets us lead if we wish. Divinity loves to protect and to play. At times, Divinity loves to party.

So that is how I got to a spiritual crossroads in the middle of Texas. I was on a cross-country motorcycle ride and it was a spiritual adventure. I had planned my trip as carefully as a human can plan. But I also had learned to trust the unexpected, and listen for the voice of the Divine coming from strange quarters. On a day that the weatherman predicted to be clear and warm for the entire state of Texas, I encountered Divine providence in the words of an unusually bold stranger. I had stopped for gas at a town aptly named “Junction”. Sitting on the porch of the gas station was an old lady, nursing a soda in the afternoon heat. She watched me pump gas, she watched me pay for gas, and just as I was getting ready to leave she said:

"Where Y'all goin?"

"Up to Sweetwater via Abilene."

"Fixin' to take the highway?"

"Yes Ma'am, straight north from here."

"Don't."

"Excuse me?"

"You don't want to go that way -- you want to go up the back way through Eden and San Angelo."

(Generally speaking, I don’t care for people telling me what I want and don’t want)

"But my map shows the road through Abilene to be shorter."

"You deaf? (Pronounced deef) Or are you just not listenin’, girl?"

"Is there construction, or something I don't know about on the road to Abilene?"

"You're kinda' stubborn, ain'tcha ? Or maybe you're just not a bright chile?
You do as I tell you, Ya hear?”

"Yes Ma'am -- Thank-you."

She just wasn't the kind of lady that you argued with and expected to win. I decided to follow her advice. The roads she put me on were smaller, and longer, but all went well. About halfway north I did notice some black storm clouds off to my right, but the sun shone on me the whole way. At last I pulled into Sweetwater and got a room. I turned the TV on in time to see a news report that Abilene had gotten hit by a freak thunderstorm that afternoon; they had 6 inches of rain, flash flooding, golf-ball sized hail and two tornado cells. All of this directly on the route I had planned, and because of “Our Lady of Junction”, all precisely one county east of me.

When you have choices to make, does it seem at times that Wisdom is silent? Does this frustrate you? Cause you to be afraid? Confuse you? I would ask you first, if you have had times in the past when the right choice and true path was clear. If you do, then you can rest confidently in the knowledge that if it was important for you to choose one way over the other, that wisdom will show up. If you do not feel that clear direction, then be happy! You may be facing the prospect of Spiritual Adventure. Choose the less certain way this time. Listen to the crazy stranger. Make the expressed intention of your heart to make the most room for The Divine to move. Then proceed, with alert attention, listening ears, and a light step. Watch and see the handiwork of The Sacred. Miracles may happen, strangers will speak Truth, and Angels will become your comrades. And you will grow -- I guarantee it.

Comments:
This is one of your best articles yet. It is something I will try to incorporate into my own spiritual practice. Thank you, Peggy, as always.
 
Peggy,

Thank you so much for sharing this. It has spoken to me. I read a lot about spiritual disciplines and usually I don't like the sound of them (as you said, work and tedium :-))However, like you, I crave a deep search for the divine, and also like you, I have found that it is easiest for me to see God when I am stretching my limits. I am at a time in my life (I hope to always be at such a time :-)) when I can choose to seek adventure. I have a limited number of commitments and I can choose paths that seem less easy, less clear. My most amazing experiences of Spirit have been in places that I was not familiar with, in the company of 'strangers,' perhaps doing something that I had never tried to do before. Isn't it amazing when riding a bus in an unfamiliar city, you suddenly realize that the person sitting next to you is not a stranger but a friend (and it is a good thing that they are, because you didn't know which stop you wanted and they help you find your way).

I never thought of this as a spiritual discipline (as a matter of fact I always read about folks fasting, or experiencing solitude, and thought, "aw man, I guess I'm gonna have to do that someday," *heavy sigh*) Thank you for this gift.
 
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