As I expected, the things people saw in the photo were wide-ranging and varied.
The photo was of a stream with a rocky bottom in the sunlight, and there were quite a few tricks of light and shade, and yes, with a little imagination you can see almost anything in the picture. When our old friend of the blog Bargo sent me the photo, he said it had a heart around a head. I saw rocks and water, but then I uploaded it to my computer and saw the heart, and a rock that could look like a head. A couple days later I realized there was face in the rock, and in another couple days, I could see the chin and the neck and the shoulders and the arms: It was a body with a heart around the face…
Human perception is an amazing thing, and even when you know what is really going on, if you’ll allow yourself to wander a little bit, you can see all kinds of things.
Believe it or not, that brings us to spiritual practices.
There are some long-standing misconceptions about spiritual practices that I should mention before we continue on our Journey. For one thing, has anyone ever told you that you should engage in all of the Classical Spiritual Disciplines? There was a time in history when this was accepted by pretty much everyone in the Church; do you know when this was?
It was a time when the monastic system reigned supreme, when “good” Christians lived in monasteries and convents and everyone else didn’t. The result was that while the monks were practicing all of the spiritual disciplines, few were left to share Jesus Christ with the world. Of course, nobody needed to share Christ, because you were born a Christian, baptized into Christ as an infant and thus automatically part of the Body of Christ, and you didn’t need to know much else.
We call this period in history the Dark Ages for quite a few valid reasons.
You see, even Christian spiritual practices can be idolatry if we lose track of what their real purpose is, which is to deepen our relationship with our Lord. It is not to make a list of practices that must be checked off on your list of mandatory behaviors. Thus, when we discuss Classical Spiritual Disciplines, as in all other things, take the matter to God in prayer and go where He leads you: Some will be useful in your walk, some will not be.
Secondly, just as in the photo, some people look at certain practices and see the devil at work and never even bother to find out what the practice actually is, and I would suggest that could be a mistake.
Next, some of the disciplines are matters of self-denial, including silence, solitude, frugality and simplicity, not to mention chastity. In our Journey together, I am giving you a synopsis of the classical approach to these, but that doesn’t mean that you must dive into every aspect that I mention. If you believe that you are led in that direction, take it to God in prayer and ask for His leading, don’t make up a checklist.
Finally, there is another complete set of disciplines that aren’t all that classical, called “expressive” disciplines (or practices) and before making any big decisions, we all might want to consider those.
Human perception is amazing and varied. Often it demonstrates imagination, creativity and pure genius. Human perception with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is often all those and more, for it can often become altogether miraculous and life-changing. Let’s be sure that we give the Spirit His chance to lead us in our practices, as well as in every aspect of our lives.