Abbey Focus Workshop #3: The with-God-life

This is a recap of the Abbey workshop on Monday night during Kaleo Focus. We have been thinking about what it looks like to pay attention in 3 directions: inward (at the self, with God), outward (at others, with God), and upward (at God, with God’s help!). There are three spiritual disciplines that undergird each of these directions, and can be remembered by the phrase: Stop, Look, and Listen.


  • In March we looked at ways to STOP or pause, namely via silence and solitude.

  • Last month we talked about ways to LOOK and increase our awareness via a regular inventory like prayer of examen.

  • This month we focused on how “looking upward” at God changes the shape of our lives “down here,” with lectio divina (or Holy LISTENing) as the recommended contemplative practice.


This last workshop had me reflecting on the importance of a well-rounded integration of:

  • the three “directions” (inward, outward, upward),
  • Nouwen’s three spiritual disciplines for remaining a faithful disciple of Jesus (solitude, community, and ministry),
  • and the three bedrock contemplative genres (stop, look, and listen).  

I had been thinking about them all as a “three-legged-stool” but while preparing for Monday, was picturing discipleship more like a ferris wheel. In reality, we hop on when we can, and when there’s an opening. For some of us that’s through community, others during a really compelling ministry, and others via some loss that catapults us into solitude with God. The point is not to stay in that spot perpetually, however,  but to keep cycling through these different important aspects of our faith, giving special attention to the directions or disciplines we don’t naturally operate in.


Although the “upward” direction (paying attention God; living in light of Christ) is initially really appealing to me, in reality it’s a full-bodied and paradigm-challenging invitation. The with-God-life challenges my perspective on:


1. Death - True spirituality isn’t necessarily “good for our health,” in that it may lead to our physical death (like Jesus and 11 of his original disciples), and surely to the death of our false selves, perhaps several times over. “There are some things worse than death. To deny one’s integrity of personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of those things.” - Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited


2. Life after death - Remembering heaven, and not only as the place “up there,” but the renewed earth down here with Jesus personally present, which seems like the long-term plan...


3. Time - Not as something I own, but as something I’m swept into, and as a means of salvation (2 Peter 3:15)


4. Patience - As a basic constituent of the Christian life; not as a necessary evil, or something to get through, but as a posture to be found at peace in (2 Peter 3:14-15)


5. Joy - Well-being of the soul, but not necessarily well-being emotionally, circumstantially or economically; a joy that isn’t removed from pain and suffering but often found in, through, and alongside them


6. Success - As fruitfulness (not expertise or rightness), which we may never get the satisfaction of seeing, knowing, identifying, or tasting ourselves, and borne out of pain, vulnerability and losses (“The fruits of your life come only after the plow has carved through your land.” - Henri Nouwen, Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry)


Lectio divina, which means “holy” or “divine reading,” is even better understood as “holy listening," because its basic presupposition is that God speaks, making us the “spoken to” (how dignifying, radical and needed!).  Although it’s mainly understood as a prayerful way of engaging this God-who-still-speaks in Scripture - in order to hear God’s personal word for us - “holy listening” can be a posture in all of life as well. We can look for God’s personal word to us in art, in music, after a conversation, a meeting, at the end of a year, or after watching a show. The goal of lectio divina (or lectio on life), isn’t to become an expert at anything or to collect nuggets of insight, but to more and more deeply internalize God’s love for us and develop a palate for God’s truth in our lives. The way Jesus accessed and embodied the Old Testament Scripture during some of his most uncomfortable and painful moments (think the wilderness and the cross), is a model for what it can look like to really meditate on and digest God’s words to us and for us.


These are some of the things we talked about on Monday night. :)