I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but the God who intersected my life literally for a few seconds on a warm, Albuquerque spring day in 1957-8 as I was walking home from school for lunch, and then pursued my heart full-out in the winter and spring of 1972 in Boston, has let me know he wants me to circle back to an earlier time of great learning, and re-immerse in the spiritual disciplines he taught me then. He's not said why.
Those of you who've read my Old Men Planting Churches blog over its duration are aware of what I think about having experienced an adventure I'd never undertaken previously with him. Planting a church was not on the radar screen until late 2007, and then quite unexpectedly. For 20 years prior, I and Tricia spent our time at the Center For Renewal Retreat House on the property of Covenant Presbyterian Church (aka The Barn), in Simsbury, Connecticut offering counseling, the healing of memories, and spiritual direction. We also led many Listening in Christ and Immersion Retreats for folks from all over. Having returned to the CFR to do some of that again in the last couple of years, I recently began to notice a subtle enticing, and I really do mean subtle. It persists too.
He wants me to re-immerse myself in the spiritual disciplines we learned and taught, especially finding an internal quiet in solitude and silence, listening prayer, and journaling. The point of such pursuit is intimacy with Christ. Because of what he's shown us here in Northampton regarding the missional way of following him, I've recognized for awhile these spiritual disciplines are to be wedded to this way of life with the Spirit. For instance, that's why I named the cohort we are a part of the inward (intimacy with Christ)/OUTWARD (following Christ in the world where he places you), Missional Formation Cohort. Focused intimacy and mission are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Focused intimacy and mission are at the heart of what it means to, "love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Neglect one and our spiritual life is skewed, or out of balance in my opinion.They both need to be there. I see their unity as the "normal Christian life."
So, I've begun listening and journaling what I hear more frequently. The retreat we led a few weeks ago seemed to open something: http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2013/08/enveloped-by-abiding-interior-stillness.html. These vital spiritual practices had really fallen by the way side, and was pretty much a hit or miss activity. I wasn't working at it as a discipline whatsoever. For many years listening and journaling were key means by which I connected with God.
In turn, the Spirit has been enticing me to re-read some of the books which formed my understanding about listening and journaling starting with Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing A Conversational Relationship With God. From there I plan to re-read the very first book I read on the subject called Dialogue With God by Mark Virkler, and Hearing God by Henry and Richard Blackaby. I'm not sure where I'll go after that.
Interesting to me is I notice re-reading Willard's book feels fresh. I'm an avid underliner and write-in-the-margins kind of reader, but I've been delighted about how much clarity I'm seeing from the second read. Because I'm an explorer by design, I tend to be very much in the moment with new reading. It's more surficial, and I'm making new discoveries as I read rather than going deep into or parsing out the ideas carefully. I get lost when I do so. I also tend not to re-read a book right after I've read it the first time. Study has never been easy for me, but I have a quick mind and can appropriate what I need for the road ahead on a first read.
Also, the return and re-immersion in general has surprised me a little. Since being in Northampton, we've primarily focused on imagine and the missional way, a forward vantage: helping people discover and follow the God who is far more than they imagine. Prior, our vantage was in helping believers know this God through listening, praying, journaling, being on retreat, learning how to sit vigilantly in the silence and solitude, or learning how to heal from past hurts and destructive habits. Now, it seems God wants to bring the two together. I'm on board.
I suspect this circling back from God's point of view is merely another facet of the task we've been given to reflect his heart and nature to others on our watch. In his flow of history toward redemption all is forward for everyone called by his Name. So if or when he's called you to revisit what you learned before, it's to enable you to be more fruitful in the future, to expand your understanding with previously tread ground so wisdom can achieve it's life-yielding results in lives. God-ordained circling back deepens wisdom. Thomas Merton said we are always beginners when it comes to the things of God. I think there's an element of truth to that, especially with our spiritual growth and ripening. We never arrive until we arrive in the presence of the King of Kings and become who we truly are. For now, we move forward, stay still, take side paths, or circle back on the way to what is needed and what will be all that was ever necessary.