By REBECCA WALLACE
One would think that if you go through 12 months of practicing spiritual disciplines – even just one month – you would feel an impact on your spiritual growth. But Sam Bradford said he really had no idea how transformational the exercise would be on his life.
A member of Christ UMC in Roswell, Sam spent 2018 following a book called The Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. Sam didn’t know it at the time, but it happens to be a book that NGUMC clergy use during the ordination process. It outlines and defines each of 12 disciplines and gives an historical overview, biblical commentary and practical, realistic day to day manifestations and suggestions for practicing each, according to Sam. He and a friend decided to focus on a different discipline each month and be each other’s accountability partner.
“Some of the things I did in 2018 that I never thought I would do are fasting; hanging out in a monastery in total silence; attending a Quaker service; and paring down my wardrobe to something like 30 articles of clothing,” says Sam.
The book examines the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. The friends focused on a new discipline each month, with the idea that by the time they got to the twelfth month, there would be some resonance with all twelve disciplines.
“In fact, it was the synergy that began to develop between the disciplines that we didn’t anticipate,” he said. “Each of the 12 is a tool, not the ‘thing’ itself. When they began to build on one another, it fundamentally developed my interaction with God, which began to feel more like a relationship.”
And then there were moments of new insight, Sam explained. “I was asked to switch offices at my school and went from a very large private space to a small, shared space. While at first, I was frustrated, I ended up seeing it as an opportunity to practice simplicity and submission, and my mindset completely pivoted. The change weirdly became a joy, and I don't think I would have been able to perceive it that way before.”
Another ‘aha moment’ came after Sam practiced the discipline of solitude and took a retreat to the monastery in Conyers. “I thought I went to get away from reality, but the truth is, you go to those places to get closer to reality – the cosmic reality,” he said. “When you return to the busyness that is everyday life, you are farther from reality.”
More than anything, Sam realized that the year of practice enhanced the notion of “the ceaselessness of our faith,” or ceaseless prayer and worship. Every moment, he said he understands now, is a holy moment; every interaction a holy interaction.
“We tend to compartmentalize. One of the outcomes of the exercise for me was tapping into the perpetual aspects of faith.
“It was a riveting, one-year experiment that allowed us to be intentional of our practices and be aware of the blind spots that should be addressed and barriers that could be removed.”
So, what advice would Sam give to those of us who are not ready to take on a year of following The Celebration of Discipline? “Well, first we must recognize that that each of the disciplines can become an idol if taken too far.
“But the whole point of the disciplines, really, is that you are making yourself available to God, opening your mind to receive what may be there,” explained Sam. “This practice was that opening for me, but it could be a different path for others. It can be anything that helps you identify and address the blind spots and remove the barriers to your faith. When you make yourself more open to God, you can make your day to day life riveting.”
Rebecca Wallace is a communications consultant (and United Methodist) in Atlanta.