Why Have a Spiritual Practice?

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them;
I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
They will be my people, and I will be their God”

– Ezekiel 11

To keep spiritual practices is to temper the power of the will. Our wills have great power over our conditions from the day we are born – whether we temper them or not. A rule of life is not meant to solidify the will’s power over the soul but to correct the will so that it may take its proper place as servant of the soul. Like a wild horse which must be broken, our wills cannot serve our holiness until they have been taught to be subject to the reins of the Spirit. A rule of life or a divine office are not meant to become our spiritual life but to bring our minds into subjugation so that we may experience true spiritual life, the return of the prodigal son to Eden.

Let your practice be as a mirror to your soul. It will be to you as a teacher, one who guards and disciplines in order to build and prepare for the faith which is to come. It will make your failure increase, but where failure increases grace will increase even more. Our failure reminds us that the will is weak and you will fail in your endeavours. Spiritual practices help to draw a person into an internal dialogue. They open our eyes to our own sin – to the ways in which we fail to love, in which we are overly invested in our false self, and in which we turn our hearts away from God. Righteousness comes from faith, but faith is not so easily attained without effort. Otherwise we would not need preaching, sacraments, or dare I say even the Bible.

Communion with Christ is the fulfillment of any practice, it is the purpose of these practices, the reason for their existence. The interior journey of the soul mirrors the life of Israel in the scriptures, therefore, a rule is only necessary until Christ is born within your heart – just as the law was necessary until Jesus fulfilled it. The resurrected Christ completes the rule and makes the soul perfect. We are saved by faith as the Bible mentions many times, but we often fail to understand what faith truly is. Faith is not an intellectual assent to a set of doctrines. Faith is not a declaration that Jesus is Lord, even the demons admit that! Faith comes from repentance, from a fundamental change in attitude and priorities. To have faith is to trust completely, not to say you trust but to truly trust. Very few people have genuine unwavering trust in Christ. Most of us, and I am worst of all, put our trust in ourselves and not in God. So, before you say “I do not need a rule because I have faith” stop to ask yourself how much faith you really have. As you keep your practices, you will peer into your heart and examine that faith. You will learn you cannot ever be rid of your human nature, of the curse of Adam. However, like Christ, in whose image we are made, we can be both human and holy, we can live fully in both sin and grace, we can be like Adam while still being like Jesus.

To fast, or to keep a rule, is to beg temptation. Temptation is only possible because of our divided wills. Raging within our souls is a battle being fought between opposing desires. On the one hand we may desire to be upright moral people, while simultaneously we desire revenge, prestige, and material wealth. We may desire to be a forgiving person, yet simultaneously desire “justice” for the wrongs which have been done to us. Saint Augustine asked a pressing question in his Confession. It is a question that once fully understood can become nothing other than the most urgent business that the soul attends to. He asked, “The mind commands the body, and obedience is instant; yet the mind commands itself and meets resistance…what is this monstrousness?“ or as Paul said before him “I do not understand what I do. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

For there are many laws, many rules which we find in life – most are meant for the false self and only one is meant for the true self. The codified laws of nations, the unwritten laws of culture, the traditional laws of religion, even this rule itself – all belong to the false self and all have their place and purpose. But the law of God is primary over every other law as it is the law of the king of kings and the lord of lords. It is imprinted on the hearts of every true self by the maker of all. It is often so buried beneath the other laws that it is forgotten entirely, even to the one on whose heart it has been written for all of eternity. The rule you will find on this site, though a rule of the false self, is meant to help uncover that lost rule, the imprint of Divine Will at the very core of each and every soul.

A person can surely do what they will to do, but one cannot decide what one wills. Even though, or perhaps because, the mind is of the same substance as itself, it cannot exert the power of its will over itself. You may use your will to reach your desires, but what determines your desires and who wills them to be what they are? We, indeed, have two wills – one of the false self and one of the true self. This is our dualistic nature, it is the result of having tasted the knowledge of good and evil, it is the curse of Adam which we all bear. We desire after that which harms us, and we have within us both the spirit of Cain and of Abel. Our souls, therefore, are houses divided against themselves and if we wish to walk in the light of life we must allow the Prince of Peace to calm the battle. For, so long as our souls are divided, so long as we have conflicting wills within our soul, we will suffer and fall short of the Glory of God.

When we strip away the many layers of the false self what is left is the true self. If you remove those descriptors of yourself which another person could possess what is left is your true self. Defining features such as your likes and dislikes, your roles and relationships, your experiences and personal history, all could have been lived by someone else – and those around you would be none the wiser. If someone else had been born to your parents on the day of your birth for all intents and purposes that person would appear to be you – what would be missing, the nature of your own identity, would be your true self. This identity is known only by God – without great effort, or divine grace, we do not even know our own true selves. The vast majority of people go about their entire lives never even realizing there is someone beneath their false self. These practices are designed to help you come to know who that true self is – by dissecting and understanding the false self and by feeding and uplifting the true self one can embrace their divine identity and learn the name which God has written in their hearts – their silent name which can never be spoken.

For this reason, you must kneel before your God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. Pray that the infinite wellspring of Heaven may strengthen you with the power of the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts. And if you, being rooted and established in love, together with your sisters and brothers, come to understand the many dimensions of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—you will come to rest in the fullness of God. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your false self and put on this new self, which is renewing your mind in the image of its Creator – in whose eyes there are none of the distinctions our culture so loves to make. There is no race, no gender, no religious affiliation, no political party which can ever define the true self – for Christ is all, and is in all.

You, my sisters and brothers, were called to be free as your true selves – not a freedom which seeks a life of sin but rather a freedom which serves others humbly in love. For the entirety of these practices is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” for we are all members of one body clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! Once one comes to know their true self, they can begin to see beyond the false selves of those around them. The silent name of each person becomes known in the heart of one who has set aside the trappings of their false self. Once we see our true identity within God we know that every person shares in this grace, whether or not they are aware of it. The goal, then, becomes to bring not only our individual souls to grace, but the soul of our shared body.

In Ezekiel 11, when the Lord speaks of Israel, he refers to their heart. As if the people of Israel had one collective heart, their heart of stone reflects their gods of stone. When they turn away from idols they are given one new spirit, a heart which lives, one of flesh. Once false idols have been put away with a people are able to unite their hearts as one. They are given a new spirit, one which knows the law of the Lord and which lives in the ways of goodness. We worship many idols in our lives. The false self is attracted to idols because it can control them. We worship our economy – because we can tweak it and change it to suit our whims. We worship our outward appearances – because we can shape them into whatever suits us. We worship our opinions, politics, and culture because they give us influence over our lives and the lives of others. It is not only the hearts of individual people which are lost in the idols of the false self – but it is our whole culture, our communal spirit which is, like the false self, a false culture.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your false self as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of your culture or the circumstance of your birth, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will know God’s will within your soul—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.