The Responsibility and Task of Spiritual Development

The Responsibility and Task of Spiritual Development

By: Elaine Northcutt

On Good Friday, I attended the services offered by Foothills and Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. I entered into this sacred space in complete ignorance. I had not attended Good Friday services before and didn’t know what to expect. I just felt the need to pay my respects to this holy day and meditate in quiet. I came in classic Southern California style of nonchalance, an hour late, in a sort of self-congratulatory sense of “I’m here, made it, present!” completely forgetting the nature of the occasion.

Shortly after I sat down, Dr. Melissa James, PhD, (Agape House Lutheran Campus Ministry, SDSU) took her turn as one of seven clergy who delivered short sermons on each of the seven sayings of Jesus prior to his death. Dr. James was called on to preach on what Jesus meant when he said, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). It was emotional, graphic and forceful. “[. . .] we forget,” she said, "what physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual anguish Jesus endured before his death, and quickly jump to Jesus' Resurrection and Easter morning.” It was stunning, compelling and an extraordinary lesson in humility.

The Good Friday service, was held from noon to 3 o’clock to commemorate the Passion of Christ, the three hours prior to Jesus’ death. As noted in service notes, “It is a holy, somber and good day. It often includes meditation on the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross.”

I was not aware that Jesus spoke seven times before he died. I’ve heard these sayings before, but not in this context and consequently, did not fully grasp or appreciate their significance until that moment.

To Pastor Eric fell the task of characterizing the meaning of, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit,” (Luke 23:46). While the logical segue at this point is to reflect on each of these seven sayings, I am instead going to focus on two points that are vitally important and easily overlooked in Pastor Eric’s message.

First, the meaning of this passage, as he explained it—as I understood it, is the constant and enduring need to develop a spiritual narrative throughout life; and second, a tribute to Pastor Eric as our teacher, our messenger and interpreter of the Word. These two points intersect as all of us struggle and strive to cultivate a spiritual discipline.

In his remarks, Pastor Eric reminds us this saying of Jesus, is understood to mean spiritual development is as essential to living as balancing a checkbook. While spiritual fulfillment can be had during the “two minute warning bell” as my friend Carla put it, God’s intention and desire for us is to grow our human potential, to find and create meaning in this life. Meaning forms our story and our story supports a generative1  foundation of the Spirit/soul.

Sometime in our adulthood pilgrimage, (the sooner the better) we wake up to the fact that nothing we’ve ever owned or accomplished can establish our worthiness. Human value isn’t found in dollars and trophies. Life’s real purpose lies in living from the core, being intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated, in navigating what I call: the voyage of self-possession. Who we are is the Creation’s gift to us; who we become, is our return offering.
Self: Caring for our Best Gift.
Rev. Dr. Tom Owen-Towle

All of us fumble through life to a lesser or greater degree as adults seeking purpose. We are all on a quest. Ultimately, that quest brings us back to the question of “who am I?” and “what is my truth?” The word “spiritual” and spirit gets thrown around quite a bit and we assume that we know what that means. We resort to a short-hand inference as a convenient way to gloss what spirituality actually means2. We tend to gloss over the work, and the journey and explain life in secular terms. Who needs mystery, faith and community when you have science to prove or disprove everything?

Some of the phrases and ideas I’ve heard now over the years include “spiritual discipline” and “spiritual maturity.” Pastor Eric used the phrase “spiritual constitution”, in one of his sermons. Then there is the idea of “spiritual gifts” and “spiritual leadership.” I entreat you to look these phrases up on Google—and be enlightened! I certainly was. It provides a framework for the practice of spiritual discipline.

If we are indeed “[. . .] spiritual beings having a human experience,” quoting partially according to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, then we need be moved to explore this realm of our experience and existence. This is what Jesus calls us to do; it is what Pastor Eric called us to on Good Friday and again, calls us to each and every Sunday. Our attendance at church is but one part of spiritual discipline.

In an email to a good friend of mine, a Catholic, with whom I shared my Good Friday experience, I wrote the following:

“I enter the House of the Lord in complete ignorance, it would seem. I have enough understanding to know, now more than ever, that I know nothing about the extraordinary nature of the journey of faith, the acceptance and wonder of mystery, that the path to enlightenment begins in darkness, both literal and metaphorically. Enlightenment is the effort we make to understand and define ourselves, to be self-aware, of knowing and yet, knowing nothing-- it is about mindfulness, and self, and equally so-- selflessness: the complete divestiture of the self in community”.

That is how I tried to explain my experience on Good Friday. I arrived for Good Friday services unaware and I am ashamed to say, a mite disrespectful of the significance of the moment. I left more humble and more human than I’ve ever felt. This is a new good starting point for cultivating spiritual discipline. I am grateful to Pastor Eric for his message that day. It was a clarion. I’m not sure how or what my faith journey will look like going forward, but I am grateful and blessed for Jesus’ messages in these sayings and for the dedication and care, the great and tender care that Pastor Eric shepherds all of us here at Foothills.

Reflection: “When you give rise to that which is within you, what you have will save you.
–Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

1 Generativity means creativity and productiveness. . .it means that the adult person has found ways, through love and work, creativity and care, to contribute to the conditions that will provide the possibility for members of coming generations to develop their personal strengths. . . [. . . ] it means to have found a way, by midlife and beyond, in our love and work and care to contribute to the maintenance of the strength of the human soul. . .. Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian: Adult Development and Christian Faith James Fowler, quoted sections on p. 21.

2 For purposes of this narrative I’m going to stick with the Oxford English Dictionary Definition of spirituality. I found the University of Minnesota health and well-being page quite helpful in defining spirituality. Finally, for a completely different take, that probably validates some of our collective frustrations with language and definitions, here is a blogpost written by Kate Fridkis, called Defining Spirituality: What does it mean?

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