From “Spiritual Practices – Living the Gift,” the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Reflections magazine. To read the entire issue, click here.
Recently, Reflections magazine editor Marjorie George (MG) spent some time with Bishop Bob Hibbs (BH) and Brother James Dennis (JD) talking about spiritual practices.
When the notes from that interview got sorted out, four practices emerged that Hibbs and Dennis find essential in their spiritual lives: reading the Daily Office, engaging in spiritual friendship, study of Scripture, and confession.
The Rt. Rev. Bob Hibbs is the retired suffragan bishop of the Diocese of West Texas, having served from January 1996 to December 2003.
James Dennis is an Anglican Dominican brother who belongs to the Anglican Order of Preachers. He attends St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio and makes his living as a lawyer.
MG: You have both said that reading the Daily Office is the absolute starting place for your spiritual lives.
BH: I learned to love the Daily Office in seminary; I’ve been doing it every day for 55 years. I think of that as my daily ration – If I don’t do the daily office, I feel weak. It’s how I do my scripture, it’s how I do my liturgical year, it’s how I become daily deeper in love with the Psalter. I don’t think it’s the only way, but I sure do think it’s one of richest ways to develop a spirituality and to enrich and nourish it.
JD: In the Daily Office I am being quiet with God. In our modern lives, we’ve lost silence. We’ve lost the ability to sit without the radio, the telephone, the computer or the iPod. To sit simply and let God be God in our lives. One of the things that silence does is that I am no longer trying to manipulate the Lord God of all heaven. I’m allowing myself to be worked on.
BH: There is a wonderful text that says it – “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
JD: That sort of starts the ground work, and even if you suffer from what I call “monkey mind” at the beginning of practicing that silence, work through that. Even if it’s only 15 or 20 minutes a day when you are allowing God to work in your life – that is foundational for all the disciplines. The Daily Office will compel you into all the other disciplines.
MG: Sometimes it’s hard for beginners to dig out all the meanings of the daily scriptures.
JD: Start with commentaries. I’m not going to read the Bible like any other book. There is a context that is not immediately apparent. For the average lay person, N. T. Wright has a wonderful series, especially his one on the Psalms. There is a lot of it out there.
Scripture is one of the essential spiritual practices, and I do think there are some essentials and universals. And I know how hard that sounds to some people’s ears. I think you can’t get around prayer, you can’t get around charity, which I mean in the broader sense of learning to love all people. I think you cannot avoid study and you cannot avoid Scripture. Now what kind of prayer – centering prayer, or meditative prayer or intercessory prayer – there is lots of room there.
BH: And in all of this I think there is a need for spiritual friendship. It’s not that you need someone to teach you to read the New Testament in Greek. It’s that you go to someone who has been along the path already.
It helped me when I learned about the scouts who used to bring people across the Great High Plains. The scouts were people who had gone ahead and scoped out the territory and knew where the springs were. They knew where the Comanches were hiding, where the quick sand was, and they could save you a lot of trouble simply because they had been across the path.
JD: They knew how to pull out an arrow without tearing too much of the flesh away. Because we all have those arrows in our spiritual life.
BH: And sometimes you don’t pull out an arrow, you push it through.
MG: Is spiritual friendship like spiritual direction?
JD: Yes. The Celts called it anam cara. In some sense this spiritual friendship need not be a formal relationship. There is something about having been through a broken humanity – spiritual friends are able somehow to remind us that we are the beloved child of God. This is the fundamental fact of our nature, and the rest of it is just details.
BH: All are the beloved. All are living sacraments of the power and presence of God, but it’s only through the brokenness that they come to know that.
JD: Another spiritual practice you will get if you do the Daily Office is the confession of sin. Most Episcopalians say the confession of sin once a week in church and they say it largely the same way they say the Lord’s Prayer – without thinking about it very much.
I like the spiritual discipline of confession. I like having a confessor. If all I am doing is reciting that prayer in church and I have not made what used to be called a “thorough inventory of the state of my soul” I am missing it. What is it in my life that doesn’t fit in with the presence of God? What in my life is keeping me from being close to God? Whether that’s greed, anger, gluttony. What is it that is preventing me from approaching the nearer presence of the Father?
If I am compelled to do that every day – it forces me to take that inventory. How did I despoil creation today. How did I devalue the people around me. While it is true that our sins are forgiven, if we cram them down rather than bring them to light, they may be forgiven but they may still be richly painful and bring about an infection.
BH: I may be forgiven, but unless I engage in self-examination I don’t know that. Self examination and confession are essential practices for spiritual growth.
JD: And here is where the practices begin to feed on each other and intertwine – I probably won’t take the time to think about the ways in which I have separated myself from God unless I take some time alone in silence. That really is the place where we confront our demons, and the confrontation of our demons leads us to realize we have someone in our life who loves us.
BH: It’s important for everybody to know that there is life after sin. Part of the joy of the Easter life is knowing that after the death of sin there is resurrection. That the wounded healer that we are all called to be always bears the scars of sin.
It has always seemed to me that it is easier for my heart to break when I confess my sins to another person than when I just have this interior exercise of self examination. That’s why I think the Anglican thought on confession is so good – “none must, all may, some should.”
See, our ancient enemy likes us to lie about ourselves. He uses two lies – one is that I am infinitely better than I really am and the other is I am infinitely worse than I really am. As long as we can swing on that trapeze we’re not going to make a lot of spiritual progress. It’s only through examination and confession that we discover who we really are.
MG: Why, do you think, people are reluctant to try the practices?
JD: Sometimes it’s because our cup is already too full. Too many of us approach the spiritual practices and say, “I pretty much get this Christianity thing already. Just top it off a little.” So the notion is I have to empty myself of the everyday-ness that I have filled my life with and then I can come to the altar.
And that is the reason for the practice of fasting. In the fast, I am emptying myself out so I can recognize my complete dependence on God for my life. To genuinely fast in the Christian tradition requires that I will spend that time in prayer and I will also spend that time engaged in acts of charity. I am showing my solidarity with the poor whom Jesus loved so dearly, and if I am not in prayer during that fast and if I am not giving alms to the poor during that fast then it’s just a diet.
BH: Maybe in the history of the world there has not been a culture so saturated in excess as ours. That is part of the reason we are so violent. We live in a culture where many of our diseases are the results of excess, and so even as the root of holiness is wholeness, fasting is part of what we need, it’s part of the practice that restores us to wholeness. It involves things like the expenditure on clothing and on so many other things. Holy simplicity is part of the package.
JD: What we are trying to do in all of the spiritual practices is awaken ourselves to the presence of God in our lives; all of the practices are aimed at that endeavor. We have a rich tradition from which to draw, there are lots of practices to choose from. There is the old doctrine of attrait – which means that which pulls you, draws you in. Some of the practices you will be drawn to and some you will not. Do the ones you are drawn to. That is probably your soul telling you that is what it needs right now.
Back to ReflectionsOnline home page