Posts Tagged ‘soul training’

Here is an interesting thing – in the Apprentice Training Programme, creating MARGIN is the Soul Training exercise linked to the chapter headed God is Holy.

The Diamond Ring Effect - the Sun's light peeking from around the edge of the Moon's surface

An important aspect of decluttering your life is making space to understand and know God.

Writing about God’s Holiness in Knowing God,  J.I. Packer speaks of the goodness and severity of God (p181). He warns against creating a false Santa Claus theology where God’s goodness is welcomed and his severity ignored.

Understanding and responding to all of God’s attributes is both urgent and important.

When do we take time to gaze at the stars – lifting our attention from the urgent issues that shout for our attention and beginning to consider the important issue of seeing ourselves and God in perspective?

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.


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It is all very well decluttering your home and office, but what about the other clutter in your life?

A colleague recently asked me how I was, sighed, then answered her own question – “Busy like the rest of us, I suppose.”

She left me no space to tell her what was actually happening in my life. Without pausing she went on to bemoan how much work and pressure we all have to cope with; long hours, phone calls, emails.

In fact my life is not busy at the moment – and I have lots I could say about that.

In the Apprentice Series, the next Soul Training exercise I am learning about is MARGIN.

Margin refers to the space on the edge of a page where there is no text. In this context it is about leaving space in your day for leisure, rest, family, health and God.

Decluttering your life.

Richard Swenson is a doctor who discovered marginlessness in the lives of his patients and witnessed the stress this produced. When he realised his own life was just the same he was shocked to recognise he was compromising his health, his family and his relationship with God. The three things most important to him.

He cut his medical practice in half and wrote a book – Margin; Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.

The message is simple – just say no.

But to what? To anything that is not absolutely necessary to the well-being of your soul or the welfare of others.

Making changes like that takes some thought and practice . . . I bought the book.

What do you think, can we declutter our lives?

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Do you have any idea how rich you are?

Consider this – how do you measure your wealth? If you had a million pounds in the bank and lost your eyesight – how much of your wealth would you pay to be able to see again? Similarly if you lost an arm, your home – or worst of all your husband, wife, child?

Add up the value of these assets and you realise what treasure you already have.

Having considered that God is trustworthy, the next soul training exercise helps us focus on the unearned treasure we have.

Counting your blessings is a powerful spiritual exercise. Start with a list of 10 and add to it every day – the list will grow quickly.

I gave myself the challenge and made it especially tough by focussing on blessing that have come specifically through my breast cancer journey. Here are the first ten things that came to mind (excluding my family who would easily take up the first 10 places):

  • I am free from the tyranny of ‘busy’
  • I have learned to enjoy now
  • I have health and strength (honestly – I am not unwell. My biggest challenge is the mental journey, not the physical one)
  • I am getting to know God better
  • I am learning to train my soul better
  • I have the love and support of very many friends
  • I meet inspiring people on the blog-sphere
  • I have time to read lots of books
  • I have rediscovered the pleasure of knitting
  • I have a lovely garden and time to enjoy it

You might already have all of these – and do not need breast cancer to help you appreciate them. In which case you are very rich indeed.

And you might enjoy this blast from the past by George Beverly Shea.

What would it be like to carry a list of your top 50 blessings with you every day?

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A whole day retreat is a luxury. If silence is to become a useful part of soul-training it has to be an achievable part of daily routine.

Maybe one aspect is about learning to use opportunities for silence as they present to us – swimming against the tide of Twitter and Facebook.

A friend of mine arrived for a meeting without knowing it had been cancelled. She found herself alone in a room with an hour to herself – no-one to talk to and no access to emails. All she had with her was her handbag, a notebook and pen. Her instinct was to find a coffee shop, a newspaper and ‘kill time’ until the next meeting an hour later –  but something troubled her. She had an important personal decision to make that she recognised she was avoiding.

The hour became her opportunity to map out her options and commit to change.

SILENT and LISTEN use the same letters. How strange I never noticed that before now!

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

The Curriculum for Christlikeness training suggests we start with 5 minutes of silence per day. The Mindfulness Meditation takes only 4 minutes. The Rule of Benedict requires all monks to practice 30 minutes of silence each morning.

Maybe it is not so much about time – more about learning to focus our attention.

What works for me is to use every opportunity of quiet to cultivate an easy flexibility through silence into curious listening.

I wonder if Facebook and Twitter constitute a significant threat to our ability to hold and value silence?

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Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything” Abba Moses

I don’t know if the cell I sat in taught me everything, but it certainly taught me a lot.

To celebrate the day in my life when I reached the age my father was when he died I booked a day retreat at a Benedictine Monastery. As I saw it, the rest of my life would be ‘bonus time’ that my father never had. That felt significant – I had to do something significant to mark the transition.

When my father died he had 5 dependent children at home, rows of books he wanted to read, and hundreds of budgerigars he was breeding. No neat closure for him. I cannot presume that I have a right to a longer life than he had.

Brother Christopher, the guestmaster, met me at reception and showed me to my room for the day – a spartan bedroom, normally home to a monk. I could join the brothers to chant the psalms before lunch and sit with them in silence to eat. Guests on solitary retreat are expected to have coffee with the guestmaster after lunch.

I was the only guest for the day.

And so I sat at the small wooden desk with the sun streaming through the window, my bible, journal and a couple of books before me.

OK, God, here I am.  I am up for anything you want for me for the day – an angel would be fine, your voice in the room . . I want to hear what you have to say about the rest of my life

and what I heard was . .

. . . .  S   I   L   E   N   C   E  . . . .

I read, prayed, wrote, reflected, joined the monks as they chanted (like this), enjoyed lunch with them (breaking the silence by speaking a couple of times), and had a terrific time over coffee with Brother Christopher talking about silence and the Desert Fathers. He gave me a couple of his books to read.

The afternoon was too short. As I reached the final hour I gathered my thoughts and experiences of the day to reflect on what it meant to me and what I heard from God:

I planned this day for you – I came ahead of you – I have been with you through it all – and will I go ahead of you

What took place between God and me on that day was deeply significant. Two years later, almost to the day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know God is with me.

Jesus often withdrew to a quiet place to pray. His temptation in the wilderness was about the battleground of his heart.

He who sits alone and is quiet has escaped from 3 wars; hearing, speaking and seeing: but there is one thing against which he must continually fight, that is, his own heart

This comes from the Desert Fathers. They recognised the value of silence – do we?

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Soul training is about growing spiritual muscles.

Now before you have a heart sink that this will be all about hard work, will power and self-discipline . . . before memories of failed New Year resolutions flood your horizon – read on.

There are two important concepts to grasp:

  • First – Bad habits lead to ill-health. Just as we have to pay attention to our physical health, so we also need to invest in our spiritual health.
  • Second – the Holy Spirit grows the muscles in us. Our job is to give the Spirit the opportunity to work.

The bible uses the metaphor of training as an athlete to illustrate how we can make a difference to our spiritual health:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come

And so we can use spiritual exercise to train until we have the learning in the muscle – we no longer have to think about it.

The first soul training is the easiest warm up exercise of all – get enough sleep!

Lets face it, the best way to give the Holy Spirit the best chance to work in us is to make sure we are able to think clearly.

Research shows that we need on average 7-8 hours sleep per night. Running on too little sleep reduces our ability to make decisions and perform tasks; our immune system is compromised; our mood drops. 25% of motorway accidents are sleepiness-related.

Clearly having enough sleep is key to functioning at our best.

So, are we getting as much sleep as we need?

As much as is possible, it makes sense to manage our programme and activities to give sleep the priority it deserves.

Over the next week have a look at your daily pattern and see if there is something you can change to give yourself the opportunity to have the sleep you know you need.

Do you think this is realistic and achievable in the busy 24/7 lives we lead today?

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