Conversation
August 22, 2007
Mattaman McKearnee
August 23, 2007

Howard Thurman once wrote on the disciplines of the spirit. While many of his works dealt with those on the fringes of society—Jesus and the Disinherited, for example—his discussion of the personal spiritual needs of “everyman” was the most impactual for my personally.

Why? It occurs to me now that the title is a bit misleading. Does one need to discipline the spirits? Aren’t they, by their very nature, disciplinarians? But as with so many things, the initial linguistic associations that one recognizes when they hear the word “discipline” is only one way to read it. Our first reaction is likely to see the word as a precursor to punishment, punishment itself, or the direct consequent of illegal or inappropriate action. Dr. Thurman, however, must mean more of a concentration rather than a punishment; the disciplines of the spirit are the concentrated efforts of the vital parts of our existence connected with God and the rest of His creation. Do we need to discipline our spirits? Not in the way we would usually imagine; it is more a concerted energy at discernment and focusing of our spiritual energies toward a greater good.

How is this affected? Dr. Thurman offers several anecdotal examples that give spiritual discipline real gravity. It is important for us to understand that spirituality is not a part of ourselves utilized only in church on Sunday, or when we volunteer our time with organizations that give to the poor. Rather, his whole point is that spiritual discipline is an unceasing effort. It should, if we give it enough attention, function almost without thought. Not absent-mindedly, but without the spur of our conscious selves initiating a spiritual focus. Ideally, we will find ourselves in a place where the ebb and flow of spiritual energies occurs in tandem with our surroundings, responding to it and receiving it with an inherent understanding that one does not happen without the other; we do not only give of ourselves and thrive; we do not only receive and survive.

It has been my ongoing challenge to commit myself spiritually to living in a constant stream of, for lack of a better word, life. It is the realization and whole-hearted acceptance of karma as a blessing rather than an impedance; a holistic self that reacts to a world no longer in pieces, but as an interrelational web of being. These things aren’t new, certainly. But they are new for me. And as I am coming to understand, it is the possibility of renewed energy in discovery of this intentional living that makes age-old, living concepts of karma so powerful. They are constantly being reborn in someone’s life.

I struggle now with moving from the daily details to the purposes of a larger world. Each piece has its place, but how much energy should be placed on one of them, not knowing how important it will be for a greater good? Thus far, I have only been able to look to discernment. This, I have to trust. And learn not to worry. What more can we do?

Given these thoughts, I go to work. I hope that I can live these things as well as I can think about them. I believe there’s a proverb that reads: “All labor gives profit; talk tends only to penury.” In mammon or spirit, it’s the truth. So let me labor some, and for the right things, that all things will be affected by my work.

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