There’s book from about 20 years or more ago entitled “A Long Obedience In The Same Direction” – by Eugene Peterson. I was intrigued by the title… A long obedience in the same direction.
We are a nation of Seekers. On surveys, and perhaps even in personal conversation, people often self-identify as interested in spirituality. The Pew Research group, that organization that keeps their metaphoric fingers on the spiritual pulse of the American public, often reflects the US public as still very interested in spiritual matters while at the same time less and less committed to the traditional Institutional religions.
We really do believe there are answers out there. We really do believe there is something out there. If only we could find that which we are looking for. So we seek, we keep looking. We as Americans still believe! We do believe. We’re still a people of “faith”… “faith” being more and more what we want it to mean. We look for God, for the Spirit, for the “answer”. We do indeed seek.
I remember reading somewhere that if “spirituality” (and things of the Spirit) were underground water, we’d be well-diggers. We’d be looking for that water! But, I remember the writer going on, we have had more and more of a tendency to usually not dig any one well deep enough to hit the water-table.
We find a place that seems appealing and start digging. But perhaps we get a little bored of digging in that place (maybe because we don’t see anything happening), so we walk over to another more attractive location and start digging for water there. And if nothing very interesting happens there… we move on to another -in our eyes- more interesting place to dig.
The write reflects on us as a spiritual culture, saying that while we as a whole have a tendency towards spiritual matters, we are less and less likely to commit to any one particular spiritual discipline long enough to gain the deepest measure of benefit from them – even if the tradition is one we’ve formed out of our own searching. Before the well we’re digging has gotten deep enough, we’ve quit that well, and have started digging another one somewhere else.
The writers’ point was we dabble in spirituality, without the long-term commitment to any one practice or discipline of spirituality. Now this may not necessarily be true for us individually, but it seems to be a collective experience.
But how can we know what “style” of spirituality fits us best unless we try them? How can we know what “brand” of religion is the best one for us? How can we commit to a particular discipline if we don’t know where it will lead? How can we commit to a particular practice, if we don’t know whether it’s the right one for us?
There really is so much out there to try! They are indeed important questions – the answers to which can certainly help us on our spiritual journey. I’m really not knocking this “discovery” process in any way. But I also recognize that at some point in our maturation, we are called to find a place… and steadily dig in one location until we find that well of clear, life-enriching, water.
I had a seminary professor that would often say, “the bible does not reveal its secrets to disinterested passers-by.” Well, maybe it does a little, but I do get his point that – like anything worthwhile in life – depth comes from persistence. And this is certainly true with matters of the Spirit as well.
Polls seem to indicate we’re certainly not disinterested… but maybe more seeking without the discipline of patience – long patience.
So, as Americans, we’re – generally speaking – not too attracted to a long obedience in the same direction. It’s certainly fun and interesting to read the latest books on spirituality, prayer, meditation, etc. But the truth is, reading books -and more books- about meditation (as interesting as they may be) can’t replace the years and years of practicing meditation… and gaining the benefits of this practice.
There are indeed pros’ and con’s of both travelling as a tourist and of being a permanent resident of any particular place. Seeing new places is fun, and there’s a lot to learn for sure. But certainly the obvious difference is the permanent resident knows the place in a much deeper way… a way the tourist could never know. One could spend a life “touring” – visiting, seeing new places (even coming back to some old places… for a while). But usually after a while, we end up picking a place to life in– to actually live in.
It’s certainly not a bad thing to read about different spiritual practices, or even to experiment with different disciplines… but I wonder more and more if that can’t ever replace a spirituality of a long obedience in the same direction.
Spiritual practices are similar to travelling and living in other areas; each experience is different in its own way. But if we wish to gain the longer lasting benefits and elements of a deeper experience, we must put the time in to learn what it feels like to “live” somewhere long enough. We must be willing to put the time in to develop the disciplines of patient dedication. We must be willing to invest the time of practice. Like with international travel, while visiting can certainly be fun… the deeper wisdoms and benefits of long-experience in a place will always elude the tourist.
A Long Obedience In The Same Direction
Certainly a growing challenge to us all… but -like wells- the benefits are deep and plentiful!