When the first ACT 3 Cohort group finished its intensive phase on April 17 the 13 members who graduated did a discernment process so that the group could give me feedback about what could be improved. The Cohort includes 36 hours of time in the group that is spread out over eight months and concentrated in four days of meetings with me. There are three core commitments that are the backbone of the process. These are:
1. You must desire to develop your interior life in a rich texture of spiritual formation that draws from the whole Christian tradition so that you can learn how to intentionally seek after God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37).
2. You must enter into the unity prayer of our Lord Jesus (John 17:20-23), a prayer for our relational oneness, and strive with all your heart to truly and faithfully love all your brothers and sisters as modeled by Jesus (John 13:34-35).
3. You must seek to grasp what is meant by missional theology and grow into a clear understanding of why it is vitally important in order that you will practice the spiritual art of missional leadership in your local church or mission context (John 20:21).
In the critique that my first class gave to me the graduates universally said that I needed to put more emphasis on point number one. I had quietly come to the same conclusion so their feedback confirmed my sense of things in this regard. Most of us can talk about spiritual life but few of us have found patterns for deep growth that work well for us personally. We have tried "quiet times" and devotional books and Bible reading but we need much, much more. We often read the Bible with little or no deep impact and we know it. What can we do about this problem?
In the ACT 3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort group we read two books on the interior life. The first is the little classic, Practicing the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. These books give us a simple and highly motivating overview of how to live simply and faithfully day-to-day. Then we read Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But we all felt that this was not enough. We needed a good, strong guide to take us beyond these two works into a more practical way of understanding and applying the disciplines of spiritual formation to our own souls. Enter the third book in the revised syllabus: Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1984).
The Rule of St. Benedict has been a trusted spiritual guide for souls for over 1,500 years. His rules of obedience, humility and contemplation are not just prerequisites for formal religious societies but an invaluable model for anyone who desires to live more deeply and simply. While St. Benedict presupposes a certain detachment from the world he gives guidance and inspiration for anyone who is seeking peace and fulfillment in their interior life. It is no accident that serious Christians have always found him a reliable guide.
The Rule of St. Benedict has attracted me for some time but Esther de Waal helps me understand and apply it as well as any short book I know. It is only 163-pages. Her writing style is clear and she draws out of the Rule each of the crucial elements of St. Benedict's teaching, especially his use of Scripture in the practice of the lectio divina, a practice set forth in its four stages. She further develops the three vows of Benedict in terms of their importance for (ordinary) daily life.
Kathleen Norris says that de Waal beautifully reminds us that spirituality is grounded in remembering that the material and spiritual realms are not distinct. Even the most ordinary manual work "is a constant reminder of the reality of the Incarnation."
This emphasis is at the very heart of the ACT 3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort training process. We have to be deeply interior people in order to externally lead others into the unity of the Trinity and the shared missional life. These three core commitments will keep this equipping program on track even as we make changes along the way.
If you would like to explore joining an ACT 3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort group check out the information on our web site.