In point of fact, today it seems the map for a vital Christian life follows a different pattern. One can be inward or outward in their expression of spirituality, but does not need to be both. We can be specialists. One can be either heavenly minded or earthly good. It looks something like this. The option perhaps most emphasized today as an evangelical, is the path of being fully devoted to action, a political or moral cause, and to getting things done. Those that show special promise are invited into leadership positions where they can lead the troop of Christian doers! I’m exaggerating a bit to prove a point. Admittedly, there are people in leadership on the action side of the equation who are also devoted to prayer and the cultivation of spiritual habits. These are people who have a compass more than a weather vane to guide their lives, in my humble opinion. Nevertheless, the point can be made that more and more we are challenged to be action oriented. Less important are the skills of interpreting spiritual traditions, or understanding and working with the inner map of the soul—or asking the vital questions of what action we should be engaged in to begin with. The action pathway focuses on getting my hands dirty.
The alternative path, less emphasized in my tradition, stresses going into my inner closet where I focus on prayer, study of scripture and spiritual disciplines. There actually seems to be a healthy corrective in this direction today in some quarters of the evangelical tradition, finally learning from our Catholic friends. My only concern is that we may miss the point if we focus on specialization and alternative options in our approach to spirituality, where the inward piece becomes unique to an individuals’ path, an option for some that we can pick if we are so wired, but not a norm of faithful discipleship. Needless to say, I am not satisfied with this schizophrenic, either-or approach to the spiritual life. As I have pursued my disquiet over the years, I found that my particular tradition, the Evangelical Covenant Church, provided some great historical models and theology for integration even if my experience in the church has not always encouraged bringing these two poles together. Curiously, the topic found expression in my undergraduate studies and a fascination with the Jesuits almost 30 years ago. Today, it continues to show up in my doctoral dissertation which focuses on developing a “holy worldliness” [see “Deep Stuff” in this blog listed above]. I’m still trying to live with the tension of living an Inward-Outward Journey. Stayed tuned to these pages. Contribute some of your thoughts. Look at the pictures. Pray–and follow the Lord as you serve others and meet the needs in our world.