Based on the title, The Discipline of Study, I was not overly excited to begin chapter five of Celebration of Discipline, but, there is truth in the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover…” or in this case a chapter by its title. As Foster continues to explore the Spiritual Disciplines, he reminds the reader that the purpose of the disciplines is to bring about total transformation of the individual by, in a very simplified summary, replacing bad habits with good ones. The disciplines are meant to lead us on a path to spiritual growth. Study enables one to enter into a deeper understanding of the reality of an event, text, situation, etc., allowing one to draw closer to God. By seeking a fuller knowledge of what surrounds us and what lies within we set upon a path to God, who is Truth.
Foster says that the discipline of study involves four steps: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. The good Sisters of Saint Francis who taught at my grade school believed in repetition! Answers to those questions from the Baltimore Catechism were targets of this practice. Who made us? Why did God make us? While this type of rote memorization was beneficial in getting through 4th grade religion class, it is of even greater benefit in applying that technique to help in modifying behavior. For example, if I spend time every day recalling the blessings of each day, I will be more aware of God’s presence in my life in both significant and small ways.This will lead to a greater appreciation of God’s gifts.
Concentration, the second step, aids repetition and increases learning. Foster states that “we live in a culture that does not value concentration.” We are multitaskers. I am guilty! If my wife is watching television my ears and eyes are only partially engaged. At most times that activity is accompanied by browsing on a tablet or a smartphone, working a crossword puzzle or reading. Giving our full, undivided attention to those truly important matters, areas of faith and spirituality, will increase our understanding and lead us to the third step, comprehension.
Foster gives the example those “aha” moments. Even though we have heard or read something over and over, there are times we come to a new understanding and we shake our heads not believing that we did not see or understand what was there in plain sight. For Foster, this gives a “basis for a true perception of reality.” Sometimes these moments happen months or even years later. Why did this happen in my life? What was the purpose of this challenge in my life? Often the benefit of passing days, months and years, gives clearer vision of how past experiences and events brought us to the present moment.
The brings us to the final step of reflection. Reflection moves one from understanding and comprehension to grasping the significance of matter at hand. What does this book or situation or encounter mean for me?
Now armed with these guidelines, Foster takes up the practical application the Study of Discipline. What is it that we should be studying that will transform us? Books! Happily, I am on the right path according to Foster. He suggests that books might require three separate readings, once for understanding, a second for interpreting the meaning, and the third for evaluation. A skilled reader may be able to accomplish these at the same time. This approach will lead us to seek out other books or resources to assist with our interpretation and evaluation. The second area of study on this short list is of greater importance. Foster calls this area “non-verbal books.” These are our observation of events and actions. Nature and creation are prime examples of this area of study. Other non-verbal books include studying the relationships between individuals, cultures and society.
Often times we simply experience life. Adding the discipline of study to our spiritual growth toolbox, helps us to draw out of the events of our lives an appreciation that all paths, no matter how bumpy or smooth, curvy or straight, can be pathways to growth and pathways to God. To move toward perfect union with God requires us to take an active role in seeking to know the Truth, to be lifelong learners of God’s ways and God’s love.
Title: Celebration of Discipline
Author: Richard J. Foster
Release Date: October 5, 1988