Practising the Spiritual Disciplines – A walk in the mountains

This autumn our series on Sunday’s, at both congregations, is looking at different passages from Mark’s Gospel on how we can follow in the “Jesus Way”.

Through the centuries Christians have discovered that to follow Jesus more and to become more like Him we need to train. When we do something and fail we often get discouraged and give up; but when we are training to do something then we realise that failing is part of the learning process. We know that failing is to be expected but we also know that as we practise and train more we succeed more and we become better at what we are training to do. Christians call this sort of training Spiritual Disciplines. So, this autumn we are looking at some of the Spiritual Disciplines such as Solitude, Service, Simplicity, Fasting (by the way you can get podcasts of our talk on the church website) etc.

To start to learn to take on the Disciplines requires us to enter onto the Jesus Way. Onto the path that he took His disciples, onto the path that He calls each and everyone of us.

Overlooking Lago di Mezzola on retreat (northern Lake Como)

When I was on retreat over the summer I was in a remote hamlet overlooking Lake Como in Italy. In the hamlet were signs to a 10th century chapel called San Fedelino. I thought that because there were all these signs that it would be an easy walk. So, about 8.30am one morning before it got too hot I set off for San Fedelino. I wasn’t sure how long it would take but assumed that it wouldn’t take long as it was so well sign-posted.

The path started clearly and passed a lovely stream and waterfall. It appeared idyllic and I felt full of optimism. But then the path started to change. First it became very muddy due to recent rain. Then I started to climb and the path became rocky and broken. Soon the path became very feint and I wondered if I had wandered off the path. I started wondering if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Just as I was planning to turn back and scout around for the path I saw a piece of wood pegged across the “path” to descend a bit of it and I realised that I was still on the right path.

Just after this I reached a beautiful viewing point from which I had a wonderful vista of the lake and the mountains and countryside around it. A far better view than I had from where I was staying – absolutely stunning. It really buoyed me up to continue as it had been more than I was expecting.

I then descended into the woods again. The going was very often hard – the path indistinct, the mosquito’s and the heat – but every now and again a sign that I was still on the right path with painted stones or a handrail to stop you falling off the cliff or pieces of wood pegged across the path.

Every now and again I would glimpse gorgeous vistas and finally a view of a beautiful new valley with snow capped mountains behind it and a slowly moving river running through it.

Then as I descended deep into a wood I came across a sign for San Fedelino only 150m away. The path became easier and I thought I must be just about there. I had travelled for over an hour; I was very hot and very sweaty and I hadn’t brought any water with me (as I thought I would only be ½ an hour or so!). Seeing the sign gave me renewed hope and I set off. But then around the corner I was confronted by a large rock fall. Very steep. I nearly gave up.

Two things stopped me. I was so near to the chapel having come so far; secondly, I could see some stones painted with markings mark a “path” down.

I scrambled down and made it to a beautiful small chapel by a lovely slow moving river.

Was the journey worth it? Absolutely! Although I was hot and tired it had been a great adventure and I had seen some stunning places and views.

Taking up the Spiritual Disciplines is far more like this sort of adventure rather than a stroll in the park. There are places where you aren’t sure of the path and you are tentatively felling your way; there are times when you have to just plod on when you don’t fell like it; there are times when the path is broken and difficult to navigate. But on the other hand you will see things that you never would have otherwise have seen – in yourself and others; there will be times when you see a whole new world because you set off; you will find out plenty about yourself and one of those is how much you can change as you look to train rather than try.

Two interesting conversations I had later in the week. I met one man who had lived in the hamlet for ten years who when I said I had been to San Fedelino said that he might do it before he died. The second was I met a cyclist who wanted to make the trip; I told him that you couldn’t make it by bike. Sometimes it is easy to hang around church and not make the effort to go on the Jesus Way. To go on the Jesus Way becomes something that we put off going on. Secondly, we want to go on it but we want to do it encumbered with stuff – whether that’s attitude or not being prepared to be challenged or whether that’s because we want to stay comfortable.

You can do a couple of things to help you though as you walk down the Jesus Way. Firstly, you can take water with you. Water is the sign and symbol in the Bible of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will always accompany us if we let Him to strengthen and challenge and support us. Secondly, we can go with others. We can join a cell group (or whoever is around you in your situation) to encourage one another in the Jesus Way; to help us when we are weary or stumbling.

The Jesus Way is a life-long journey into the heart of God, sometimes messy, sometimes painful, sometimes difficult – but always life-changing and life-enhancing and discovering things you would never have discovered before.

Footnote: Clicking the pictures above will give you much better view of them

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One comment on “Practising the Spiritual Disciplines – A walk in the mountains

  1. Angela Baker
    September 23, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Thanks Will. I’m especially glad that you added pic.s. What amazing views!
    I wouldn’t have been without my water bottle though, (even for a 1/2-hr walk) 🙂
    I’ve often likened the spiritual disciplines ‘walk’ to learning a musical instrument. Sometimes it’s really tough, especially in the early stages, but there are moments along the way when you suddenly realise (e.g.) that you can play a really difficult piece, or do some tricky technique, that you couldn’t do a few weeks ago. At my stage in music, I’m finding that my greatest enemy is complacency, & maybe there’s a spiritual parallel too?

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