by Richard J. Foster
Started: 20 July 2007
Finished: 23 August 2007
This was at least my second reading of Celebration, possibly my third or fourth, I'm not quite sure. I just remember that when I listened to it before--and I suppose that listening to books-on-tape counts as reading--I was so struck by it as to re listen to most of the tapes several times, which I did again on this go through. Yes, I listened to it again, but I also bought myself a hardback copy (a luxury I don't usually allow myself anymore) because there were so many good quotes and passages that I wanted to see as well as hear, and refer to in between listening experiences. Yes, there will be more! Read on.
Lately I've resumed an old habit of listening to inspirational literature in the car. Unlike the rest of my family, who listen to the radio while driving or riding, I usually prefer silence--a habit learned at the knees of Mr. Foster and other spiritual guides in years gone by. But I suppose it's okay to break the silence now and again with something uplifting and reflectional, something which will fill my mind with the right sorts of things to meditate on in the silence.
Mr. Foster is a Quaker, or a Friend. But more than that, he is a generous and true Christian. He exemplifies the Christian spirit in his writings; when you read his words they reach out and touch your very soul. You know that he knows what he's talking about. He draws from all Christian spiritual traditions and even from a few non-Christian sources. He is interested in what is True--wherever it seems to come from--it really comes from God.
A favorite priest of mine, Father Benedict Groeschel, said that if he couldn't be Catholic, he'd be a Quaker. I'm inclined to agree with him, if Mr. Foster is any indication of the stuff of which Quakers are made.
In Celebration, Foster teaches or explores the classic "Disciplines" or central practices of the Christian faith. He does this by grouping them into three basic 'movements of the spirit': the inward, the outward, and the corporate. The individual Disciplines are as follows: (inward) meditation, prayer, fasting, study, (outward) simplicity, solitude, submission, service (corporate) confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. For each Discipline, he provides a description of its use and purpose, Biblical and historical background, guidelines for implementation, and a myriad of supporting quotes and references.
I found his grouping system especially interesting. Like all the great saints, he recognizes the absolute necessity of beginning the spiritual journey with oneself, or 'self-work'. We must begin with our internal work and work our way out. How many times have I promised myself I'd start meditation and stick with it, yet failed to follow through on that basic promise to myself?
His recommendations and guidance ring true because of his frequent references to his own spiritual journey and the times he has failed, which make him a creditable and very companionable mentor. Yet, like my own spiritual director, he is quite clear that it is the Holy Spirit alone who is the only real Spiritual Director. All others who provide that service do so in His name.
There are so many things I'd like to quote or reference from Mr. Foster's book, and maybe someday I will, but for now I'll just comment on something which struck me in this reading, and that was the Discipline of Solitude. Interestingly enough, Foster classifies Solitude as an outward movement. Most people I suspect, myself included, would probably think of Solitude as an inward Discipline. But on further or deeper reflection, a central tenet of the spiritual life, it becomes obvious that Solitude is a state of mind (and heart) which ones chooses, i.e., we choose to view and interact with the world from this perspective. Going hand in hand with Solitude is Silence. Foster says he struggled to decide which he should name this Discipline--Solitude or Silence, but eventually settled on the former.
"Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon Him in yourself." ~~Teresa of Avila
And Mr. Foster says, "Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude....We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment."
Just a taste of the pearls contained in that gem of a book. I'm including it on a new list I'll be starting very soon--"Books to Read Over and Over and Over and . . ." Yes, it's THAT good! My only regret is that I've finished it...for now.