The Practice of Beginning Again

The Soul of a Pilgrim, chapter 6.

Reading and Reflecting

We are now three-quarters of the way through our journey with Christine Valters Paintner. We are realizing that this pilgrimage is not about eight chapters in a book or eight weeks in our lives, but about how we are going to live out all of our remaining days on planet earth, however many days that may be. 

We have been introduced to some practices that we are incorporating into our daily lives: responding to God’s call, packing lightly, crossing the threshold, making the way by walking, and being uncomfortable.

It is time for a gut check. We may find that some of our initial enthusiasm and commitment is beginning to wane. But this is not the time to berate ourselves about our failures; we recognize that we all, at some time or another, fall away from that initial passionate eagerness. In the words of our desert mothers and fathers, we become susceptible to acedia – a kind of slothfulness characterized by lack of care. 

Whatever shall we do? 

Begin again, says Paintner. 

Begin again, say the desert mothers and fathers. 

Make a fresh beginning. Determine every single day to start over.

Reflect: What lulls you into acedia? What patterns in your life do you recognize that draw you away from your commitment to the practices of a pilgrim?

The soulful journey, says Paintner, goes straight through the heart of the desert (pg 98). “in the middle of the parched land, where everything comfortable is stripped away, we often find ourselves wanting to run or go to sleep.” The antidote is to show up, be still, and open our hearts to an encounter with the holy. We come in humility with a spirit of openness. Each morning, suggests Paintner, “ask where you need to begin and start there with humility, compassion, and holy anticipation (pg 100).

Reflect: What is your experience of not being intentional about your quiet time with God, whether that is prayer time, journaling, being in nature, or however you most deeply experience God in your life? What do you find is missing in your life during those times?

Suggestion: Read the section “A Meditation Pause” on page 100 again and sit with it for awhile.

On pages 101-102, Paintner discusses life impulses and death impulses. Life impulses, she says, call us into community with ourselves, with others, and with the divine. They lead us to nourish ourselves well, recognizing that in our human bodies we have work to do in this world. When we make decisions from our life impulses, they are made from wholeness.

Our death impulses, on the other hand, take us back to our woundedness, and we make decisions from that place. They lead us to numb ourselves with poor nutrition and mindless activities.

Reflect: This week, pay attention to when you are making decisions from your life impulses and when from your death impulses. Resolve to rely on your life impulses.

For practice this week

The author writes a lot about practices in this chapter. What are your personal spiritual practices? When you find yourself allowing other things to get in the way of maintaining your practices what is it that gets in the way ?

What prevents you from deepening them?

When you fall away, are you able to begin again? If you are, how? If you are not able, why not?

Read again Paintner’s words: “Remember that transformation takes a risky commitment to showing up for God. When your practice falters or slips through the cracks of busyness, remember the monk’s and pilgrim’s practice of always beginning again. We come back to the practice of the beginner. As we do, we can meet life again, free of our expectations. Our tendency is to belittle ourselves when we lose the rhythm of commitment. We should seek instead to embrace starting over with joy” (pg 99).