Reading about Dorothy Day this morning, I was reminded of the tug of asceticism I have felt as I try to follow Jesus. Many times I have succumbed to the temptation Thomas Merton notes, spiritual pride (“Who can escape the secret desire to breathe a different atmosphere from the rest of men?”), only later to uncover among my insufficient efforts the desire for self-justification against which Luther and the Reformers reacted so strongly.
Yet, I have returned again and again to the idea, if not the practice, of discipline. Why must I careen from extreme to extreme?
Self-discipline, even self-mortification, is necessary because Sin is persistent and destructive. Active participation in the life of God requires self-control. “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” (1 Peter 4:7, NASB)
We are saved by God’s love; but we experience our salvation in our love for God. Such love takes concrete shape in a life of compassion and discipline within community.
This is the core of personalism:
all people share a common humanity: each of us becomes who we are meant to be by assuming personal responsibility for our brothers and sisters in need. . . .[and participating in] the works of mercy at a personal sacrifice. –(Praying With Dorothy Day, James Allaire and Rosemary Broughton).
So we need discipline to pray; discipline to be compassionate; discipline to be fully human. And now I am speaking about the body of Christ. And your body, which is you. And my body, which is me.
I’m not going to let my fear of “works righteousness” keep me from throwing my whole body at God. And this may mean I have to skip a few meals. It may also mean I have to strip off a few other creature comforts.
Shh. . .let’s all get naked before God.