Notes From ‘Sacred Pathways’

Gary Thomas’ ‘Sacred Pathways’ is an interesting read, a case that we are all built differently and because of this must interact with the spiritual world differently as well.

The book made a big enough impact on me that I wrote a bit on the path that most resonated with me (The Sensate) a few days ago.

As I stated in that article, Thomas argues that the Western church has set us up to fail by offering a singular experience in which to meet God:

Over and over again we give Christians the same spiritual prescription: “You want to grow as a Christian? All you have to do is develop a thirty — or sixty-minute quiet time and come to church every Sunday morning.” All too often, Christians who desire to be fed spiritually are given the same, generic, hopefully all-inclusive methods — usually some variation on a standardized quiet time. Why? Because it’s simple, it’s generic, and it’s easy to hold people accountable to. But, for many Christians, it’s just not enough.

Those who do not resonate with this type of relationship feel bitter and bad, and begin to lose faith…but they shouldn’t:

Their love for God has not dimmed, they’ve just fallen into a soul-numbing rut. Their devotions seem like nothing more than shadows of what they’ve been doing for years. They’ve been involved in the same ministry for so long they could practically do it in their sleep. It seems as if nobody in their small groups has had an original thought for three years. They finally wake up one morning and ask, “Is this really all there is to knowing God?

Thomas breaks relationships down into nine pathways. Naturalists (loving God out of doors), Sensates (loving God with the senses), Traditionalists (loving God through ritual and symbol), Ascetics (loving God in solitude and simplicity), Activists (loving God through confrontation), Caregivers (loving God by loving others), Enthusiasts (loving God with mystery and celebration), Contemplatives (loving God through adoration), and Intellectuals (loving God with the mind).

Is it possible to be all of those things? It’s happened, says Thomas:

Imagine that General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Queen Elizabeth, Beethoven, Chuck Swindoll, Twila Paris, and the poet Robert Browning were all rolled into one. What would you have? King David! Think about it. He was a military general, a political ruler, a composer, a religious leader, a musician, and a poet. He was a true Renaissance man thousands of years before European culture invented one! David exemplified what many moderns would consider contradictory qualities. Contemporary scholars would put military and religious leaders — Genghis Khan and St. Francis of Assisi, for instance — on opposite ends of the scale; but David was able to fulfill both roles, and more. If you are in a spiritual malaise, it might be that you just need a change in your spiritual diet. “Ideal” Christians might display many, if not all, of the spiritual temperaments. As we describe each one in detail in later chapters, you’ll notice that I cite Jesus as an example of all of them. Regardless of our predominant spiritual temperament, all of us could learn a great deal from how others are nourished by God and how others meet and love God.

Thomas identifies as a traditionalist, and talks about the impact this has on him personally:

When I first began spending daily time in prayer, I often grew frustrated at how I could forget about God’s presence by lunchtime, even after praying for an hour in the morning. Shorter but more frequent times of prayer may actually help us to live with an increasing awareness of God’s presence in our lives. How difficult would it be for us to set aside five minutes in the morning, five minutes at noon, and five minutes before or after dinnertime to meet God in prayer? Rituals provide structure for our faith. Once we learn to use them, traditionalists can also incorporate the use of symbols, which provide meaning.

…and dives into both the pros and cons of following each pathway, such as this caution against activists:

Being an activist is a high calling, but it needs to be done with the right motivation. Calling activism a “sacred pathway” should help: We’re active because that’s the best way for us to express our love for God. Armed with this attitude, a successful ministry (rather than a personal monument) will soon follow.

No matter how you connect, it’s the connecting that matters more than anything else in life. Thomas concludes by saying:

The almost unbelievable joy is that you can enjoy a relationship with God that he will have with no one else. And God eagerly, passionately, yearns for that relationship to begin. God is just as eager to love and know you as he was to know Moses, David, and Mary. You are no less precious to him than were these heroes of the faith. But each one of these saints — Moses, David, and Mary — spent time cultivating and growing their relationship with God. Each one made knowing God the chief passion of their heart. Will you respond to that invitation today?
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