The Four Nonnegotiable Pillars of the Spiritual Life

Excerpt from The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality

Four essential pillars undergird any healthy Christian spirituality. These are universally prescribed spiritual challenges and are revealed by Christ as being nonnegotiable elements within Christian discipleship. What are they?

We see that Jesus was prescribing four things as an essential praxis for a healthy spiritual life: 

a) Private prayer and private morality

b) social justice

c) mellowness of heart and spirit

d) community as a constitutive element of true worship 

These are not elements we may choose or not choose to incorporate within our spiritual lives. They comprise the essence of the spiritual life. They also supply its balance. Only when all four of these are present in our lives are we healthy, as Christians and as human beings.

We can spend our whole life trying to live out all 4 of these pillars without 100% success. But the point of this section of the book is to understand that if we call ourselves Christians, THIS is what Jesus wants us to strive for. The Christian who has all 4 of these things present in their spirituality, they are the living the ideal Christian life. Chances are, though, that we are lacking in at least one of the 4 areas.  I know I certainly am, especially the part about social justice. But there’s hope! We can identify this absence and work on incorporating it into our lives.

For example, let’s say you’re like me and you do everything listed above except you do not have a passion for social justice. You aren’t the type to sign petitions or stand in front of a courthouse holding a sign or perhaps you don’t feel you are outgoing enough to take a stand. You can fix that by joining a group at your church that holds vigils outside abortion clinics or a group that helps the homeless by taking them meals at local shelters. You don’t have to be on the “front lines” to still take part in social justice. Personally, I was always pro-life in my mind but I never vocalized this opinion to too many people. Recently, and especially after reading Theology of the Body, I am very adamant and quite passionate about preventing abortions in society today. I also look at issues like human trafficking and capital punishment in a different light. Understanding that Jesus wants us to stand up for what He believed and what we as Christians believe has ignited a fire in me to take action.

You might recognize that you are passionate about social justice issues, you have mellowness of heart and spirit, and you pray everyday privately and you obey the commandments. However, you might be the kind of person that doesn’t actually go to church. (Letter D above). You might not “believe” in it. Some people think, “I don’t want to be among all those hypocrites,” or “I prefer to worship in private.”  Here are the authors thoughts on this:

The grounding, earthiness, and necessary pain that only real involvement within a concrete, parish-type family can give you [is what is missing from the life of a person who does not attend a church]. In parishes, we do not get to pick who we will be standing beside as we worship and celebrate various things together. A parish-type family is a hand of cards that is randomly dealt to us, and precisely to the extent that it is truly inclusive, will include persons of every temperament, ideology, virtue, and fault. Also, church involvement, when understood properly, does not leave us the option to walk away whenever something happens that we do not like. It is a covenant commitment, like a marriage, and binds us for better and worse. 

Fit in Your Faith Today: Examine these 4 Pillars  and ask yourself where you are lacking.  Pick up a copy of the book if this peaks your interest and you want to learn more! This exercise isn’t meant to make you feel inadequate or guilty. It’s meant to enhance your relationship with God and examine your spirituality as a Christian. It’s changing my life for the better; think about what it can do for you and for others!

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