"Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people."
Richard Foster wrote these words exactly 30 years ago as the opening to the first chapter of his modern classic on spiritual formation, Celebration of Discipline. What's unnerving is how much more superficial western culture has become in the three decades since Foster accurately (in my opinion) captured the essence of the delta between simply existing and living with purpose.
Thirty years ago, the microwave was just getting warmed up; instant food was not yet an everyday luxury. The Internet was only available to a scholarly few; instant research, messaging and knowledge were not yet an everyday practice or assumption. The technology that has empowered a culture of multi-taskers, doing many things but not necessarily engaging critical thinking in order to do meaningful things, was in its embryonic stages. In short, the "desperate need" expressed by Foster 30 years ago has amplified in its desperation.
I'm re-reading Foster's book this week, and found his first several chapters to be an enriching preparation for an hour-long walk, sans iPod, I took around my surrounding neighborhoods this morning in the chilly air. The trees have shed much of their beauty, yet were still glorious. The hills and smallish mountains were picturesque against the sunshine. My pace was brisk, but my heart and mind were set on silent conversation with God. I was going deeper, trying to rage against the curse of this age that is my curse as much as anyone else's, the temptation for shallow living amid the lust for immediate gratification.
As my walk neared its conclusion I had an insight that most of my brokenness centers around two pervasive needs that are particular to me but probably resonate with many: a lifelong sense of not fully measuring up, and a perception of not being able to fulfill my creative potential. The former is bound in the emotional scar tissue of memories from long ago, of being awkward in appearance and stuttering in speech. The latter echoes with the words of my 10th grade English teacher from 25 years ago, who encouraged me to keep writing books and warned me of "how fast the years go by."
I stepped on some leaves. I tugged on the hat that was covering my ears from the cold. And I invited Christ to once again touch his own (now glorified) scars upon these two stubborn scar patterns that have haunted my heart and mind, that have led me to elicit just enough distraction and relief towards whatever disappointment or uncertainty I've stubbornly refused to hand over to the love of Christ.
When I arrived home, I felt like I had waded further into the waters of grace. I'm grateful to Foster and my other teachers and mentors, the ones I have encountered both in books or in person, for the ongoing reminder that whatever the distractions of any age might be, God remains relevant, powerful and eager to finish his deep work inside each of us.