Friday, March 28th, 2014 – The Fourth Friday in Lent

Spiritual Flow

 

Lent is the time and way for Christians to find their spiritual flow.

In 2014 I read two very helpful and related books, Drive by Daniel Pink and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick sent me high”). Both explore the notion that extrinsic rewards (money, fame, power) are far less substantial motivators than we think they are. Intrinsic rewards, such as the satisfaction in a job well done, are far more powerful than we imagine. Both books come highly recommended-Drive is the easier read, and if you like that, then you might pick up Flow.

Csikszentmihalyi, a University of Chicago professor, studies “autotelic experiences,” a technical term describing a pursuit that is “self-fulfilling; the activity is its own reward.” Solving crossword puzzles and reading novels come to mind. His simple and elegant word for the feeling they inspire when they work perfectly is “flow.” It is what you experience when time slips away, when the external world recedes, when nothing matters besides what you are doing at that particular moment. Achieving flow is fairly easy to describe but hard to engineer: “in flow, the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect. The challenge wasn’t too easy, nor was it too difficult.” A personal example follows.

One of my favorite activities is jogging. Still, all too often it used to be dull-it was the feeling after stopping that I enjoyed the most. While reading Flow, however, it became clear that my pace was likely a part of the issue. My measured pace never changed. Running 6 miles per hour minute miles was easy-and therefore boring. Trying to 8 miles an hour was intimidating and probably impossible. Running 7 miles per hour was a bit painful and frustrating. It had never occurred to me that stretching to go just a bit faster would be better than the easy, organic pace. While jogging a bit faster was tough at first, it has made the endeavor far more enjoyable, not less so.

Our wise Church Fathers knew all this intuitively. Worshiping the same way every day, or every week, becomes easy. It becomes comfortable, but it does not produce flow, the joy we can experience when we push. We don’t give things up for Lent in order to deprive ourselves, we do it in order to stretch a bit spiritually, to remind ourselves that our Faith can be more present. We don’t add things during Lent so that they will burden us or to prove we can do it. We do so in order to make it just difficult enough to deepen and strengthen our Faith. It seems that, Biblical rationales notwithstanding, the 40 day period is designed to be long enough to challenge us, but not so long that we will fail to follow our disciplines. And so, with that, we return to the beginning: Lent is the time and way for Christians to find their spiritual flow.

 

– Todd Trubey, Christ Church Parishioner

 

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