The Spiritual Disciplines, perspectives for the Caribbean Church

Defining Spiritual Disciplines

According to Donald S. Whitney, the Spiritual Disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. [1] Whitney goes on to say that these are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.

While spiritual disciplines may be given expression as the devotional discipline of an individual, Whitney highlights the point that, some are to be practiced with others. ”[2] A good example of this would of course be the corporate prayer of the church when Christians assemble to celebrate the sacred liturgy.

Spiritual transformation and growth as the outcome of the practice of the disciplines is underscored by Davin Carr-Chellman who argues that Spiritual disciplines are practices of transformation intentionally pursued through the day to day actions of deeper living. The spiritual disciplines are therefore conceptualized in terms of their relationship to profound learning.

Ben Campbell-Johnson argues that the words “spiritual disciplines” can be a broad term and therefore calls for greater clarity. For him when people hear such terms of which they have never defined biblically, the words end up being demarcated in a rather general sense. He suggests that one must be careful when one defines the spiritual disciplines, simply because one’s claim that something may be “spiritual” does not make it a biblically warranted action for godliness.

He cites Don Carson who asserts that modern culture’s perception of the spiritual disciplines defines them in ways that speak of “technique” rather than something that is commanded from Scripture that helps us to grow in holiness. He proffers that the transformative component to spiritual disciplines is not in the discipline itself but in the value of what is being disciplined, i.e. “the value of prayer, or worship or solitude or perhaps even the that of reading scripture.

He sees them as being implicitly interwoven into the narrative of Scripture. In his view sacred texts, specifically the Psalms, the Acts, and the Epistles, always give a command to read the Scriptures and to devote one’s self to prayer.

The Spiritual Disciplines and the Individual

There is the body of opinion that explains how learners exhibit certain dispositions, such as curiosity, which facilitates continual growth. These dispositions, when developed, become practices, habits, or routines which result in continual exploration, skill development, growth in understanding and, over time, a transformation of the individual.

One may recognize a problem here immediately, for in our Caribbean society persons see the habit of religious practice as demonstrating an absence of the Holy Spirit and natural spontaneity. This creates a crisis for the uninitiated in relation to the spiritual disciplines.

Carr-Chellman again states

There is no magic in the disciplines, no secret formula, no decoder ring, and no holy grail offering special and restricted access to truths heretofore reserved for intellectual and spiritual giants. A beginner can initiate transformative work without a disorienting dilemma. The spiritual disciplines are available totally and equally to every person and are therefore deeply democratic. [3]

The disciplines in spirituality, though residing in the self, do not single out the individual to be of specific virtue, for the gifts of God are not meant to single us out; but lead to the building and further strengthening of the Kingdom of God among us.

While there is the danger of persons perceiving spiritual disciplines in terms of specific skills or as something reserved for only certain kinds of people, Professor Philip Sheldrake in his book Spirituality and History posits the view that Christian Spirituality must always be self-implicating and transformative. When we hold these two terms together it stands to reason that emphasis ought to be placed on the self; but self in relation to the community within which one lives and moves and has one’s being. The transformative nature of Christian Spirituality then maintains that it places emphasis on the community and the transformation of community for the common good.

The Tradition and practice of the Spiritual Disciplines

The Spiritual disciplines are known to have their roots in Catholic and orthodox Christian traditions. They involve more than the simple practice of prayer; but rather must be considered to be the disciplined setting aside of a specific time for prayer, and to seek to always be aware of God’s presence and response to prayer in daily life.

Bearing in mind the role of the ordained in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church such vocations must be taken into consideration in an examination of the spiritual disciplines. We may be tempted to think of the disciplines of the spiritual life as connected to those who are ordained only however, and we must guard against that since nothing can be further from the truth.

Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth says

God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns. In fact, the Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our relationships with our husband or wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbours [4]

Baptism and the Spiritual Disciplines

As Christians, by virtue of our baptism we are duty bound to a certain path. We recall that before the title of Christian became attached to those who followed the teaching and example of Jesus, his followers were called those who were ‘of the Way’. It is our baptism that connects us to what God has done for us in Christ and therefore it is in the Paschal Mystery that we have been reconciled to Christ and walk closely with him daily. Bernadette Flanagan and Michael O’Sullivan tell us that we are pilgrims on this journey, and that there are pilgrim journeys of initiation, as well as journeys of vocation.[5] They cite Columbanus (550-615) who on reflecting on the theology of journey states

Let us know nothing more profitable for ourselves

than to examine ourselves daily,
every day of our life reviewing that dubious life

and keeping account of our words and thoughts,

and shuddering at human life

to ponder without ceasing this aforesaid

end of the roadway, that is our life.

Theologically, one cannot speak of journey without giving due consideration to our Lord who brings us new life in the transition from crucifixion to resurrection; from death to newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

It is this transition which gives us new meaning as we continue to offer our lives, work and witness to our Lord and God. (John 20:28). It is by way of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery that we are given new life sacramentally expressed in Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

Professor Patrick Regan tells us that when we speak of the Paschal Mystery, we refer to the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides the Christian mission and binds us to the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is in Baptism and the Eucharist that we are given perspective even in dealing with the bustle of the modern world.  The holy church remains a place of respite for the soul.  Very often though, Christians in general, and those ordained in particular get caught in the idea that our effectiveness for God is rooted primarily in how efficient we are at getting things done. Christians in antiquity had a greater sense of their need for communion with God as a means of being more effective for his kingdom. For them, great emphasis was placed on activities such as prayer, reading scripture, liturgy, fasting and solitude.

As persons whose lives and work are informed by sacred scripture, it is vital to search deeply into the sacred text in order to discern the biblical basis for Christian Spirituality.

Firstly, we can easily identify the example of spiritual disciplines located in the awesome imagery of the sacred liturgy of Isaiah chapter 6. There, in the ritual of the worship of the Temple where clearly the young prophet spends much of this time, he becomes deeply aware of the presence of YAHWEH. The description in Isaiah 6 depicts celebration, self-examination, and Evangelism.

Secondly, R. Sean Emslie sees the spiritual discipline of prayer in the life of Daniel (Daniel chapter 6). As with observant Jews today, it was Daniel’s practice which was rooted in his tradition of prayer three times a day.

Here we will consider the Spiritual disciplines of Prayer, worship, and solitude practiced by Christians of the past and present with an understanding of what it means to be “still” in order to know in turn how to be useful in his mission.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God _ Philippians 4:6.

For Richard Foster prayer is the most central of all the spiritual disciplines because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the God. [6]

The English word prayer means literally a request or petition. It is normally used in relation to God and more comprehensively communing with God, whether in an explicit petition such the understanding  of “ask and you will receive” or in some other way, such as in quiet. In the Epistle to the Ephesians the author advises to “pray in the Spirit” on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

The Example of Jesus

The example of Jesus captured in the Gospel tradition recalled Jesus as a man of prayer. The Son of God joins a cadre of holy persons in scripture who are presented as those who had a deep relationship with YAHWEH. There were moments when our Lord spent the entire night in prayer. In one instance while at prayer he is wonderfully transfigured before the inner circle of disciples and coming close to the end of his life he is presented at prayer. in the Garden of Gethsemane his prayer of course on this occasion seemed quite intense as he is preparing for his passage from this world to the Father. We can see clearly from these references that prayer enshrined the entire being of our Lord.

We easily draw the conclusion that prayer was not something fitted into slots  in the life of Jesus of Nazareth as time permitted; but rather it was an integral part of all that he said and did and every moment of his life from the beginning of his public ministry.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened: Luke 3:21

A summary reading of Scripture reveals that Jesus’ prayer assumed many forms and different circumstances. One can identify from accounts in the Gospel prayers of praise, gratitude, submission, and trust.

Prayer a relationship of love.

There was an obvious intimacy in his prayers. Jesus clearly was in relationship with the one to whom he prayed and moreover allowed all humanity to realize that we too are capable of being so engaged with that kind of proximity to the Father.

In his teaching on prayer, he gives us a particular feature of Christian prayer in that whatever is asked in his name will be granted by God Almighty. Our prayer is itself rooted in the goodness of God, who sent his Son because of his love for the world (John 3:16).

Prayer and belief.

In our prayers whether in private or in the community we must always make sure to use the right pronouns. Professor Kevin Irwin frequently says, “if we get the personal pronouns right, we get the theology right” It is from our Jewish heritage that Christian prayer has developed using plural pronouns, “our”, “we” “us”. The use of such pronouns captures the notion of Common Prayer excellently expressed in the Anglican spiritual tradition and tells us that the entire human creation is blessed and graced by God and that we are all implicated in God’s grace.

In the great prayer of the Church, the Eucharistic Prayer, the acclamations that include all of us become particularly significant and ought to be preferred.

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim the death of Christ until he comes again.

If we hold the dictum: lex orandi lex credendi translated as “The law of prayer is the law of belief”, then it helps us to comprehend that what we believe is written into our prayer. Prayer gives expression to our theological belief that God is at work in the world. It is a symbolic activity grounded in the goodness of God who created the world and has called us to be good neighbours to each other.

As symbolic activity it sustains and intensifies the relationship with the Almighty and is a part of our response to an action initiated by God. His love for us leads him to initiate and respond to our prayer in the process of making our world a better place in which to live.

The Book of Common Prayer with the ancient cathedral setting of Morning and Evening Prayer gives us an excellent model and pattern for prayer. It carries a round of readings and accompanying psalms and collects for daily contemplation.

Prayer and Fasting

What is fascinating here is that Prayer as a core spiritual discipline goes hand in hand with Fasting. Mathew 17:21 says; “…. this kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting (KJV). There is also the reminder in the Sermon on the Mount that Prayer and Fasting are ultimately interconnected. This brings the season of Lent and Advent sharply into focus along with Fridays in the year as days of self-denial.

In the life of Jesus, we can see his practice of the spiritual discipline of fasting as he was being tempted by Satan (Luke 4:2). He took this time away from food to focus on His mission ahead and prepare for the work of gaining salvation for the entire humanity. Both clergy and laity ought out of a sense of duty to spend time in prayer every day and dedicate some days to fasting.

There are other instances when we can also see Jesus taking time for solitude and prayer (Matthew 26:36, Mark 1:35, 14:32, Luke 6:12, 9:18). In these times of prayer Jesus went off alone to pray, practicing solitude and making that essential link between his communication with the Father and the final aim of salvation. It is with this in mind that Christians in 1 Thessalonians are encouraged to pray without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5: 17). It both symbolises and actualises life with the living God and is perhaps best summed up by Theophan the Recluse

The principal thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.[7]


Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a High Priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent  that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. Hebrews 8: 1-2

What is worship?

We are given many glimpses of the early church at worship when we read the bible as a particularly liturgical text. In Revelation 4:8, four living creatures are before the throne. Day and night, they say, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”. In this descriptive liturgical act, whenever these living creatures give glory and honour and give thanks to Him who lives forever, the twenty-four elders fall down before HIM who sits on the throne and worship HIM who lives forever. This is Worship! It is giving glory, honour and power to God for who he is and for the great things he has done and will do.

Worship is Sacramental

Professor Kevin Irwin tells that it is through worship that we experience an immediate and direct engagement with and participation in the mystery of salvation through Christ’s Paschal Mystery. He further states that sacramentality is vital in worship and in the world and explains that sacramentality deals with human beings as the pinnacle of God’s creation.

God Almighty has created us with intelligence and an instinct for communal living.  Sacramental worship relies on the ability of human beings to think about God, and to experience the true and living God as he comes in word and worship.

Human intelligence and capacity for rational thought is vital and presumed in the act of worship, lest good feelings and intense emotions be seen to be the utmost test for experiencing God in the sacred liturgy.

Worship nurtures community

One of the primary aspects of worship is that it brings clergy and members of the congregation together to form a community. As Professor Kortright Davis is known to say we are the church together and worship has that unique capacity to bring us all together regardless of occupation, class, nationality, or ethnic origin.

It is in worship that we seek to offer the very best that we can of ourselves, our lives and our work. In this regard we use the primal gifts of creation such as water along with the work of our hands, the bread and wine of holy communion to become the paschal gifts connecting us to our Lord and Saviour.

Music and Hymn Singing

Hymn singing is a major part of Caribbean worship; not only, because it breaks the monotony of the spoken part of the service, but it has always been part and parcel of our ancestral life in its combined form of song, movement and instruments. As Sowande, the Nigerian ethnomusicologist says, music (and I am taking the liberty of saying hymn singing) enables members of the society to bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds and brings them into direct contact with the psychic forces that control their destinies

St Augustine said it all when he said “He who sings prays twice”. Music is one of the most satisfying areas of the arts and has universal appeal to all ages, classes, ethnic groups and cultures. It is perhaps true to say that music plays and has played a key role in the life of every cultural group – whether as work songs, social & entertainment music, ritual music, worship music and so on.  In order to see some of its uses let us look at films – when the villain is going up the stairs to kill the victim, the music sounds sinister and sets the stage for the watchers OR when the lover at the end of the show gets his love, the violins burst forth into lovely music and so on.  Similarly, music helps to set the stage in worship – because make no mistake about it there is high drama in worship.  When the Pentecostals or the Kumina groups want to work up the congregation into a frenzy, they use the repeated choruses accompanied by drums or other percussion to build the momentum, to create as such a heightened experience of God by the senses/emotion.  When the television preachers or the crusade groups want to win more souls for God, they use the appeal of the moving “Just as I am” etc. to get the unconverted into an emotional state in which they can do nothing else but get caught up in the moment and wend their way to the front of the altar. 

We in the church also use music to accompany and highlight the important aspects of our worship, setting the stage as such for us to commune with our God. Music prepares the congregation for the different stages of the worship service. Note the usual quiet reverence of an Agnus Dei or hymns for Good Friday as opposed to the gloriousness of a Gloria or an Easter hymn. 

Music in worship is like the icing on the cake. It helps to enliven worship and adds to the meaning of the spoken word, and sometimes because of how it expresses deep emotional feelings it can be far better than the spoken word. Church music can be a means of helping us to further understand the Word of God. Everyone can participate wholeheartedly in worship through the music. Our big high holy days, Easter, and Christmas, what do people remember most sometimes but the lovely music that marks these seasons.  

One of the major problems of our worship music is that we tend in the traditional churches to dismiss the African inherited tendency to integrate song, movement, and instrumental accompaniment in the musical event. It does not fit in with our concepts of traditional worship.

Music, no matter what style, will appeal if it is done properly and if it is performed well. As well, there are quite a few good Caribbean hymns that must be discovered by us. Whenever you listen to music of the South African Church, we can easily recognize the music as South African with its tight harmonies. We need to incorporate Caribbean music into our worship services so that we can place our music in its geographical context and there are a few good pieces now that we can identify. This is not necessarily advocating that we use “dance hall” type music, but there are specific rhythmic materials that are found in our traditional folk music that are instantly recognizable as Caribbean. For example, if we are celebrating National Heroes Day in Jamaica and it is a Youth service we could incorporate a Jamaican popular dub form with the very popular Praise psalm by Noel Dexter.  (EXAMPLE – after each verse insert the following dub poem):

         Come mek we big up de heroes dem

         De nation appreciate dem

         Dem stand up and fight

         Fe defend our right

         Mek we big up de heroes dem   

Oh praise ye the Lord, oh praise ye the Lord

Praise God in his sanctuary Oh praise ye the Lord 

Oh praise ye the Lord, oh praise ye the Lord

Praise God in his sanctuary Oh praise ye the Lord 

 Come mek we big up de heroes dem

         De nation appreciate dem

         Dem stand up and fight

         Fe defend our right

         Mek we big up de heroes dem   

Many of us can make up materials like this and bridge the age gap in our churches.

Music can be used to tell stories, sometimes more effectively than the Spoken Word. Have you ever listened to the drama of Jesus walking on the water in the hymn “Master the tempest is raging” or the soul-stirring tale of the “Ninety and Nine”. Can you not see how these beautiful old hymns bring the tales to life in a more engaging manner and, as such, give greater clarity to the readings than if we just listened to the reading of the Bible passages?  In places where people are sometimes functionally illiterate, song-stories may be a very useful teaching tool in a worship service.


“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you _ Mathew 6:6.

Solitude implies more than being alone. It is rather the purposeful setting apart of time and space as an opportunity for realizing a greater union with God.

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there”. Mark 1:35,

Making Room

This spiritual discipline is done in a place of silence, each one of us must find a place to talk to God quietly. Making room for experiences of solitude can be challenging in the modern world. The process of globalization with the various means of vehicular travel have increased exponentially. The rapid pace of life with overcrowded living conditions, the twenty-four-hour news cycle the constant whir of technology and always-in-contact understanding of life makes this almost impossible. In the midst of this the need for inner peace that comes from solitude pervades the human heart.

Scripture and Solitude

Elijah’s experience at Horeb resonates when we speak to solitude. One verse is particularly pertinent theologically for our purpose for it speaks to us of the context for our lives, with the noise that crowds in on our thoughts for indeed context is text

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 1 Kings 19:12

The Gospel according to St. Luke gives special reference to those times that Jesus sought solitude. There are times when he would withdraw to a desert for prayer. (Luke 5:16)

Solitude in the Christian tradition

In speaking of desert, one must reflect on the experience of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, those whose lifestyle spoke strongly to the role of solitude in terms of seeking a prayerful union with God.

Monasticism with its emphasis on being alone would evolve ironically within a context of community. Thomas Merton tells us that in the fourth century A. D. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Persia were peopled by a race of men who have left behind them a strong tradition. They were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the world to live in solitude.[8]

We must note that at certain times these solitary figures would come together for the liturgical prayer, perhaps Mass, if there was a priest among them and certainly common prayer.

They would at times eat together and hold a kind of chapter meeting to discuss communal problems. Then they returned to their solitude, where they spent their time working and praying.

Solitude in Community.

The example of Jesus and the Desert folks tell us that solitude was not a retreat from society and human contact; but rather communal interaction that would make them more conscious of the presence of God in the other.

There is then an interesting interplay between the solitude and the community. It is Philip Sheldrake’s view that Christian Spirituality must always be communitarian. We can state from the outset that solitude can never imply closing our eyes to the marginalised of the world, we must have in our gaze, the least of these. (Matthew 25:41) The Christian spiritual tradition must always be mindful of the issues surrounding key populations and those whom the Book of Common Prayer (CPWI) identifies as the poor, the hungry, the unemployed, and all victims of persecution and discrimination of any kind. Solitude does not release us from the duty to bring relief, justice, and protection.[9]

Aloneness with God is the reason for the attraction to solitude. One of the benefits of this is that it allows time for reflection on the work of God, to which Jesus would often call his disciples. (Mark 6:31) It also provides an opportunity for planning; for ours is the task of seeking the completion of the Kingdom of God which moves all of us as mentioned to greater involvement. Experiences of solitude must be cherished; for in the silence we may yet have an understanding or vision of Christ that is new to us. We may see him as we have never seen him before.

Within the Church in the Province of the West Indies it is vital that we continually seek new ways of finding solitude and its companion silence.

The Provision of Facilities and Training for Spiritual Directors

We have the tremendous resource of Codrington College and in addition many former Rectories that can be reconfigured as Retreat Houses, some of these on the scenic platforms of the Caribbean.

Clergy and lay persons can be trained in conducting retreats as a specialty within the realm of theology for the benefit of the church in our region. Persons can be trained in the various methods of Christian Spirituality be it, Liturgical, Franciscan, Benedictine or Ignatian. All of these will benefit the people across the region. Too often Christian Spirituality is treated with a casual and superficial attitude rather than the profound science and art that it is.

Spiritual Disciplines today

Davin J. Carr-Chellman cites Nicholas Carr who in a book entitled “The Shallows” (2011) warns that the human ability to read and think deeply is being sacrificed at the altar of easy access to information. Carr-Chellman notes that as the internet and the algorithms of computers calculate and provide small bits of data at lightning speed, the consumers of that data adapt to a model of efficiency rather than concentration and contemplation.

While the church and christian institutions must embrace the marvels of 21st century communications technology and the amazing speed with which information travels around the world; we must also  be conscious of the fact that the Internet has impacted on the way in which we, think, do business and interact and interface with matters of religion and faith. Persons now have access to information that was not available before and in conversation may more be seeking corroborative evidence rather than new theological opinion.

Alvin Toffler in the bestseller, Future Shock sees humanity as a victim of the rapid rate of change that is taking place around us

this new culture is itself in constant turmoil, and if—worse yet— its values are incessantly changing, the sense of disorientation will be still further intensified. Given few clues as to what kind of behavior is rational under the radically new circumstances, the victim may well become a hazard to himself and others. [10]

The question then is how do we speak of prayer, worship and solitude in the modular world in which we live in which the classical thinking seems to belong to a time gone by.

The Christian Church may yet have an element in its favour, for indeed Theology draws from the other academic disciplines such as the social sciences. In Liturgy and the Social Sciences Nathan Mitchell draws from the study of anthropology that human beings seem to have an innate desire to worship an ultimate reality.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in a recent review of our times says that the technological age, with its peculiar temptations and desires, is opening paths into disciplines like slowing, centering prayer and unplugging. She says that furthermore, classical disciplines like solitude, silence, rest, spiritual direction, and retreat are resurging as people desperately seek a quiet, still center in the midst of the whirlwind. [11] For Calhoun disciplines of prayer, confession, worship, stewardship, fellowship, service, attending to Scripture and the Lord’s Supper have remained constant channels and disciplines of grace. This has a lot to do with spirituality as opposed to religion which poses a problem for our church, nevertheless.

Sandra Schneiders draws our attention to the fact that while religion as a powerful influence on individual and societal life seems to be in trouble on one hand, but that spirituality is enjoying a high profile, positive evaluation, and even economic success. Schneiders explains

Spirituality has even become a serious concern of business executives, in the workplace, among athletes, and in the entertainment world. Spirituality as a research discipline is gradually taking its place in the academy as a legitimate field of study. [12]

If we take the assessment offered by Schneiders seriously, and it will be to our own peril if we don’t, then we will have cause to examine theologically the irony of the saying, “I am spiritual; but not religious”

Retired Archbishop Dr. John Holder in a paper delivered in the Church of Christ the King, Barbados makes the point that

They are many persons who feel uncomfortable with what they call organized religion. They may tend to stress the personal side so much that they forget that religion is about community, about how we live together as children of God.

Indeed there is general consensus among christian spirituality writers that those who make the profession of only being spiritual seem often to be embracing an outlook that ignores the communitarian. We have to be watchful of a post-modern  understanding of christian spirituality that favour  an embracing of self rather than comprehending the notion of being called together as the people of God.

Syncretism and Spirituality

There is also some unavoidable syncretism across the denominations and Schneiers highlights this by pointing out that there is tenuous crossing over of denominations ecumenically. We may argue that this has never been an issue in the past since it was known that there are those who would have attended Sunday Mass in an Anglican Church, Sunday School in the Methodist Church and Sunday Evening Service in a church of yet a different denomination.

What compounds this however is that there is now also a crossing of religions, as persons with the Abrahamic Faiths adopt the practices and habits of Eastern Religions. In some instances, forsaking the Christian foundation and adopting the practices outside of the Christian spiritual path. These are matters that provide fertile ground for doing theology and for the practice of Christian Spirituality in the current era. A huge question, bearing in mind the three spiritual disciplines that have been highlighted, would be the meaning of these for those in the Province of the West Indies.

Caribbean Spirituality

In the Caribbean there is the issue of how to deal with our collective historic past. There is an ever growing  consciousness as to who we are as an Afro-Caribbean People  as more and more new generations of graduates of the University of the West Indies and others  grapple with what it means to be products of our region. This is so especially in the light of the large land mass to the north to whom we look for most things. Indeed, the issues of how to deal with ideas around reparations, justice, equality and economic enfranchisement cannot escape the engagement those whose role it is to place these within a theological framework

In addition, Caribbean culture, heritage with art, dance and music are being given new expression as we continue to evolve with our unique identity as persons from the bosom of the Caribbean. We must ask ourselves how does our spiritual outlook come across in our liturgical arts, music, dance and drama and art.

The Spiritual Disciplines and the ordained ministry

In examining the spiritual disciplines some consideration must be given to the ministry of the Church. Ben Campbell tenders the view that a pursuit of personal holiness is necessary for the ordained persons. It must be noted that such a pursuit of holiness encompasses one’s entire life. This does not imply that the individual member of the clergy has an exclusive insight or way of access to God; but rather must see himself/herself as a person whose life ought to manifest integrity and charity of living.

The task for the ordained of course is that a congregation or other such group of persons are placed in their care. There are understandings or models of leadership that may come into conflict with the way in which the ordained and the congregation see the headship role.

In the Catechism on the Book of Common Prayer, CPWI in response to the question, who are the ministers of the church, the answer is given

The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons

Joseph Martos would agree with this response. In his book, Doors to the Sacred he reminds that not all ministers would have to be ordained. He states that in fact today they often are not. In the modern church, ministry is no longer restricted to officially designated ministers in the church.[13] It is however the group consisting of bishops, priests, and deacons to which we give some attention. The three degrees of ordination confer a sacramental character that arguably unite the ordained in a sacramental relationship. One of the huge questions for our time is, what does it mean to be an ordained minister in the church today.[14] The major matter for consideration would be those aspects of Caribbean life that cause the priest to be unique and the specialist skills to be sought out among the various professions.

There would have been a time when the priest was “the Father”, the one to whom one came for counsel, advice, and direction. In the modern world there are a whole host of persons in the helping professions, psychologists, marriage counsellors, attorneys at law, other specialists, such as sociologists, teachers and the list goes on.

The answer to the question of the unique contribution of the ordained may lie in the spiritual disciplines. The professions mentioned earlier by way of their ethics may not be able to engage in the deep spiritual questions and the longing of the soul. Here, the priest as spiritual leader, as the person of prayer can more freely have a conversation regarding the issues touching the inner life. In order to do this with meaning, the spiritual leader has to be in touch with the sacred mysteries. This can be done not only by means of academic disciplines but especially by the daily delving into sacred texts which will enhance not only personal holiness, but also public preaching.

Ben Campbell cites a study done by LifeWay Research, which records that one in seven pastors admitted to Bible intake less than four times per week. Although many claimed to physically intake the Scriptures more than six times per week (almost 6 out of 10), there is still a need for local church pastors to discipline themselves for godliness. Arguably, if a spiritual leader immerses himself or herself in Bible daily, it will naturally flow out in speech, actions, and attitudes to affect the congregation in such a way that they may imitate the example given.

In offering liturgical and pastoral leadership, exposure to spiritual discipline as practical theology will be valuable. The ministry of the Word and Sacrament must be done in such a way that is informed and inspiring.

The Caribbean in which clergy are called upon to be leaders will require a ministry of pastoral skill, creating caring communities, overseeing service ministries within the congregation, serving as a spiritual mentor and personal counselor to those even outside of the walls of the church. Spiritual direction is one of those specialist areas of ministry to which the church must pay particular attention. Indeed, with the stress pertaining to the meaning of family life and relationship compounded by economic pressures that there are in economy, manufacturing and service industries there are and will be those seeking deeper meaning to the nature of their lives.

Spiritual Disciplines and the Parish Setting

A major part of the legacy of our colonial past is the parish structure as the setting for ministry. While it is not the only means of offering a meaningful and affective pastoral atmosphere; there is no doubt that within the Anglican Communion the local parish has been the backbone of ministry. There have been specialized ministries such as chaplaincies and opportunities for priests to be teaching in schools. It is the parish however to which persons become attached, both emotionally and spiritually. The parish has been one of our strengths and even with reduction in weekly attendance at Mass, the people of the Caribbean will still seek out the local church in moments of crisis.

Along with the weekly attendance at worship, persons seek  the strength of liturgical and spiritual rites to celebrate the various moments of passage such as a new birth in the family, or childhood religious instruction in the teaching ministry in Sunday School. There is the celebration of adolescence in Holy Confirmation and then marriage in adulthood with old age and illness having their particular rites as well. The sacraments can never be reduced to the functional; nevertheless, there are opportunities for spiritual direction and pastoral involvement in our parishes.

Frank Henderson writing in the journal “Liturgical Ministry” states that a parish’s spirituality has to do with who the people of the parish think they are and what they think their collective life as local church community is all about. [15] Clergy will have a particular role here as spiritual facilitators enabling lay ministers to have a sense of ownership within the parish drama. There is that need for a new identity which is still emerging and corresponds closely to who laity really are in today’s church and world. [16] The gathered liturgical assembly can indeed be an oasis of spirituality and mission. Of course, this will mean that more emphasis will have to be placed on the spiritual disciplines and their connection to evangelism in the modern world.

Knud Jørgensen cites The Edinburgh 2010 study which affirms that mission is a key integrating element for ecclesiology and theology. He says Mission Spirituality was understood as essentially Christian spirituality lived in and fueled by awareness of the missio Dei. Indeed, one cannot separate, liturgy, spirituality, and mission. The study group that met in Edinburgh 2010 came up with additional statements. One of these emphasizes the dynamic of missionary spirituality

Mission spirituality is the ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit that moves us to witness to the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection with the aim to bring together God’s family in a loving household, share a sense of God’s call, live life in humility and fulfill God’s will on earth.[17]

The Parish is the ideal setting for mission; since as mentioned spirituality must always be outward looking and must always be seeking to transform the society in which we live.

What is fascinating here is that the local parish becomes more than an entity with rites enclosed within itself and instead is seen by those involved in liturgical worship as responding actively to God and seeing itself as being sent into the world. This calls us to place greater attention to and to have a better understanding of the Dismissal Rite; which though brief bears the essence of the liturgical assembly. In essence we have gathered liturgically to be sent out to do serve the Lord in community. The gathering is engaged in Word and Sacrament ritually only to be engaged practically in the struggle for justice and economic freedom and for the health and well-being of the people of our region.

In Closing

In summary the Spiritual Disciplines are vital for the healthy life of the Church in the Province of the West Indies.  We have touched on only some; however, there can be the further exploration of those mentioned here along with others. In the scope of this topic we would realize we can be engaged in enacted or practical theology that bears out the profound nature of the underlying spirituality.

Similar to liturgy, the spiritual disciplines provide a lens through which we view the world. Those who seek greater knowledge and understanding will indeed be engaged in the process not only of self-transformation, but also in the transformation of our households and communities. In a section of the world that is seeking a new understanding of itself and the way in which we must deal with our past history, the spiritual disciplines can indeed provide a context for discussion on the myriad complex issues that continue to arise among us.

Further Reading:

Anthony, M. J., Benson, W. S., Eldridge, D., & Gorman, J. (2001). Evangelical dictionary of Christian education, Baker Reference Librar . Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality & History: Questions Of Interpretation And Method, Orbis Books; 2nd ed. edition (July 1, 1998)

[1] Excerpt From: Donald S. Whitney. “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.” Apple Books.

[2] ibid.

[3] Davin J. Carr-Chellman, The Spiritual Disciplines as Practices of Transformation, International Journal of Adult Vocational Education and Technology Volume 8 • Issue 1 • January-March 2017 pg 24

[4] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Perfect Bound, USA, 1997 pg1

[5] Bernadette Flanagan, Michael O’Sullivan, Spirituality in Contemporary Ireland: Manifesting Indigeneity, Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, Volume 16, Number 2A, Fall 2016, pp. 55-73 (Article) , Published by Johns Hopkins University Press  DOI:

[6] Richard Foster pg 33


[8] Excerpt From: Thomas Merton. “The Wisdom of the Desert.” Apple Books.

[9] BCP CPWI page 114

[10] Alvin Toffler, Future Shock page 16

[11] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.” Apple Books. pg 40

[12] Schneiders | Spiritus 3 (2003 ): p163.185 © by the John Hopkins University Press

[13]Joseph Martos. “Doors to the Sacred.” Apple Books. Page 1234

[14] BCP, CPWI pg 402

[15] J. Frank Henderson Lay Leadership, Parish Spirituality, and Liturgical Celebration, Liturgical Ministry 3 (Summer,1994) page 113

[16] ibid.

[17] Kim and Anderson, Edinburgh 2010. Mission Today and Tomorrow, page 184

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