Silence. Solitude. Mindfulness. At present, we see these three practices are repeatedly highlighted to combat the busyness of life and focus us on God. And well they should be. I personally love these practices and I encourage all to dive into their depths. However, this post is not about these practices. The purpose of this post is to examine ‘risk’ as a new spiritual practice.
According to dictionary.com, risk is defined as an exposure to the chance of injury, loss, or danger; or simply as a “chance taken”. At first glance, some will balk at the idea that risk should be called for as a regular practice, decrying that it’s the foolishness of the young. Others might latch on to risk in light of the church’s hope to share the love of Jesus in hard to reach areas.
Here, risk as a spiritual practice is neither of these things. Risk is a key. It’s an approach we take when entering other spiritual practices. It’s also the approach we can take when connecting with others… or not. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown connects risk to vulnerability and love,
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back… who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky.”
Yes, we know that love is risky. Don’t we? However, in dealing with spiritual practices, we find the way forward is through intentionality; being awake to and aware of the richness of their presence in our lives. This means we are more apt to practice the “risky” love that Brene Brown talks about if we are intentionally aware of how we are choosing to love. Otherwise, the way we love will be determined by something else–an unnatural love.
Let’s take the practices of silence and solitude, and think about when we started incorporating them into our lives. While risk may not have been noticed when we first entered a time of silence, we quickly engage with it when we start encountering all of our clamoring thoughts and unbridled emotions. The risk is felt as we face off with these thoughts and emotions. If this is an unknown dimension, we may take the typical fight, flight, or freeze response. Thus, when considering a second dose of solitude and silence, it would not feel natural to expose ourselves to another hour of inner chaos. We need to realise that these new-to-us practices are a process to enter, not a transaction to complete. This is why so many falter in the beginning. Ruth Haley Barton describes this process in Sacred Rhythms, “Over time, as we surrender ourselves to new life rhythms, they help us to surrender old behaviors, attitudes and practices so that we can be shaped by new ones.”
Perhaps silence and solitude are celebrated for their seemingly peaceful quality that is so hungered after. What is quickly encountered at the beginning of any spiritual practice is the face to face encounter with change and transformation as an opportunity. However, this is not something we simply fall into like dropping into a comfy bed at night. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, says “The classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths.” For someone who truly moves to incorporate even a few spiritual practices (disciplines) in their life, this might feel more like drowning. Risk, a chance taken, is surrendering the old and trying on the new. But, here we may risk losing the illusory sense of control that makes us feel confident enough to be independent. In reality, this independence is what keeps us from being in fellowship with God.
A practice that draws us into the “depths” of connection with God is ‘worthy risk’. This is the spiritual practice being examined and encouraged. A worthy risk happens in those moments, mostly small moments, that trend us towards a greater affection, a healthy attachment, and an interwoven life with God, nature, others, and with ourselves. So a worthy risk can feel a little like drowning in the new depths of life, being enveloped by restored connection. Such compounded connection is too overwhelming for us alone. It can only be urged and guided through the power and presence of the Spirit.
Wasteful risk is those choices that bring separation. It is the nihilism of the age. Separation slowly fractures ourselves, our emotions, pulling us out of and into a false reality. A wasteful risk is giving into temptation. But it can also be a choice that values self, comfort, or an emotional state of greater priority than necessary. I caution that it is the subtle choices that tangle the roots and bring rot. These inattentive or capitulating decisions we make build up over time, wearing us down until we are no longer awake to their effects.
Last, 2 Tim 1:7 references the polarity between fear and love. Being aware of these powers in our life, awaken us to the possibilities before us. Life takes on new form when we joyfully recognize the polarity between worthy risk and wasteful risk. Becoming aware of which one is which in our lives is essential. As we awaken to the possibility of risk, it becomes like the breathing exercises during mindfulness or the breath prayer. Breathe in life, breathe out death. Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, states,
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
In an age where fear is rampant due to wars, conflicts, disease, and poverty; instead of looking to safety as the place to go and survive, perhaps we should pause and wonder if risk is just as plausible an answer as safety… maybe even a better one. Risk, as a spiritual practice (while it may seem to call us to the edge of ourselves) can be joy. And where joy can be found, is also a place we continually find dependence and partnership with God.