The Cultivated Life
BY: Susan S. Phillips
READ: May 2016
Summary: This book was a joy to read. Phillips writes well and with depth. The book is focused on how do we cultivate a life where growth and fruit bearing is the natural byproduct. It is filled with nuggets of wisdom and insight that can help us learn to live a slower, quieter life that is ALSO more fruitful.
Chapter titles: 1. The Way of Cultivation 2. Finding and Receiving Refreshment 3. Listening as a Way of Receiving Cultivation 4. Stopping 5. Sabbath Keeping 6. Cultivating Attention 7. Praying with Scripture 8. Cultivating Attachment 9. Spiritual Direction 10. Rooted and Grounded by Friendship 11. Practicing Friendship 12. Bearing Fruit and Enriching the Soul
A good storyteller gathers us into the story. Pg. 13
The devil is a great intellectual; he loves getting us into discussing ideas about good and evil, ideas about God, especially ideas about God. He does some of his best work when he gets us so deeply involved in ideas about God that we are hardly aware that while we are reading or talking about God, God is actually present to us, and that the people he has placed in our lives to love are right there in front of us. The devil doesn’t tell stories. –pg. 14.
Introduction- Leaving the Circus
As the word thrive increases in popularity, we want to know how to help our stifled souls grow. Pg 15
Desire and discipline go hand in hand in soul cultivation. We must participate in our becoming. Pg. 17
We are being cultivated in ways beyond our awareness and choosing. However, this is not a garden-like cultivation conducive to spiritual growth, but rather the cultivation of dystopian circus milieu in which a few are high-wire performers and most are spectators. Pg. 21
Humans are sensitive, impressionable creatures. Babies cry when they hear another baby crying,; adults yawn contagiously. Our desires, too, are shaped by other people’s desires, possessions and opinions, be those pople the Joneses next door or the persons in the media. Where we live shapes our opinions…The challenge is to choose and participate in the spiritual cultivation within a captivating circus-like culture. Pg. 22
Spiritual practices like spiritual direction help us find the manna and living water that souls crave, and people look nourished as they leave. – Pg. 27
Chapter 1-The Way of Cultivation
Rootedness and journeying are fundamental to biblical and cultural understandings of life. Pg. 33
Life in the garden entails the rooted realities of interdependence and intimacy. Pg. 34
The cultivated life is one of persevering in our longing. Pg. 35
Thriving is dependent on being fed and cared for, not just mustering up our willpower. Pg. 37
In our living, we aren’t supposed to come to the end of our growing or even of heartfelt yearning for it. Nor are we to become independent pursuers of growth. Pg. 37
The word religion comes to us from the Latin religiare, meaning to bind together as ligaments bind muscle to bone in our bodies….Religions through beliefs and practices, bind us to deities, meanings and communities, all of these elements composing traditions, a way of spiritual cultivation. Pg.. 39
Spiritual practices draw us together with God’s spirit and the community. Pg. 42.
Chapter 2 – Finding and Receiving Refreshment
Our receptivity to God’s refreshing grace is cultivated through practices that help us open to God and our deepest selves. A helpful question is to ask people to notices what they routinely do to turn their hearts toward God. Pg. 47
Walking trees: walking with God and all the while becoming increasingly rooted and planted in grace. The garden holds death, growth, and hope of “golden days” ahead…Grace flows to and through them. Pg. 54
Chapter 3 – Listening as a Way of Receiving Cultivation
The Eden narrative makes it clear that what we take in through our mouths (forbidden fruit) and our ears (God’s Word) matters. Pg. 61
Even when a person is dying, being seen and heard matters, hallowing life as it ebbs. Simply sitting with the dying, by listening comfort and reverence is brought. Pg. 63
Our spiritual lives run the risk of becoming devoid of true beholding and listening. –pg. 65
“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” William Butler Yeats.
How often is our first act to listen?...The listener is neither performing or spectating. There is countercultural stillness and openness in listening. Pg. 68-69.
Mutual listening forms our relationship with God. Scripture tells us God speaks and listens to us and knows our hearts. In Acts 1:24 and 15:8, God is referred to as a “cardionostician” and we’re told that God loves those with understanding (listening) hearts (1 Kings 3:9). Pg. 71
1. Intentionally Attentive Listening requires intention and directionality. The first act of listening is to direct our attention to the other. The other person needs to see our listening. Listening is neither passive nor neutral, and it opens us up to the possibility of the unexpected. Pg. 70
2. Relational –
3. Responsively Attuned – When we listen to another person, we follow the flow of the communication, correcting, turning and attuning our listening as new terrain is explored. Pg. 72
Chapter 4 – Stopping
Stopping enables us to register presence and possibility. Pg. 79
“In the modern West, we shuffle through our days…Our soul has become strangely stunted and sealed organ, the product of the harsh environment in which it has been forced to develop. Pg. 80.
Chapter 5 –Sabbath Keeping
“Gifts are relational and like all Christian Spiritual disciplines, Sabbath keeping is too.” Pg.94
“While Sabbath is a gift, it is also a ritual that reminds us of creation and eternity.” Pg. 97
“ Stopping, we might, like the people on the Emmaus road, notice an upwelling of confusion, hope, fear, questions, sadness and also our longing for God.” Pg. 98
“The Sabbath is a temple in time.” Pg. 99
As we stop the water clears and what’s deepest in us becomes evident. –pg 101 (I added the water clearing part).
Chapter 6 –Cultivating Attention
“Attention is essential to cultivation.” Pg. 105
“Encapsulated in the media circus, we become less and less aware of our own feelings, thoughts, bodies, and surroundings, including the people around us.” –Pg. 107
“In prayer as in Sabbath keeping, we turn from, so that we might turn toward.” –pg. 109
“Mindfulness is the ‘awareness that emerges thought paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Pg. 109-110
“On the whole, and in tragic contradiction to the good news of Christ, the Christian faith is not seen as the place where such contemplative experience can be found.” Pg. 113
“Our culture rewards hyperactivity, competitiveness and the ability to move rapidly from one task to the next; the respite it offers is disengagement.” Pg. 114
“In its European origins, the word attention means to bend toward. In this, there is inclination and orientation.” Pg. 115
“Christians are called to direct that attentive energy to the One who is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Word that was in the beginning with God. More than an attentional practice, this is soul cultivation.” Pg. 115
“Spiritual disciplines have to do with how, and to what and whom, the mind is directed.” Pg. 116
“Spiritual disciplines forge robust links with the past and the future.” Pg. 117
Chapter 7 –Praying with Scripture
“I find myself stuck on your initial question to the disciples, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Pg. 129
“While Lectio Divina often involves sitting and doing nothing, we are not sitting alone. God is present and wants to know about our lives. What’s on your mind and heart as you walk through your days? The Word asks. What things?
Chapter 8 –Cultivating Attachment
“Like any relationship, ours with God requires effort, and a spirituality of cultivation calls for discipline, not for the sake of duty or perfection, but for the sake of thriving. Countering strong forces in our culture, spiritual disciplines increase our capacity to choose ordered attention and attachment.” Pg. 135
We are to be free and rooted, walking trees. Pg. 136
“Within our circuslike culture, spiritual disciplines can be easily abandoned as our days divide between stressful work and disengaged pastimes, neither offering the nourishment that walking trees require. Such a life leaves us inattentive and even detached from ourselves, others and the Holy.” Pg. 137
“Without times of deeper reflective attention, some of it uncomfortable, personal transformation is impossible, and so is the kind of reflection that prompts social change and correction.” Pg. 138
“Those who are more securely attached to others are more inclined and better able to offer interpersonal attention.” Pg. 142
“We must love one another or die.” –W.H. Auden
Chapter 9 – Spiritual Direction
“Grief was present and I could regard it without being dominated by it.” Pg. 153
“Attachment will spring from attention; formation will follow encounter. But first, there is love.
Chapter 10 – Rooted and Grounded by Friendship
“Churches often cultivate spiritual community, a form of neighbor love and a precious but different gift and discipline from friendship.” –pg. 171
“People claim that a small group of committed people can change the world, and, in fact, that’s the only force that can actually do so.” Pg. 174
Jesus’ life is told in 89 short chapters. Pg. 177
Chapter 11 –Practicing Friendship
“My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.” –Dallas Williard, The Spirit of Disciplines.
“Friend means free lover or one who loves freely.” Pg 182
“Being called by name deepens intimacy and fortifies personal accountability.” Pg. 188
“Jesus, though not powerless, first of all, responded compassionately as a flesh and blood friend.” Pg. 189
Chapter 12 –Bearing Fruit and Enriching the Soil
“The word fruit comes from the Latin word frui, which means ‘to enjoy’.” Pg. 193
“Fruit is given to those who orient themselves towards life.” Pg. 198
“A legate is a person with the mission of carrying something between entities—for instance, an ambassador from one country to the other or a delegate from one organization to another.” Pg. 204
“The first spiritual discipline we considered was listening, which is essential to all the practices.” Pg. 205
Conclusion –Living Toward Completion
Babies are a nice way to start people, but what’s a good way to complete them? Pg. 207