With all the hundreds of words we hear on a Sunday morning we can end up drowning in them rather than them lifting us up. And it doesn’t help when a lot of the words used are not used in normal English usage but are only ever heard in church.
In the gospel reading Jesus is said to have prayed that his disciples are sanctified – “Sanctified in the truth” in point of fact.
Priests “sanctify” or “consecrate” themselves for drawing near to God in rituals. It speaks of separating oneself off the ordinary concerns and preoccupations of life so as to give oneself wholly to God.
In the same way we talk of a church being a Holy or sacred space “separated off” for a specific purpose and we talk also of consecrated ground. Ground separated off from other land for a specific purpose – usually burials.
In terms of our lives sanctification implies freeing ourselves from certain things in order to concentrate on something else. When you relate that back to what Jesus had been saying about us being in the world but not of the world, I see quite clearly that Jesus is talking about freeing yourself from attachment to transient and impermanent things in order to concentrate on nurturing our relationship with God.
That for me is a good working definition of being in the world but not of the world.
In a way, just coming to church is a form of sanctification, of freeing oneself, or putting some distance between ourselves and our everyday lives and all our preoccupations to concentrate on our relationship with God.
To do this, to engage in this weekly communal practice, just as we engage in prayer and meditation, we need a certain amount of self-discipline. Discipline is not a fashionable word nowadays, but coming to church, or setting aside a time each day to pray and meditate, requires a certain self-discipline, a discipline that tells us that we will practice and exercise our spiritual lives.
Just as we might exercise our bodies in a gym to build up our stamina and muscle or tone our bodies, exercising our spiritual life also takes self-discipline as we seek to tone, grow and transform our spiritual lives. Incidentally those two are linked. Because mind body and spirit are all linked together they interact, and impinge on each other. The old adage, healthy body healthy mind, whilst grossly oversimplified, the central premise of a profound interaction between the two still holds true.
So the act of sitting and freeing oneself form the distractions of the mind to concentrate on your inner life and relationship to the divine will be a daily discipline if it is to bear much fruit.
Like going to the gym it isn’t easy and often you’d rather be doing something else and results can be slow in coming. But if you stick at it, over a period of time, you will notice results. What do spiritual results look like? A greater sense of contentedness, a greater ability to deal with life’s challenges and problems, more compassion, a greater sense of the peace and depth at the centre of life, more acceptance and less bitterness, a greater openness to life. Tangible benefits for a fuller happier life. And who doesn’t want a fuller and happier life?