Best Practices-Words to reframe ancient spiritual disciplines

What are words, anyway? Just symbols we use to communicate with one another. Trouble is, their meanings inevitably change over time, even as purists lament and populists cheer from opposite sides of the field on which these dynamics are played out.

Therefore, if we want to share something we deem valuable–be that products, services, inspiration, ideas or instruction, it makes sense to examine and occasionally alter the words we use to communicate. At least that’s the approach many successful businesses, individuals and endeavors have adopted.

Therefore, it occurs to me that to communicate the true intent of spiritual disciplines, we might consider “best practices,” a current(ish) buzzterm. Wikipedia says:

“A best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. In addition, a “best” practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered. Best practice is…used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use.

A key strategic talent required when applying best practice to organizations is the ability to balance the unique qualities of an organization with the practices that it has in common with others.” (Emphasis mine)

For me, success in sharing what I deem valuable via blogs, newspaper columns or songs, means one best practice is to set my intention on the task, and my behind on the chair. And write. (Check.) Terming it a best practice is much more inviting than, say… an effective routinenecessary chore or crucial task, though they all mean essentially the same thing.

Richard Foster understood this principle. In the late 1980’s, his work, Celebration of Discipline, in which he reframed the practices of ancient Christian spirituality for new readers, became a best-seller. Mining the writings of Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Julian of Norwich, etc., he has continued over the years to do the heavy lifting for the masses alongside many gifted others. Using language understood by their contemporaries, they opened portals through which ancient spiritual practices could be viewed, understood and accessed. Eugene Peterson understood this reality and so we have The Message.

I confess to being a bit of a word nerd so I still enjoy a little linguistic workout now and then, something I encourage for everyone, as there’s no substitute for the original, ever. (Can you really ever duplicate sugar–which I have mostly given up, by the way, VanGogh or the Beatles?) But even with my own purist leanings, I am more interested in the function of a thing than in preserving its pristine appearance. The classic language of the disciplines of Christian spiritual formation–a language I love–is one such thing.

The words great writers chose have been my longtime friends so posing the question feels a little like treason. Still, I wonder what it would look like to apply the language and approach of best practices to the way we communicate with one another around this topic? What if spiritual disciplines came to be understood as spiritual best practices? Might it open new portals for others? New ways to share inspiration, ideas or instruction we deem valuable? Perhaps it’s time to find more ways to talk about spiritual disciplines, a system of bridges connecting more of us to these time-honored means shown to consistently render superior results, which are only measured in love? At least that’s the mechanism of measure used by the Greatest Love ever.

Furthermore, if you find the practices of a familiar tradition have begun to feel stale, how about exploring spiritual best practices, ancient spiritual disciplines? While there are infinite variables and no “satisfaction guaranteed” implied, I think you might be pleasantly surprised. It’s one of my favorite topics–along with words. I hope you won’t let unfamiliar language keep you away.


I’d like to hear which words you think build bridges, and which might be bombs likely to blow up some that have been or are being built? (I’ve no doubt used a few here…sorry…) FYI, “Comment” is located under the title at the top of the post. Blessings, G


See original meanings of abandon, awful, matrix. and more here. It’s quite entertaining.

Discipline is another word for habit which, by the way, is the topic of Gretchen Rubin’s newest book, Better Than Before. I recommend getting acquainted with her engaging body of work. Granted, just because something is a habit, doesn’t make it a best practice, but the best habits are best practices.

Check out CFDM’s community experience. Great opportunity for engaging in Christian spiritual practices with others. (Pacific Northwest)


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