Data In Data Out

Has your spirital life stalled and you have no idea of how to move it forward? Maybe you're operating on old information?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source:

For those of us who were alive when “The Net” and computers just got started there was a buzz phrase that we were taught in order to school us in the most efficient way to use this new technology.  In the more polite version went something like this; “Junk in, junk out!”  The phrase was a reminder of a lot of things and meant to show us that even though these new gadgets had tremendous potential, they could be limited by how they were used and how careless or careful the operator was.  

The catch phrase was drummed into our heads and even today I find it to be true in many life situations.  As a spiritual director I sometimes run into people who have a dilemma in their prayer and faith life that seems to be a repeat.  I often hear different people express the same fact that their quality of life, as well as their spiritual walk and/or response from God never changes, never improves no matter what they do.  I have also observed in some folks that no matter how hard they pray or how devote they are, their “negativisms” and things that “make them crazy” never relent.  They have exactly the same struggles from year to year and maybe even over the decades. Sometimes this can even lead to depression and/or loss of faith. Oddly enough I think that the remedy for this situation can come from the things that I learned when the Net was new!

It is always a wonderful thing when people come to the realization that they want to commit to developing their prayer and faith life in a new way.  There is no right or wrong in prayer styles and most people tend to do a search and then fall into a comfortable pattern.  Some pick favorite prayers, novenas and devotions.  Others add readings and/or participation in adoration.  Often, in an attempt to become “more devout” people add in more things or longer hours.  While none of these is bad, I think that there can be a danger in “sameness”.  Faith life is really about learning the mind of God, how he loves us and coming to life altering understanding that settles deep in your soul.  Repetitive devotions can put us in a sacred place and comfort us in unspeakable ways, but they do not challenge our intellect.  If we are to grow spiritually we need to address the whole person, body mind and spirit. God, quite simply wants “all of us”.  Bringing yourself physically to a sacred place and/or taking a special posture or location for prayer is a good way to address “the body”.  Even participating in “holy dance”, joy filled praise or choosing to raise your arms in prayer is also part of that.  We also address the “spirit” when we pray devotions, intercede, and attend Adoration.  It has been my experience that the least addressed fraction of our spiritual development is our intellect.  I think that we tend to believe that if we are praying enough, we need not worry about our mind.  That somehow it will be taken care of by doing the “praying thing” or that it is not really important.    Development of our spiritual intellect is for Jesuits, not ordinary people.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is not necessarily our job to train to become religious intellectuals, but if we wish to advance past that place that has been the same in our spiritual life for the last ten or twenty years we need to challenge our spiritual intellect.  In short: Data In, Data Out;  If you have been praying the same prayers, reading the same devotions and doing your spiritual discipline in exactly the same way, you have not been feeding your spiritual intellect.  Praying exactly the same way and using exactly the same devotions lead to one thing in our relationship with and God, and that’s exactly the same result that we have always had!  Someone once defined madness as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!  Becoming comfortable with a routine or devotions is not a bad thing but if we wish to advance we have to be willing to try new things.

So how does one go about this “adjournamento”?  This is not as difficult as you might imagine.  First of all, we have a tool at our disposal that is free and readily available.  This tool is the Word, the daily readings of the Church.  Many make the mistake of believing that the hearing of the readings at daily Mass is “good enough”.  Although the incredible efficacy of daily communion cannot be denied we need to understand that picking up the bible and actually casting our eyes on the Word is an entirely different experience which is not the same as hearing.  It is a holy act. The bible teaches us: "The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely; it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.” (Heb 4:12-13 Jer. Bible) Casting one’s eyes upon the Word is a physical act which has spiritual results.  “As you take hold of the book,… it will take hold of you.  Its words, which are spirit, will penetrate into you like seeds in the earth, like leaven in bread, like trees in the sky.  And if you yield yourself up to the words, you yourself will become simply a new expression of them.  The Gospel has the power to enlighten and transform; it is a permanent and powerful gift from God.” (Servant of God Madelene Delbrél † 1964)   Before the internet was even thought of, saints and blesseds also understood the power of actually reading the word, the information that you put into your spirit by way of the eye and how it could actually change the way you think and act.  “Hence, if you wish to be super enlightened and taught, read this Book of Life.  If you do not simply skim through it but rather let it penetrate you while you are reading it, you will be taught everything needed for yourself and for others, no matter what your state of life.  Also if you read it carefully and not casually, you will be so inflamed by divine fire that you will accept every tribulation as the greatest consolation.” (Blessed Angela of Foligno † 1309)  Finally, Saint John Chrysostom  is suscinct about the power of the word to enlighten: "This, after all is the way with Scripture: in a few words it is often possible to find a great number of ideas.  Its teachings, you see are divine, not human."

So, these holy ones clearly remind us that physically participating in the Word by picking it  up and reading  can form and shape our spiritual intellectual life in ways that nothing else can accomplish.  Make no mistake, this does not require that you need the ability to interpret or explain the word.  Although the Lord himself has the power and grace to give us each personal revelations from our reading of the Word, it is not a prerequisite to obtaining the benefit.  Simply coming to Word and reading it is what will open the door to change.  The Word is actually living (Heb 4:12) and will act in us whether we understand it or not. That’s the bonus; one does  not have to be a scholar or exegete to benefit from the action of the Word within.  In addition to the Word we also have, at our disposal, all the amazing writings of our Saints, Blesseds, Martyrs and holy people for the last 2000 years.  These writings carry their own efficacy because they are the product of men and women who struggled to protect the Church and know God, just like us.  I believe their writings are holy also.  If you are tired of the same ole’ same ole’ and really wish to have a changed and advanced spiritual life cast your eyes upon the Word!  Data in, data out!

On the Net:
To check our more of Kathryn’s thinking and her suggestions for more “Holy Reading” go to: and navigate to the page titled Resources

Copyright © 2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved. 

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