Here is a ten-thousand-foot view of discipleship.
1) Encounter. Becoming a disciple first and foremost involves meeting the living God – the internal zap of moving to a place of knowing about Him to knowing Him. This is an experience akin to, after touching a branch or something that looks inanimate to you and, all of the sudden, finding that it moves! It is the internal shock of, “It’s alive!” This moment of finding God’s aliveness is experienced as coming upon you. It is equipped with an authoritative wooing that, cloaked in all mystery, tells you, “Yield. Give way. Surrender.” This encounter is one that speaks to our most beautiful of longings – to unconditionally commit to something. And so it puts us to a decision. It sends us to our freedom by forcing on us a decision – to refuse or to assent. And so we find the beginning of our life as disciples as fiat, as ‘Yes.’ It is this place of meeting, this place that demands and inspires our ‘Yes,’ that is the origin of discipleship in the beginning of our journey and at every moment along the way.
But we are far from formed. In fact, we are far from true disciples. We may well meet the Lord, say yes, and later say ‘No.’ How can we become so deeply entrenched in the heart of Jesus that we reach something like a ‘point of no return?’
2) Prayer. This is the only way. If we do not pray – we are dead, we have no chance. Why? Because prayer is simply being with God, ‘looking at Jesus loving you’ (Charles de Foucald), and only from letting His presence and His gaze enter into ours are we transformed, purified, ‘set apart’ and made holy. In order to be tan you have to hang out in the sun. Being connected to a wider community of disciples trying to live this same way (trying to reach the same goal) is indispensible and necessary as well. However, without one’s personal prayer life blossoming and flowering into a genuine interior life with God, the tree will die.
Thus the aim of discipleship is a robust life of prayer. It cannot be forced or manufactured. It must mysteriously burst forth from the soul’s soil like daisies from the snow. It comes like a miracle, about which one could say in retrospect, “Where did that come from?” It must emanate from within, from a place too deep to reach even oneself.
In short, it must be a work of the Holy Spirit. And what is the main river that the Holy Spirit opens up in us that delivers us to the ocean-deep-dive that is prayer?
3) Desire. Hunger. Ache. This is a main waterway that connects encounter to prayer. As one is stabbed by more and more encounters with God, His searing beauty makes its mark – it wounds us with desire. It is desire for Him (and we know that) but still it is experienced as a desire for ‘we know not what’, a longing that finds its identity in mystery (as if the soul is seeing what the mind can’t), like the ache that springs from smelling a lover’s scent in her absence. It is never satisfied. It is a desire that launches out into the world asking, “Have you found the one who has done this to my heart?” Restless until it rests in Him.
This increasingly intense desire is the proof of God’s grip on the soul. It orients us towards Him. It fixes our gaze on Him. Everything begins to pale in comparison. We just want to be with Him, look at Him, taste Him, hold Him and be held by Him. And we find this – we find what our heart desires – when we pray.
4) The Wave. Thus, encounter à desire à prayer à encounter à desire à prayer à and around and around (and deeper and deeper) this wave goes ad infinitum. And the fruit of this growing wave – the water that constitutes it and the force that is created by it – is love. We become this wave of love that eventually sends us out! It moves us – deeper down into the source of ourselves and out toward our brother and sister on whose shore we can land and for whom we ourselves – in a holy, loving invasion – can become a source of their encounter with the living God. In plain language – that is beyond cool.
So the basic structure of a disciple’s formation is facilitating encounter in hopes of inciting one’s desire to go deeper and deeper in prayer. This speeds around and around and catapults us out toward our brothers and sisters for whom we ourselves can be a source of encounter.
All of this is a work of the Holy Spirit, without Whom encounter, desire and prayer (becoming a living wave) are categorical impossibilities. So let us open ourselves to the power of God who wants to get us into the impossible.