"Discipleship" implies a specifically Christian conversation about what kind of life our faith calls us to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in typical head-on and challenging fashion, writes that "Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without the living Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ." (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 59)
So Christian discipleship is not just "faithful living," or even "trust in God" though it has lots in common with faithful living and religious practice in many faiths. Nor does it have ANYTHING to do with figuring out who is in and who is out. Rather, for Christians discipleship is or should be about participating in the work we believe the Living Christ -- Jesus, Risen and still with us in some mysterious way-- is doing in the world through our participation in his life, and through his relationship with us -- a spiritual experience that is difficult, finally, to put into words because we experience it in different ways -- but we name it as the work of the "Holy Spirit" of Jesus, or as the fruit of a "relationship" with Jesus. That witness to the ongoing presence of Jesus, the "Living Christ" - alive and active among us and within us, and calling us to follow him: That is the heart of specifically Christian spirituality, and the source of our energy for lives committed to the healing of a broken world, wherever we encounter that brokenness.
Of course the hardest part, sometimes, is to believe that God is doing any kind of work of reconciliation and healing in this brutal and broken world. That's why discipleship is ultimately about faith: "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asks his disciples (also in Luke 9) and Peter says "You are the Messiah, the Christ, the one who is to come." Christian discipleship, as Bonhoeffer says, hangs on this. It is not just about following wise teachings of a spiritual master in order to achieve enlightenment or save our souls or even change the political or social system. It is to assert that God continues to be active in the world, through the Risen Christ and those who follow him faithfully. That the power of suffering Love to transform and heal is still active in the world because you can't kill it, and we can be a part that ongoing, divine work because of who Jesus was and is.
So discipleship is not about following rules; it has little to do with human institutions. Rather, it is about patterning our lives on the life of Jesus, as we meet him in the gospels, and about trusting the mysterious power that Christians throughout the ages have experienced as the ongoing presence of the Risen Lord -- trusting that presence in whatever way seems to make sense for our particular condition and place in life. We don't all do it in the same way, but we find the path of our particular discipleship by asking: What is the dream of God for the place, relationships, situation where I find myself -- and how am I called to participate in the realization of that dream -- as who I am, and with the abilities and story and relationships that make me who I am? What is drawing my heart. And we continue on that path with greater joy and commitment as we find ourselves trying to answer faithfully Jesus' deeper question: Who do you say that I am?"
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.