Contemplation

The five aspects of spiritual formation and discipleship

New York pastor Rich Villodas was a guest speaker at the Elim Leadership Summit and also has a new book out. 

Tell us about your book, The Deeply Formed Life
I’ve tried to ask what the issues are that I see coming up over and over again, and how I can give very practical habits to make inroads into greater wholeness for our lives.

It’s about holding together five aspects of spiritual discipleship that aren’t always put together: contemplative rhythms, racial reconciliation, interior examination, sexual wholeness and missional presence.

These are the five values of our church (New Life Fellowship in Elmhurst, New York City), so I wrote this book primarily for them.

Because these areas are so universal, it has resonated around the world.

I wanted to resist compartmentalisation. Some folks might say racial reconciliation is good if you’re in a diverse setting, for example, but it isn’t a priority if you’re in a mono-cultural or mono-ethnic setting.

I’m saying no; this is a gospel value and a gospel issue regardless of where you are.

You talk about “contemplative rhythms for an exhausted life”. What’s that about?
The contemplative life speaks to the hurriedness and franticness we’re all accustomed to.

It’s not just limited to people in urban centres.

Plenty of people in suburban and rural areas are struggling with productivity and the pace of life too, so that value is about resisting the pace of life that often keeps us frenzied and frazzled.

What were your favourite chapters to write?
My favourites were the chapters on interior examination because as I wrote them, I experienced significant breakthroughs myself.

In my writing, I was trying to unlock some of my own challenges, limitations and struggles, and because I was able to articulate them, the Lord met me in that.

I found God’s hand on my life in terms of greater joy and freedom.

What can we expect to see next from you?
I have another book coming out in July called Good and Beautiful and Kind, with the subtitle “becoming whole in a fractured world”.

In it, I try to identify the fractures within and between us and what invitations God might have for our wholeness – individually and together.

Hopefully, it will serve people as they wrestle with what’s happening in society today.

One thing it asks is why there are fractures, looking at things like sin from a more accessible perspective and the fact there are forces outside of us that we need to pay attention to.

The second part asks how we can think about a new path towards wholeness and looks at things like contemplative prayer, humility and calm presence.

And then I ask how we can give expression to this, looking at conflict, forgiveness and justice.

You spoke at Elim’s Leaders Summit. What’s your key thought for the movement?
As I thought about the conference, I wrestled with the idea of abiding with God.

In John 15, Jesus talks about remaining and abiding in him. What does it mean to abide with God, with our neighbour and with ourselves?

If we can examine those questions and allow Jesus to lead us in the answers, I think we’ll find greater intimacy and depth of life with God.

We will then find that with one another and freedom within ourselves that will position us for the kind of connection we long for.

Is it possible to catch ‘Newyorkitis’ in Britain?

An extract from Rich Villodas’ latest book

In 1901, an American doctor named John Harvey Girdner coined the term ‘Newyorkitis’ to describe an illness whose symptoms included edginess, quick movements, and impulsiveness.

At the time, he said it was “a disease which affects a large percentage of the inhabitants of Manhattan Island.”

As a native New Yorker, I can’t help but laugh and also gasp at these words.

I laugh because Girdner is describing a world long gone – a world without the internet, high-speed cars, and other technological advances that inform everything we do.

I gasp, however, because if Newyorkitis is what Girdner observed over 100 years ago, where does that leave us today?

Our world hasn’t slowed down. It continues on faster and busier, and we are reminded that our souls were not created for the kind of speed to which we have grown accustomed.

Consequently, we are people that are out of rhythm, people with too much to do and not enough time to do it.

This illness is no longer a New York phenomenon only – it has infected people around the world. And I see it every day in my neighbourhood.

One Saturday morning I was walking through the area when an older Jewish man frantically shouted across the street, “Are you Jewish?”

He waved his hands at me as if he had been stranded on a desert island and I was his ticket back to civilization.

He repeated as he drew closer, “Are you Jewish?”

“No, I’m Puerto Rican,” I responded.

“Okay, great,” he said as he tried to catch his breath, wiping sweat from his forehead. “I need your help. I have to get my 90-year-old mother downstairs.”

It was a slow morning for me, so I followed him into his apartment building.

When we got to the elevator, he pointed at the buttons while distractedly looking in the other direction.

“Press six please,” he said – another strange moment, but I did so.

On the slow ride up, we exchanged names and then awkwardly stared at the numbers. His breathing was heavy and laboured.

I looked at him from the corner of my eye to see him talking under his breath. We took the elevator up six stories.

Then, as he was about to step into his small apartment, he shouted, “Ma... Rich is here.”

His mother shouted back with irritation, “Who’s Rich?”

I slowly stepped in and saw a frail, well-dressed, elderly woman grasping her walker. She had on a large pearl necklace and heels that looked a bit too big for her size.

She was grumbling with exasperation things like, “I’m so busy... there’s never enough time... how am I going to finish everything?”

Soon I found out that this mother and son duo were heading to the local synagogue, but he couldn’t press the elevator button due to Sabbath prohibitions.

All he wanted me to do was press the lift button – nothing more, nothing less.

I look back at that moment and chuckle.

But what struck me most in the whole encounter was this elderly woman being stressed out because of the fullness of her life.

Here she was, over-whelmed, on the Sabbath of all days, with too much to do at 90 years of age.

Newyorkitis is alive and well.

Dangerously Depleted
Our lives can easily take us to the brink of burnout. The pace we live at is often destructive. The lack of margin is debilitating.

We are a worn-out people.

In all of this, the problem before us is not just the frenetic pace we live at but what gets pushed out from our lives as a result; that is, life with God.

Parker Palmer makes a compelling case that burnout typically does not come about because I’ve given so much of myself that I have nothing left, but rather “it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”

What would it look like to live at a different pace?

What if there was a rhythm of life that could instead enable us to connect deeply with God, a lifestyle not dominated by hurry and exhaustion but by margin and joy?

As long as we remain captive to a culture of speed, superficiality, and distraction, we will not be the people God longs for us to be.

We desperately need a spirituality that roots us in a different way.

From all walks of life and professions, our struggle is all too real: single parents trying to find just a moment of oasis from the incessant bickering of children, doctors caught in the unending pressures of life-and-death choices, and pastors over-functioning to the point of health breakdown.

There are schoolteachers whose work never really ends, sleep-deprived students floundering through exams, immigrant small-business owners struggling to make ends meet, and therapists and social workers overwhelmed with the bottom-less crises they need to resolve daily.

The pace of our lives can be brutal.

Without denying these realities, we are invited to a different way of being in the world.

The late Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama wrote a book entitled Three-Mile-an-Hour God.

Dr Koyama was trying to get at the notion that if we want to connect with God, we’d be wise to travel at God’s speed.

God has all the time in the world, and as a result, God is not in a rush. Thus his claim that God travels at three miles an hour—it’s not an arbitrary figure.

On average, humans walk at this pace. And it’s in just such ambling, unhurried, and leisurely moments that we often encounter God.

N. T. Wright similarly affirms, “It is only when we slow down our lives that we can catch up to God.”

This is the paradox of contemplative rhythms.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we go back to dial-up internet service and take boats instead of aeroplanes to our destinations.

Speed has helped to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating. But speed has also caused our connections with God, ourselves, and others to be incredibly superficial.

There’s a severe lack of depth in our lives and communities because we have allowed ourselves to be swept up by the way of the world’s pace.

As Dallas Willard famously said, “The greatest enemy to the spiritual life is hurry.”

Taken from The Deeply Formed Life, copyright 2020 by Richard A. Villodas Jr. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large, multiracial church with more than 75 countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. Visit him online at richvillodas.com and @richvillodas

This article was first published in the June 2022 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.

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