Last month I asked if any of my readers would like me to write about any specific topics that would help you in your walks with Godde. Ally said she wanted to know about devotional practices: the things we do to walk closer to Godde and be more Christ-like. One of the reasons it’s taken me awhile to start the series is that I’m busy working on a novel, book proposals, and am looking for freelance opportunities as well (both publishers and agents like to see published credits with a book proposal). But I’ve also been dragging my feet on this. I didn’t know why until I read this in Diana Butler Bass’ recent book, Christianity after Religion. Bass was talking about when she presents spiritual practices, such as prayer, people automatically ask about a program. We’re so used to programs for everything in church: 40 days to this, 30 days to this, etc. Bass notes:
If you stick with the exact program, the results are guaranteed. And programs do work if you follow the steps; they work for a month or forty days or six weeks or three months. When the program ends, you will most likely go back to being exactly who you were before you started. You discover that you have not really changed at all. You are the same. And that struggle with the old sameness is especially disheartening for those seeking spiritual insight and change. Spiritual practices are more like crafts than programs. They are activities you discern, choose, and learn, actions in which you develop skill and mastery to help you become a different sort of person and, as the Willow Creek pastor said, deepen your love of God and neighbor.
I don’t have any programs. I don’t have any guaranteed ways of making you more Christ-like, loving, humble, whatever. All I can do is suggest practices that can help you draw closer to Godde and be more Christ-like because these are things that have worked for me and for the generations that come before us. As Bass notes spiritual practices are more like crafts that takes time to develop and master. Part of learning that mastery is learning about, trying and discerning which practices are right for you in this stage of your life.
Another reason I have problems writing on this subject is because our spiritual practices change over the course of our lives. I do not practice the same spiritual practices in the same way as I did 10 or 20 years ago. My two foundational practices of prayer and Bible reading are still there, but my practice is vastly different now than when I was in college. In college my prayer and Bible reading revolved around my journal. I wrote everything. The journal was what made my spiritual practices concrete in my life. Now I pray The Daily Office. The structure and liturgy of The Morning Office is what makes Bible reading and prayer concrete in my life now. I rarely journal about prayer or reading anymore, unless a verse just really hits me. Then I’ll write the verse in my journal, and using the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina meditate and contemplate on the verse and tease out what Godde is saying to me and what my response is.
Community has become much more important in my spiritual disciplines. Earlier in my life, I was fell into the “Jesus and me” myth of what I call Rugged Evangelical Individualism (instead of Rugged American Individualism). “Jesus and me” is still part of my devotional life, but community–Jesus and us–is just as important for my spirituality and relationship with Godde as what I do on my own. The older I get the more I realize why Jesus called disciples and made sure they were all together when the Spirit fell. The life Jesus calls us to lead cannot be done alone.
As we start this series on spiritual practices remember: this isn’t a program, this is a way of life. It will not look the same for you as it does for me. It will not look the same for you now as it did for you 5, 10, 15 years ago. Bass also reminds us that spiritual practices take time–a lifetime–to develop and grow:
Yet the idea that practice takes time is an important insight for Christian spirituality. Those who embark on a spiritual path do not begin with confidence or deep knowledge or insight. Indeed, when initiates begin a practice, they generally do not do that thing very well. The Christian tradition speaks of progress in practice as maturity, what Paul referred to as the “meat” of the faith (1 Cor. 3:1–4). People who intentionally engage spiritual practices grow in their understanding and awareness of God, and they get better at prayer, forgiveness, discernment, hospitality, and stewardship. The path to Christian sainthood may not be as mystical as is often thought—it may be a matter of putting in the time to practice.
I will be writing about one spiritual discipline each week, and as we do I want us to ask ourselves this question that Bass asks her audiences:
What spiritual practices give you a powerful sense of freedom and direction, of mastery and maturity, of purpose in life?
In the earliest days of Christianity, Christians were known as followers of The Way. We are following the way of life Jesus taught us to live. It will take time, practice and discernment to know what makes us follow that path more closely, what makes us closer to Jesus. But we will learn, and we will become the people Godde created us to be through our spiritual practices.
Right now: “What spiritual practices give you a powerful sense of freedom and direction, of mastery and maturity, of purpose in life?” What is working for you now? For me it is praying the Daily Office and taking long, contemplative walks. These things bring me “a powerful sense of freedom and direction…of purpose in life.” What is making you feel that way?
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