Just a few days ago I was sitting on the beach watching a little boy, about 2 years old, dressed in blue and white-flowered surfer shorts, running down a long stretch of the beach as if he were the star in Chariots of Fire. Except for his diaper hanging from the top of his shorts, he looked like a fit little man, his stout body erect and proud, his hair trimmed, the front piece gelled and spiked up. His mother, barely keeping up with him as he darted down the beach, finally scooped him up, turning him back toward their blanket with a little pat on his padded bottom. Yet, within seconds this little precocious ball of energy maneuvered a quick U-turn, darting off like a race pony in training, back again in the opposite direction. This shenanigans happened again and again. Each time his mother, equally determined, plucked him up, his little legs spidering back and forth.
This little bruiser reminded me of my mind, how it runs off in focused directions, diligent, toward my agenda, often overriding my better intentions: the need for rest, a more pressing responsibility, a friend I neglected. Or my diligence overshadows my spiritual life, leaving my true self buried like a gem under the sand.
Author May Sarton says it well, “it feels like an illness to be so far from my inner self”.
If I’m not directing my ship, it’s the world that’s doing so – steering me into situations reminiscent of storms, shark infested waters, or abandoned harbors. And how the world offers seductive promises – success, real estate investments, a name for ourselves. Be this, do that, and be sure to keep up with the Jones’! My friend Lisa said to me one night, “gosh the world’s gravity pulls fiercely”. Sure, sometimes living the way of the world offers rainbows and leads to peaceful sandy shores — but the truth is, trusting in the world as our guide offers little guarantee.
German theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckart says, The soul has two faces; one that is permanently turned toward God, and the other faces the world.
Creating a spiritual practice each morning means making a choice to encounter – to experience God. As Brother Lawrence says, it means practicing the presence of God. As we grow in our practice, we’re bound to reap God’s promises of peace, joy, comfort and blessings. But in essence, we soon understand that abiding, dwelling in God’s presence, is all we need — even without the perks. From this well of agape love, we can learn the language of God’s love, moving throughout the moments of the day, the week, the month, more aware, alert to the subtle whispers of promise, of holy direction, with God paving our way.
Just as one might work out at the gym building and strengthening muscles to keep fit and healthy, likewise, our spiritual muscles need strengthening. When I neglect my spiritual practice, soon I hear my true self crying out from a desert wilderness. By then I got tangled in the fray of the masses, losing my inner voice of truth, landing in minefields of quiet desperation. My spiritual practice is a gift to myself, a sacred armor shielding me from the world when it wearies me, when it’s force tries to pull me into the eye of it’s storm.
In his brief time on earth, in the face of determined persecutors, in a fierce world where the rich and powerful oppressed the poor and meek, Jesus standing firm in truth, justice and mercy, often went to quiet places to pray.
We need solace to stand in truth. My daily spiritual practice leads me to destinations to sit beside still waters. By carving out a half hour each morning – that’s just a small sliver out of 1,440 minutes in a day – I launch my day from a springboard of grace. By creating sacred time and space each day, I begin the necessary process of letting go, letting God, surrendering all — shifting my focus from daily tasks, goals, and expectations, to enter the door of God’s greatness. On days when I’m out the door early, five minutes of surrendering my day to God proves a trustworthy anchor for the rest of my day. I even find myself continuing the practice as I drive, or during brief moments between meetings and daily routines. Overtime, my practice becomes as as natural as eating and sleeping.
Meister Echkart said, “Emptied by the need to achieve, a person can be free to wait in the moment. He attributes it to “the highest way of being”.
Each day, upon waking, usually by 5:30 am, I go downstairs to make my morning tea – green tea with vanilla soy milk and honey. Returning to the comfort of my bed, I begin my practice by simply propping myself up against two soft pillows. It’s really nothing special, no candles or flowers, no straight back. My bed space becomes as a sanctuary where I claim Godly time, a sacred space to meet silence, preparing to dwell on a sacred text or scripture, or simply surrendering all on my plate. By creating sacred place –one that’s comfortable, nurturing and a safe – we can unleash crabbiness, sensitivities, worries, fears and dreams into the great well of divine grace.
When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. PSALM 4:4
Often, when sitting preparing for my practice, my cat wraps himself around my neck like a scarf. Then I close my eyes, listening to my breathing and observing my thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts are like geese flying in a neat pattern, or like wild, noisy monkeys hopping from tree to tree, their screeching sounds echoing throughout the dark, tangled jungle of my mind. When this happens, and it does often, I simply allow the natural course of my breath and pattern of my thoughts. Sometimes silence will soon arise like dawn, yet other times, the monkeys will triumph – negative thinking, worry, and fears invade.
When I’m fortunate enough to enter into the realm of silence, silence is a divine waiting room for God. Like sitting in the waiting room in a doctor’s office, I wait in silence for the great healer. Waiting is holy waiting, in God’s time, not my own. I approach silence like a child holding a rain bucket on a sunny day, eager, knowing, patient, receptive, awaiting the downpour with eagerness. If the rain doesn’t come, a child would return again and again. God’s grace cannot be forced. I sometimes wait minutes, days or weeks, faith holding me close — knowing God, like the sun, lives behind clouds, is present in our storms, and will never leave us or forsake us.
Some days when I’m overtired, when shifting hormones make me feel irritable and anxious, as if my brain is caught in a fog bank over the San Francisco Bay, or when my mind simply won’t rest, I don’t even try to wait for silence to join me. Instead, I approach my sacred space like a dump truck unloading cargo. I simply sit, close my eyes, and unload my concerns before God, allowing them to fall from my shoulders like large sacks of sand or rocks. Other times, I’ll use my time to pray for a friend or loved one in need, troubles in the world, for a relationship I am struggling with, or nagging troubles I can’t seem to overcome.
However, when silence does welcome me, it’s as if I dive into in a crystal clear, warm, tropical ocean – like floating in a great womb — held by noiseless emptiness. The sound of silence is like the hum when I swim underwater, as if transported to another reality, a blissful dream world. It strikes me how baptism in Jesus’ day, as in some Christian traditions today, one must go underwater and return to the surface, symbolizing new life.
Silence is an infirmary for healing and hope, the giver of insight, the spotlight that shines on unconscious errors of thoughts and behavior. As theologian and philosopher Dallas Willard says, “In this place of quiet communion, we discover again that we do have souls, that we indeed have inner beings to be nurtured. He says, as we deepen our practice, ‘soon our minds will return to God as the needle of a compass constantly returns to the north.”
Cease striving and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
On the altar of silence, we can place worry, anger, unforgiveness, goals and plans in anticipation of God’s grace — knowing all is well, all will melt away or be molded by God’s love. Here, we can relinquish the fiery fears that consume us, and simply abide in the grand ocean of love.
Go in Great Saints, go all the way in—go way down into the cavernous cellars, way up into the spacious attics, it is a vast room, this house where God is. Go into the deepest casements of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood. Some must inhabit those inner rooms, and know the depth and heights of God and call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is. — Celtic Prayer
I engage in other aspects of spiritual practices throughout the week including: Sabbath rest, prayer, meditating on a scripture or sacred text, spending time in nature, and writing.
In a world that focuses on achieving, wanting, needing, I’ve also adopted the practice of waiting – waiting on God. I use this practice regularly during life transitions, when faced with tough decisions, or during times when I’m in a rut, or when my life might seem like a desert of emptiness. Listening for, and discerning God’s will during these particular times requires waiting – in many ways a lost discipline.
Practicing gratefulness each day is also part of my daily discipline. I’ve found being thankful naturally mitigates the bad habit of negative thinking and complaining. Grateful thoughts, persuasive and true, stand taller and more confident, and naturally outshine the dreary, tiresome negative drones marching through the landscapes of our minds.
Try it. Replace a grateful thought with a negative one, and then do it again and again. Your life will change. You’ll notice hundreds of tiny things you never noticed before that your grateful for.
Spiritual practices are the stones we lay before us on our paths, necessary tools steering us toward renewed peace, joy and well-being. Others include fasting in their practice – I haven’t resonated with this discipline, perhaps because I love food so much, or I’m not ready. We need to find what works for us in our spiritual practice. Either way, just as breathing is essential for life, and gas is needed to run our cars, a spiritual practice is a necessary for a life that matters for those of us who ache for truth.
In my earlier, harried lifestyle, I lost the sense of wonderment I had discovered in sacred dwelling spaces I found as a child — the tree house my father built in the woods on our property, or in homemade tents or hand-carved igloos from snowdrifts. All throughout his childhood my son built tents. It was one of his favorite activities. I’d save old sheets, blankets and towels so he could enjoy endless hours building and plotting spaces where he could hide out, away from mommy, to create a new world filled with imaginary friends and adventures. On a family vacation on Whidbey Island, just off the coast near Seattle, my husband spent hours gathering drift wood, building large and elaborate driftwood huts on the beach which drew children and adults alike to join in the rustic abode building adventure for hours upon hours of summer fun. By sunset, all the builders crowded in their creation. Circled around a small bonfire, the flames and smoke rising through a man-made skylight, they joined in community. Those were divine nights — the huts sacred temples to bless one another with simple joy.
By creating a spiritual practice, we carve out a sacred dwelling place within to return to at any time where, with confidence, we draw near to the throne of grace. From months of spiritual practice and meditation, I now have an inner sanctuary I take anywhere, like a snail carrying it’s shell. Several times a day, wherever I am, in the public library, driving, watering the garden, or in a meeting, I find myself returning to this inner haven. It’s a simple practice for me to reconnect with myself and God throughout the day. As if I’m plugging in a lamp when the room gets too dark, my traveling practice sheds light throughout my day. As we mature in our practice, soon we see can see through spiritual eyes — eyes open wide like camera’s aperture, allowing more light to enter our days.
Simple, yet divine moments fly more spontaneously into my days like doves perching on the seat of my soul. The monkeys in my mind today seem to be on valium. Peace descends on the mountaintop of my heart. Worry changes more quickly to contentment, and life feels more crisp, my senses more acute and receptive, as if fresh summer breezes sweep through the windows of my heart daily.
Becoming more intimate with God, I notice God’s fingerprints on a blossoming intimacy with my husband and son, blooming plentiful, like coral honeysuckle vines on the fences of my days, sounding trumpets in my heart. Like the Grinch, my heart has grown a hundred times bigger each day. At night before bed, when I reflect on the meanderings of my day, the moments I spend together with my family, more and more they shine like crystal, poignant and precious. I wonder if such moments have always been before me? Perhaps I passed them by like stepping over diamonds, blinded by worry, fear, despair and sadness. I feel more excited many days, having the sense something new is on the horizon, like a rainbow is forming from dense moist air. I sense I’m being guided to still waters for my lifetime.
Daily irritations have softer edges. I don’t feel knife sharp anxiety and procrastination poking at my stomach when faced mundane lists and agendas, piles of paperwork and taxes to complete. I just move toward them with ease, as if finally learning to dance with life.
The colors of flowers are even brighter now. I understand being one with beauty the poets speak of– the blending with a flower’s brilliance, standing still in a quiet, ecstatic, momentary joy. Then it all goes, blowing in the wind like the fuzz of a dandelion.
Theologian J.J. Packer once said, ‘We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough, we want something else which can hardly be put into words– to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
What about you? Do you want to start a spiritual practice, or deepen yours? What’s the most difficult thing for you in starting a spiritual practice, or with your current practice?
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