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 spiked up with gel. 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 reminds me of how my determined mind runs off toward its own agendas, overshadowing my need to just be with God, to listen to the voice of Thy Will. Although my own agendas may seem of utmost importance, when we neglect time with God, we’re also leaving our true selves buried like gems under the sand as we rush of to fulfil our urgent daily agendas.
Author May Sarton says it well, “it feels like an illness to be so far from my inner self”.
How often in venturing into our lives without God’s faithful anchoring, we meet, unprepared, storms and shark infested waters? How often, without God, the world lures us into its seductive promises where success, real estate investments, a name for ourselves mislead, leaving us lonely and unfulfilled. unconsciously, we receive the worldly messages without discernment, ‘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. But with God, we’ll never be forsaken.
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. We soon understand that abiding, dwelling in God’s presence, is all we need. From this well of agape love, we 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 that keeps us fit and healthy, likewise, our spiritual muscles need strengthening. When I neglect my spiritual practice, soon my true self cries out from a desert wilderness. I feel more anxious. Depression sneaks in the back door. I find myself in minefields of quiet desperation. My spiritual practice is a gift to myself, a sacred armor shielding me from the world’s pull, anchoring me in the whispers of God’s quiet voice guiding, ‘go this way’, the best way, step by step, breath by breath.
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 adequate time communing with God to stand firmly in truth. My daily spiritual practice leads me 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 natural, like eating and sleeping. It offers necessary nourishment from God, the omnipotent comforter.
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 worries, fears, anxieties, and even our 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 arises faithfully like the breaking dawn, yet other times, the monkey mind triumphs – negative thinking, worry, and fears invade. But I have learned, without judgment, to surrender them each time they arrive, into God’s loving embrace.
When I’m fortunate enough to enter into the realm of silence, silence becomes 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 of God’s love and grace with eagerness. But God’s grace cannot be forced. I sometimes wait minutes, days or weeks for the burst of God’s love, faith holding me close. And I’ve come to know even when distant, that God, like the sun that lives behind clouds, is ever present, and never leaves or forsake us. This itself is enough.
Some days when I’m over-tired, irritable and anxious, 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 shift the focus from myself to others, using my time to pray for a friend or loved one in need, troubles in the world, for a relationship I am struggling with, or for insights on how I can be of service.
However, when silence does welcome me into God’s blazing peace, it’s as if diving into in a crystal clear, warm, tropical ocean – like floating in a great womb — held by noiseless emptiness and grand love. The sound of silence is like the hum when swimming 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, an infirmary for healing and hope, is a sacred space away from the world where we bring even our darkest selves and unconscious errors of thoughts and behaviors, welcomed for divine healing. 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 place concerns, anger, hurts, and even goals and plans in anticipation of God’s grace — knowing all will melt away or be molded by God’s love. Here, we relinquish the fiery fears that consume us, and simply abide in the grand, unfathomable ocean of God’s mysterious wonderment.
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 encouraging achieving, wanting and needing, I’ve also adopted the al spiritual practice of waiting – waiting on God. I practice this regularly during life transitions, when faced with tough decisions, or during times when I’m in a rut, or when my life might seem as if I’m trudging through a desert. Listening for, and discerning God’s will during these particular times requires patient waiting – in many ways a lost discipline. In God’s time, we’re guided toward a fulfilling path and new adventures we may not have known otherwise, a road less traveled filled with the fruits of the spiri.
I also practice gratefulness each day as part of a 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, naturally outshining dreary, tiresome negative patterns of thinking marching through the landscapes of our minds and souls. 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 you’re grateful for, and happiness will bloom.
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.
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, creating 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 attracting children and adults alike joining in rustic abode building for hours upon hours of summer fun. Circled around a small bonfire, the flames and smoke rising through a man-made skylight, we enjoyed a homemade sacred dwelling.
In my earlier, harried lifestyle, I lost the sense of wonderment I had discovered in sacred dwelling spaces of childhood — the tree house my father built in the woods on our property, or in homemade tents or hand-carved igloos from snowdrifts. By creating a spiritual practice, we carve out a sacred dwelling place within to return to at any time, where we draw near the throne of grace with confidence. 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, in a crowd, 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 through spiritual eyes — eyes open wide like camera’s aperture, with more light entering our days.
A spiritual practice opens windows in our days, welcoming simple, yet divine moments like doves perching on the seat of our souls. Our monkey minds cease. Peace descends on the mountaintop of our hearts. Worry changes more quickly to contentment, and life just feels more crisp, our senses more acute and receptive, fresh summer breezes sweeping our lives.
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 reflecting 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 rainbows forming from dense moist air.
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 accounting 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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