Posts Tagged ‘spiritual discipline’

Advent Day 27: Worship

Advent Day 27

Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the Lord … (from Psalm 148)

Today is a great day to worship.

Yesterday I wrote about becoming part of a community of faith.  Tonight (Christmas Eve) there will be some beautiful opportunities to participate in a community as worshipers celebrate the birth of Christ.

Actually, for me this night is bittersweet.  In becoming a pastor, I’ve had to give up a cherished childhood tradition.  Some of my ancestors were Moravian, and the Moravians host a moving Christmas Eve service called a “lovefeast.”  For years, my family attended these services in the Winston-Salem, NC area.  I don’t live anywhere near a Moravian church and I miss attending those services.  If you live near one, go!

Yet tonight I get to have some fun dressing up as a shepherdess or Mary or some sort of “Bible woman” for our children’s Christmas Eve service.  Instead of robes, the senior pastor and I will wear the funny little bathrobe-type costumes we keep around the church for this occasion, and the children will dress up as people or animals from the Christmas story.

For me the children’s service is a chance to reflect on the meaning of worship.  By dressing down, I feel that I am putting away all my pretenses.  I am humble before the manger, in which lies a King.  I keep this image before me as I worship at other times during the year.

May your worship be humble and glorious tonight, and indeed every time you worship.

Today’s Scripture readings from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 26: Community

Advent Day 26

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.   They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  (Acts 2:41-42)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve!  My last two posts (tomorrow and Christmas Day) will be centered more on Christmas, so today’s post is an attempt to wrap up all the thoughts on spiritual practices that I’ve shared.    In my preparation for this blog, I did a lot of praying and thinking.  Some Christian leaders are criticizing folks’ interest in spirituality, saying it’s too loose and self-centered.  At the same time, Americans’ interest in do-it-yourself spiritual and religious practice continues to grow. 

For me the big question is, what do you do once you realize you’re on a spiritual journey?  It seems to me you have two choices.

One, you can continue the journey on your own.  Thanks to the internet and huge bookstores with religion and inspiration sections, you can keep busy for a long time.

Two, you can throw your lot in with a religious or spiritual community.  In some areas of the world, you have plenty of choices; in others less.  Then again, there are also online religious communities (I haven’t tried that out yet.)

Actually, there’s a third choice:  do both. 

Being a part of a Christian community, in addition to developing my relationship with God on my own, has given me three things: 

  1. a chance to pray with others, for others, and be prayed for.
  2. time to break bread with other people.  I like to talk, and eating together is a great chance to do that.
  3. an opportunity to learn something, to throw out my ideas, and to discuss with other people.

I realize that not all religious communities offer these things.  Some are more about commands, or performance, or squeezing people into a box.  Yet for those of us who want to be Christian, it’s all there in Acts 2.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading about and trying some of the spiritual practices I’ve described for the past several weeks.  As you move on, think and pray about a church/community you could join (or ways you could become more involved in your own community.)  Could sharing your thoughts, prayers, and meals take you to a new level?  Could opening the door to a church open other doors you had no idea existed?  Could it just maybe change your life?

Today’s Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 24: In Your Own Words

Advent Day 24

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)

Today’s spiritual practice is another way of reading and studying Scripture:  rewrite a passage in your own words.

Earlier I gave you a study method that works better with narrative passages (like the story of the birth of Jesus), and this re-writing exercise works better with poetry and songs.

Try today’s reading from Isaiah, or Isaiah 9:2-7 (a traditional Christmas Eve reading.)

I love doing this exercise with two types of people:  those who excel at poetry and song-writing, and those who absolutely believe they don’t have that gift.  (I think everyone can use their imagination, and everyone enjoys beauty.)  It’s great to hear what the poets come up with; they can come up with something I’d like to frame and put on the wall.  It’s also beautiful to watch when the scientific, technical people begin to let their imagination out.   Technical folks write beautiful poetry!  They make sure it has rhyme and rhythm, they search for the perfect words, and in general they work really hard to make it right. 

Keep your re-written passage in your pocket or on your computer somewhere in a place where you can look at it from time to time.  Use it as a prayer.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 22: Confession

Advent Day 22

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me.  (Psalm 51:10)

I heard about a website on which you can unload all your dirty secrets anonymously.  Someone else in the room, when we heard about the website, protested that confession to some unknown person is a cop-out.  You need to acknowledge what you did wrong to real people, especially anyone you wronged, the argument went. 

How to say “I’m sorry” is huge debate within Christianity.  Should we confess our sins to a priest?  Should we say a group prayer of confession on Sundays?  Should it all be private?  And hey, why do we concentrate on sin so much?  We look like the monks beating themselves on the head in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” …

I agree with what the wise person in the room said when we heard about the confession website:  bring it back to real people.  It’s a beautiful thing when one person sincerely says “I’m sorry,” the person who was wronged sincerely says, “I forgive you,” and they both work at getting back on track.  The whole process may take a while but when it goes right, it simply overflows with grace.

Even though this is a joyful season, you may have a strained relationship with a family member or hometown friend this year.  Go ahead and confess!  You may not be the only one at fault, but you can begin a process of making it right.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 21: Forgiveness

Advent Day 21

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.  (Matthew 18:21-22)

Today, work on forgiving someone.  If you are new at this, start small.  Begin with something that has had a very minor impact on you, not a major wound that has changed the direction of your life.

Here’s an example.  My office is off-campus, so at least once a week I go on campus to spend time with students.  Often I’ll see undergraduates handing out flyers or advertisements as I go to the lunch spot.  One day a student was handing out flyers for a religious event sponsored by another campus ministry.  I read the flyer and thought, “Arrgh!  Why didn’t I think of this?  This sounds great!”  For a moment, I was jealous and angry that someone else had this good idea first.

Well, I thought about it, considered some ways I could improve on the idea if our group ever did it, and let it go.  Now, what happened here wasn’t much of a sin, if at all.  No one set out to hurt me on purpose.  I chose to be jealous.  Still, I felt a need to forgive myself, and to “forgive” the other person for being so smart.

The questions I asked myself that day can be used for many of the “small” sins and hurts that we inflict on one another.  Give these questions some thought.  (Again, if you have a huge wound in your life, you may want to take a different direction; get some help from a trusted wise person if you want to begin the process of forgiving someone who severely wounded you.)

  • Who hurt me?  Was it really intentional?
  • Have I really been insulted or disgraced, or is my feeling of hurt something more like jealousy?  It could be a combination:  for example, feeling insulted when a respected professor doesn’t like your idea, and being jealous of that professor’s power.
  • Does it do me any good to hold on to the hurt feelings?
  • Next time a similar situation happens, could I choose to react differently?  (In the case of the professor, I could choose to bolster my next idea with more references.)

I think all these questions can go “up the ladder” to more difficult situations as well, but again, I recommend starting small.  Most of us have a tough time forgiving others, which is why Jesus preached about it so much!

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 20: I Believe

Advent Day 20

I believe; help my unbelief!  (Mark 9:24)

Generations ago, there was a big fight among Protestant Christians.  Should worshipers recite any creeds during the worship service?  (A creed is a written statement of religious belief.)  Some thought the creeds were essential for helping everyone stay on track.  Others thought that reciting a creed compromised their freedom.

I find that everyone has a personal creed, regardless of what kind of church service they attend.  Over a lifetime, each of us develops, challenges, changes, and reinforces our beliefs.

So here’s a challenge for today:  write a statement of faith.

Make your statement as long as you want.  To get started, use these questions:

  • What do you believe about God, Jesus,and  the Holy Spirit?
  • What happens after death?
  • How we should live our lives?
  • What is sin, what is forgiveness, and how do they relate to one another?
  • Why do we have evil?  Or why do we bother being good? 

Look back over your statement from time to time. 

  • Has writing helped you make sense of anything?
  • What “unbelief” do you still have? 
  • Does your statement of faith make sense?  (For example, did you write in one place that people are basically good, and in another place that people are basically evil?  You can say both, but you need to know why.)
  • Compare your real life and real actions against the statement:  are you practicing what you preach? 
  • Which needs to change:  your beliefs or your actions?  Or both?

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 19: Fasting Again?

Advent Day 19

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  (Isaiah 40:3)

I’m smiling as I post another idea about fasting.  As I mentioned in the last post about this, fasting is not an idea that I relish.  However, I’m still intrigued by the idea of fasting from something.

As best I can understand it, part of the art of fasting is to get us out of routines that are at best dull, and at worst destructive.  It seems that if we have more than enough of anything (food, time) we somehow find a way to misuse the excess, often in a botched attempt to fill some kind of emotional void. 

Marjorie Thompson writes in Soul Feast about a wise old monk who advised a younger one about fasting.   Take in your daily bread, said the old monk, and fast from excess.  The older monk knew that an abundance of food could lead to a spiritual desert.

I remember a college friend who was having a rough semester and sought comfort in ice cream and soap operas.  She often invited me to join her.  I remember feeling a little stress that semester, but maybe I looked worse than I felt!  Looking back, I wish I had suggested that we just talk, or even take a joint trip to the campus counseling center.  Her little dorm room, with its free cable and mini-fridge, became a desert instead of a place of solace and refreshment.

I also remember a couple from my high school who found themselves in a desert.  Both high achievers, they sought relief in one another’s arms during those few hours between the end of the school day and their parents’ arrival home from work.  They conceived a child, and the girl was promptly whisked away to an abortion clinic.  I never knew the story until it was all over, and it made me stop and think.  What looked like every teenage girl’s fantasy (a boyfriend, attention, “practicing” marriage) was nothing more than a dry place of pain.  I became thankful for my “daily bread” of an after-dinner walk with a boy I was dating in the neighborhood.  That was all we could get away with!  But it was a refreshing break and never got us in trouble.

Today, practice having your daily bread, and break daily bread with a friend.  Think about what you really need to sustain you for today.   Try fasting from anything beyond that daily bread, as abundant as it may seem.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 18: Kindness

Advent Day 18

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  (Isaiah 2:4)

A while back a student taught me a meditation method that helps you imagine more kindness in your life.  More kindness coming from you, that is.  Perhaps it seems a little simplistic … but within the Christian tradition there is a great emphasis on allowing your actions to be determined by your spirit, which is in turn fed and directed by the Holy Spirit.  In other words, someone who doesn’t really care about turning swords into plowshares will never attempt to do it.   So try this and let God direct you toward a kind action.

 Imagine the warm feeling flowing from you toward someone you love.  Next, imagine that warm feeling flowing toward the following people:

  • Someone who seems nice, but is not close to you
  • A stranger who you saw earlier in the day
  • Someone who slightly bothers you
  • Someone who really bothers you
  • Someone you could not imagine loving at all.

Finally, imagine all the warmth circling around back to you.  This exercise probably won’t produce any instant results, but over time, it could change how you interact with others.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 17: Generosity

Advent Day 17

Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.  (2 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The LORD watches over the strangers … (Psalm 146:9)

Once a man proudly announced to me, “I take care of my own!”  He meant that he took care of his family, and he was proud of that.  Part of me could understand what he meant.  He came from a rural area where people struggled to earn a living, and some had given up trying. 

Yet a little voice in my head said, “So?  Why should you go around announcing that you did your duty?  Do you expect a gold star?”  (I think I said the same thing out loud, but with a little more good Southern manners.)

Jesus wasn’t too pleased with the so-called faithful people he encountered whose concern for others never left the front door.  (see Luke 6)  Giving something away, and trusting that God will do the right thing with it, is an act of faith.  God has enough faith in us, after all, to entrust the care of others to us!

So, today’s spiritual practice is a combination of genrerosity and trust.  Set out a jar or dish for loose change and “lost” money, like bills that end up in the washing machine.  Don’t touch it until it reaches $5 or $10, and then give it away.  As the change accumulates, pray for whoever will receive the money.  If you feel weird about giving away a ton of change, look for places that purposefully collect loose change.  Our church collects “Pennies for Hunger” in addition to our regular offerings– part of the fun is listening to the change clang around in the bucket.  This offering raises so much money, you’d be surprised. 

To be sure, what I’m proposing does not top the charts in terms of generosity.  I’m simply offering this to you as a starting point.  Try praying every day for whoever will receive this gift.  Try giving without hiding behind excuses, such as “What if the recipient wastes my money?”  Read more of Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, in which he reminds the givers that the recipients are praying for them.  Who might be praying for you to be generous?

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 16: Being Present

Advent Day 16

…on your wondrous works, I will meditate.  (Psalm 145)

Do you know anyone who will drop everything to be “in the moment” with a friend in need?  Or anyone who is easygoing, willing to change if the needs of the moment change?  Those are great attributes to have in a friend, and many times, in a supervisor.  Yet I know many young adults struggling to change their easygoing, in-the-moment nature, because that way of being gets them in trouble at work. 

What kind of friend would we like God to be?  The friend who goes with the flow, or the friend who keeps us on schedule?  I think the answer to that question depends on the individual.  However, I do have a thought about our side of the relationship with our Creator.  Regardless of our personalities, we could benefit from being in the moment with the One who loves us.

Our lack of attention to the present is both a symptom and a cause of our disconnected relationship with God.  How do we start paying attention?  It would be great to have hours for quiet prayer each day, but for your average young adult, taking that much time would only result in feeling further behind.   Try one of these two options as a different way of using the moments you are given.

  1. Take a break from the clock.  Some people are always worried about their next appointment, or traffic, or being late.   If you are one of those people, scheduling time for prayer or meditation will be tough, because you will be worried about ending on time.  Try this instead:   go to a church service or holiday choir concert, and show up really early.  Sit and listen to the choir practice before worship, or sit quietly in the sanctuary.  You’ll get a good parking space (hey – I know your type!), and you’ll feel secure, knowing that even if you lose yourself in prayer you won’t be late for the main event.
  2.  Take a break from tasks.  Some people are not so worried about time, but are concerned about getting everything done.  If this applies to you, prayer may feel like another chore on your long to-do list.  Here’s an idea for you:  say you wake up on a Saturday and have a big pile of dirty clothes.  Do laundry for exactly 30 minutes or 1 hour, and then stop.  Take a 30-minute break to do something completely different, such as reading or going for a run.  (Exercise and reading are probably on your to-do list anyway!)  Then go back to your laundry for a set period of time.  This is how some monasteries are run:  each monk does a task for a certain period of time, and leaves when the time is up.  The next monk picks up where the last one left off, and somehow it all gets done.

Finally, regardless of what you do for your prayer time, try to share the wealth and be fully present in the moment with a friend.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):