Posts Tagged ‘spiritual discipline’

Advent Day 15: Reviewing the Day

Advent Day 15

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze … (Genesis 3:8)

As a joke, the senior pastor at the church where our campus ministry is located made a Festivus pole.  Last week he made a joke about the “airing of the grievances” that is supposedly part of the celebration of Festivus, and another staff member said, “Oh, the airing of grievances?  I thought that was called our annual review!”  I laughed so hard I almost couldn’t breathe.

Well, you can air your grievances to God.  Seriously, there is a long tradition within Christian spiritual practice of reviewing the day.  It’s called examen.  This old word refers to a practice of reviewing what happened during the day, when we felt God’s presence and guidance, when we felt alone and lost, and a little reflection on what that means.

Sounds simple enough, but done well, examen can cut to the core.  (So be careful!)    Examen could reveal that you are a person who loves to air grievances and then take them back into your heart, as if they were precious treasures.  Examen could reveal that you don’t pay attention.  Examen could reveal that your view of the world is overly dark, or overly sweet and naive.  Finally, examen could reveal some beautiful gifts you have inside that you aren’t using.

The question is, if you try examen for a while and discover some things about yourself, what will you do about those things?  You might even try keeping a journal of your daily examen time and look back every once in a while, to see how you have grown and where you still need to stretch. 

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

Advent Day 14: Party

Advent Day 14

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honour.   (Psalm 8:3-5)

Once I heard about a youth director who never called any teenager by name during youth events.  Instead, she called each of the youth “Image of God.”  Her purpose, from what I heard, was to catch the students’ attention when she had to correct those who were acting innapropriately.  “Image of God,” she thought, would remind them that they were loved and called to a higher standard.

I smiled when I heard that story, remembering my own youth group days.  Who knows if it would have helped for our minister to call each of us “Image of God.”  We were always pumped full of sugar at youth events, especially during Sunday School, when there were sodas and doughnuts in the room each week! 

Today I want to highlight two spiritual disciplines, and an idea to try.  The disciplines are hospitality and self-control.  There is a long tradition in Scripture of welcoming strangers as well as friends, imitating how God welcomes us.  And of course there are plenty of verses in Scripture about controlling what you eat, drink, et cetera.

And here’s the idea.  Next time you are getting together with friends, think “image of God” as you plan what to do.  No, I don’t mean sit around and memorize Bible verses.  What I do mean is, try to throw a quality party.  Have good food, enough chairs, introduce your guests to one another, and have some conversation starters in your back pocket.  If you are short on cash, bring other people in as hosts!  Most people I know who are in their 20s and 30s love a chance to meet new people somewhere besides a bar.  And that’s part of the whole image of God thing:  honoring people’s bodies, developing friendships, and serving others.

In Genesis, we read about how Abraham threw a nice dinner party for some strangers, whom some interpreters regard to be angels (see Genesis 18.)  Who knows what might happen if you threw some “image of God” parties? 

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

Advent Day 13: Ordinary

Advent Day 13

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.   (Prayer atttributed to St. Francis)

Today, pray in the car.  Or in the shower.  Or while walking the dog.  Pray anytime, and all the time.

When I was in seminary, I helped facilitate an interfaith discussion group for undergraduates.  One person who was Jewish talked about the many prayers in his tradition for ordinary things:  getting up, eating, going to work, whatever.  St. Francis, to whom the prayer above is attributed, supposedly prayed about whatever he saw around him, and other Christians have written beautiful prayers about everyday stuff.

Somehow we think that prayer needs to sound grand, and needs to address a grand subject matter, like world peace.  That way of thinking about prayer just leads to one thing:  not praying.  And why would you want to deprive yourself of time spent with God, unless you’re trying to run away?   (That’s a discussion for another time!)

So today, talk to God about the weather.  Lift up your concerns, frustrations, and celebrations, however small or large.  Lift up prayer for the world around you, and pay attention to what God is doing in your world.

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

Advent Day 12: Things

Advent Day 12

… for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1: 49, 51-53)

There is always a temptation on a youth or young adult retreat to play rowdy games late at night.  Each leader must decide which games and activities will be acceptable, because the popular games keep changing along with the general tenor of the group.  One of the most recent fads is the game of “Things,” in which participants list three things pertaining to a certain subject.

Today, let me offer a different list of Things.  As a spiritual discipline today, take an inventory of some objects and actions in your life.  See what you can get rid of, and what you can keep.  Simplicity has been an important part of Christian spiritual practice from the beginning, but it’s never been easy. 

So try beginning with this short list, and expand it as needed.

  • Objects you currently possess and want to keep
  • Objects you can give away, recycle, or sell. 
  • Things about your personality, gifts, and skills you want to keep.
  • Things you want to change.
  • Finally, list your current struggles.  Here’s the funny thing about struggle:  a  battle of the soul, fought with deep prayer, meditation, and humility, can lead you toward the peace and strength you seek.  Yet some battles are just battles, and never lead to positive change.   Which battles are worth fighting?

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

Advent Day 10: Alert

Advent Day 10

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap… Be alert at all times … (from Luke 21)

O taste and see that the Lord is good … (Psalm 34:8)

What does it mean to be alert? 

If you watch a TV show around 9 or 10 pm, after many children have gone to bed, you’ll see ads for energy drinks that promise alertness.  To be alert, according to these ads, is to be pumped full of vitamins and caffeine.  The point of being alert, according to the ads, is to be a functioning parent and employee despite the fact that you’ve had no sleep.

Is that it?  Does God call us to be hyperfunctioning, hypervigilant, constantly in need of another shot?

Today’s spiritual practice is alertness or awareness, but no chemicals are required.  Instead, this type of awareness is more like paying attention, or living in the moment.

Take a walk today, preferably in a place with some grass or trees and away from car exhaust.  As you walk, make note of what you experience with your five senses.  In some places, you may even be able to taste the fresh air!

Later, in your journal, write about how you experienced Creation.  How did it feel to walk on ground instead of concrete?  Was it quiet, or did you hear some birds singing to each other about good sources of winter food?  Reflect on all five senses, and if possible, reflect on how you have experienced God’s care in the past.  Maybe you have a specific memory connected to something you heard or saw.

I think this type of alertness is very different from the over-caffeinated version.  When we’re high on artificial energy, we’re actually “drunk,” in a sense, and we are paying even more attention to our worries (that’s why we drank the drink — to get more things checked off the to-do list.)

Spiritual awareness, or awareness of what God is doing, only requires paying attention.  Simply by noticing, we can better understand how God is trying to reach us.  Simply by noticing, we can notice Christ in the face of someone right in front of us, and better understand our mission and calling.

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

See the Prayer and Temperament book (info on the Resources page) for more about praying with the five senses.

Advent Day 9: Kung Fu

Advent Day 9

In Him there is no darkness at all
The night and the day are both alike
The lamb is the Light of the city of God
Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.  (Kathleen Thopmson, 1970)

I’m rather late getting this post going today — Monday morning sabbath.

Anyway, as a follow-up to yesterday’s post on counting your blessings, I want to share some thoughts on what we do with the “curses,” or the negative things we experience.

In my view, there are two key points to letting go of negative things.

  1. Imagine what you would like to have happen instead.  Recently we rented the remake of The Karate Kid and I just loved the scene at the end when Dre says he’ll continue to fight the bully, because he doesn’t want to be afraid anymore.  Not that fighting is always the answer!  But he needed a chance to say, “I gave it my all,” rather than, “I ran away.”
  2. Help the negative things travel on to another destination, outside of your mind and body.  In the past, there have been some cruel rituals for banishing sin from the person and/or the community, such as leaving a person to die in the desert.  I certainly don’t advocate cruelty, but I can see what these people and communities were trying to do.  Anything that separates you from God will continue to do so unless you get rid of it.  Anything that drains life will find ways to disguise itself, so you’ll keep on pouring your life down the drain.  (Many of the stories I hear in my office about addiction begin with a person who was angry or scared and didn’t know how to express it.)  Surely there is something we can do to free ourselves, short of being cruel to animals or other humans.

Here are a few ideas for banishing sin and other negative things.  All these seem pretty tame, so if you try them you’ll need to ask the Spirit to give them the power they require.

  • write a letter and tear it up
  • go to a body of water and lay your sins upon small pebbles or twigs you find on the water’s edge, and toss them into the water
  • imagine a jar with a hole in the bottom.  You keep trying to fill it with negative things, but they fall out.  (You can also imagine a second container for blessings, that keeps filling up and expanding.) See Morgan’s book on the “Resources” page for more details on this.
  • vent with a friend and then have a prayer together.  I know a guy who sits in his church every Sunday before services, ready to have anyone come vent and pray with him.  He doesn’t advertise at all, but people know about it and they refer their friends.  He is rarely alone during this time.
  • write, write, write in a journal.  Then go back and read it weeks or months later.  You may experience some release as you write, and an even more complete release after you sit on the issue and revisit it.
  • get a punching bag.  Really.  Women especially need a safe physical outlet for anger, because we don’t have a lot of socially acceptable ways to express it.
  • try saying what you mean, without cruelty, for one day.  When the boss asks you to work late for the umpteenth time, and she hasn’t asked anyone else, calmly tell her you don’t understand why she is doing this, and tell her honestly whether you can comply.  (Scary, I know!)  You may find out that you’re the only one she trusts.

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

Advent Day 8: Thanksgiving

Advent Day 8 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

The spiritual discipline I want to highlight today is gratitude.

Today, spend some time counting your blessings.  Hopefully you’ll have a long list! 

After you’ve made your list, don’t stop there. Here’s the key to the discipline:  after you’ve counted your blessings, consider what kind of thank-offering you can give to God.  A thank-offering is an ancient tradition of giving something away simply out of gratitude, with no intention of earning anyone’s (or God’s) favor.  Your thank-offering can be monetary, material goods, a gift of time, whatever.

All this sounds simple and sweet.  Yet, is it possible to give expecting nothing in return?  On some level, when we show up to volunteer, or when we get out the checkbook, or when we open Christmas presents, don’t we expect a thank-you note … or squeals of delight … or attention from the pastor … or deference from other church members or volunteers?  I’ll never forget a church member who was angry with me years ago.  Instead of saying, “I’m angry,” or “I’m offended,” the person said, “You and I need to talk.  I do a lot for this church, you know!”

I understand that no one wants to volunteer precious time and feel useless or underappreciated, or donate hard-earned money to a lost cause.  I also understand that church members receive “services” such as visits from the pastor when they’re in the hospital.  Even the best of intentions must meet reality somewhere along the path.

When you give your thank-offering, imagine this.  You are watching the sun set over a beautiful lake on a Saturday evening, and suddenly you hear singing in the distance.  It turns out that a church holds Saturday night services during the summer at this lake.  You go to check it out, and are glad you did.  It’s a moving and inspiring worship time.  At some point during the service, they pass an offering plate.  Even though you don’t belong to that church, or live anywhere near the lake, you are grateful for this unexpected blessing.  You place money in the plate, not even paying attention to how much!  See if you can apply this same grateful, abundant spirit as you act on your blessings in your everyday life.

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

Advent Day 7

Advent Day 7:  the Fast

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.

–St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)

I feel a little awkward writing about fasting, because I’ve never had success with a traditional fast (i.e., not eating.)  Every time I do it I get sick.  However, recently I found a different idea about fasting.  Some spirituality teachers (including Foster and Thompson) write about fasting from other things we consume or activities we do on a daily basis, to help make us more open to receiving God’s Word and Spirit.

Many of the college students and young adults I meet have a pretty steady diet of anxiety.  They are anxious over the future, over relationships, over personal identity, and over whether they can “perform” on the academic or social scene.  Feeding your soul with anxiety is like feeding your body with chocolate-covered coffee beans.  Sure, you’ll get a rush, but you’re depriving yourself of the nourishment you need for the long haul.

 So the practice for today is a fast from anxiety over performance.   Try to spend a day refusing to be anxious, and consider these questions during your day:

  • A person observing a more traditional fast will think about how God provides for them, even though the thing they want (food) is not available at the moment.  Use this same thought process:  how does God provide for you, even though your anxiety isn’t cured at the moment?
  • What do you really need to get you through the day?  Even the hands-on, high-energy people I described in yesterday’s post need down time.  No one is Superman, and why would you want to be?  He never gets to live a regular life.
  • What would unconditional love look like in your life?
  • What is holding you back from giving others unconditional love, instead of doling out love based on their performance?

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

Advent Day 6: Hands & Feet Prayer

“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.” — St. Teresa of Avila


Today I want to highlight the spiritual discipline of service.

A few years ago during a discussion on spiritual discipline, one student expressed frustration with the whole idea.  “I can’t sit still!” he cried.  “But I’m supposed to sit still and pray.  Help!”

There are a lot of people like that student in the world:  people who are incredibly active, hands-on, live-in-the-moment types.  Frankly, I don’t know what we would do without these folks in the church.  They preach passionate sermons and get the rest of us moving.  Yet sometimes these folks feel bad about themselves, because they can’t sit still through a long flowery prayer.

If this description fits you, go out this Advent season and serve!   The challenge for you will be putting together a plan.  So call up a charitable agency in your area, find out what kind of help they need, make the appointment, and show up.  While you’re there, live in the moment!  Meet people, pay attention to what you see and hear, et cetera. 

Then, after it’s all over, write about it your journal.    Try this outline:

  • What you did
  • What you experienced with your five senses
  • Your thoughts & emotions
  • Write a prayer for the people you served

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

Advent Day 5: Parking Lot Sabbath

Advent Day 5:  Sabbath

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,

like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish

and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,

who alone does wondrous things.  (From Psalm 72)

The above verses paint a picture of what Sabbath is all about:  rest, refreshment, peace, a reminder of God’s power and providence, a glimpse into the kingdom of keaven.

Most of us have trouble with Sabbath, as beautiful as the idea might be.  There’s just no time, we say.

Earlier this fall the students in our college ministry group shared their ideas for a mini-Sabbath.  Only one student knew anyone who actually observed a full Sabbath, a day without work.  Click here for my blog post about what they shared — all good starting points for the task of observing a day of rest.

It can be a task to take some time for rest.  The student who talked about the “total Sabbath” idea talked about how much preparation was needed before each Sabbath (which was Sunday, in the case of the people she knew.)  All  the cooking, cleaning and laundry had to be done before Saturday was over.  That’s a lot of work!  If you did it, though, I imagine it would make you more mindful of what you are about to celebrate.

So  here’s our first Sabbath-related discipline:  preparation.

Let me give you an example from an old friend.  Suppose you’re an art or music major and you feel that you never have time to create for your own personal enjoyment.  You long for even a one-hour rest from the demands of the academic world:  a time for simply enjoying the beauty of art or music.  So, pick a Sabbath time, and the day before, clear away any materials that will remind you of your classes.  Set out some visual reminders, such as a different sketch pad or a fresh set of guitar strings.  (You don’t want your Sabbath to be tied up searching for something you suddenly need.)  Then, for the time you’ve chosen, give yourself over to pure creativity.

Another discipline related to Sabbath is choosing a Sabbath place.  Here’s an idea that’s a little offbeat.  Our church has a huge parking lot, to accommodate Sunday services, weeknight community activities, and football games (the stadium is on the next block.)  However, on an average weekday before 7 pm, there are fewer cars in the lot.  Sometimes people drive into the empty spaces, roll down their windows, and take a short break from the demands of the day.  After a few minutes, they’re gone.  It makes me feel good that even our parking lot can be a place of Sabbath! 

Is there a place you can go for some ten- or fifteen-minute breaks this month?  The ritual of going to the same place, getting ready to go there, and having a certain activity when you get there (prayer, reading, even just emptying your mind) may make your mini-Sabbath more meaningful.

Are you and I ready for a full day of resting in God’s arms?

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