I feel particularly blessed to be in a Spiritual Formation class this semester with nearly twenty others. It is not so much like a “normal” class—it is a gift, really, to have three hours carved out each week to consider the state of our souls and journey together. My professor is gentle and quite proficient. We begin each class with ten minutes of centering—I was surprised by how impactful it was for me! It reminded me again of how crucial the spiritual disciples are for Christians to mature and grow deep with Jesus. It keeps us connected, together, on the path less traveled.. They are rooted in our deep tradition and never seem to get old. So I want to offer a few examples and encourage you to try one or two. Many of these come from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline—or a more updated text, Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson.
- Centering Prayer. This way of praying is silent. Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land does a great job of documenting how to enter into this prayer. In the 21st Century, maybe more than any other, quieting our hectic and anxious minds is a challenge. Use a prayer word to center. Mind your posture and note your breathing. When your mind wanders, note where it wanders to, and bring it back to your word. The word is for centering, not for intellectual stimulation, so make it a simple one. Try to find oneness with God, overcoming the stresses, anxieties, and troubles that plague you. Ten to twenty minutes is a minimum.
- Lectio Divina. The divine reading of the Bible. It’s a way to pray through reading the Bible. You may want to pick a passage that is no longer than ten verses—I like to use our Daily Prayer as a resource for this. I rewrite the passage in question in my own words and then proceed through the four movements. Writing it down is helpful. The discipline is broken down into four movements: Lectio (read), read the passage. Meditatio (meditate), ponder it and consider it, be one with it, do not “study” it. Oratio (pray), pray through the text, ask God to show you something. Contemplate (contemplate), enter a period of silence and see what the Lord stirs up in you, listen to Him carefully.
- Study. Commit time to learning and reading. Attend lectures and conferences. Expand your mind. If we aren’t learning new things are Christians and leaders, we shrink.
- Hospitality. Try to pick a day a week or month where you are hospitable. Spend time with someone you don’t often spend time with and offer them your love. Invite them over for dinner and sere them. Consider after the visit what it meant to you.
- Contemplation. Similar to centering prayer, but longer. Find a place outside of your normal zone and away from disturbances to center and be quiet. Use a prayer word to keep centering yourself.. Try to visit that place weekly and see what God does and how he does up. Turn off your phone and remove other distractions. Write down what you are experiencing.
- Fasting. Traditionally, Christians fast food to strengthen their prayers and faith, but you could fast from anything. Pick a day to do it and replace the time you save with time with God. You may want to tell your friends you are fasting to avoid needless temptation, but you may want to keep it private if you are concerned about boasting. One of my favorite things about fasting is the heightened sensation I feel. When I’m alone and I do it, I end up getting quite irritable, and with no one to blame, I can really focus on the root of the disturbance.
- Solitude and silence. Again, similar to others, but being alone and quiet usually involves a prolonged period of time. Consider going on a retreat. Book a night in one of the many locations in our region. Make it silent. A book and a journal are helpful to bring with you, but try to be mainly still with God. These are cherished times for me. To listen, reenergize, and reenter.
- Simplicity. Resist consumerism and capitalism and sacrifice the excess that surrounds you and see how God moves you. Take public transportation, ride a bike, make simpler meals, recycle, don’t buy new clothing. See how you are more generous and how you are made complete by God, not by more stuff.
- Service. Give yourself to a cause that does not pay you, give you notoriety, or is required. Volunteer at our thrift stores, or at another agency. Stay humble about it. See what selfless serving in your free time (time that you might normally serve yourself) does. Jesus tells us the caring for the least of this is like caring for him.
- Sabbath. The genesis of this commandment is all about redistribution, taking it easy on the land, workers, and animals. We Sabbath to spread generosity and grace. But also so that we can live balanced lives, able to apply ourselves to the work God has given us to do. It is important to note that the other end of this discipline is work. All Sabbath and no work defeats the purpose.
- Celebration. What would it look like if we all noted the things for which we were grateful? If we celebrated all of the good stuff around us, how much encouragement could be spread? A great thought, and underappreciated discipline.
- Worship. Regular corporate worship is a crucial part of the Christian life. Many of us at least weekly participate in it. It is energizing and encouragement. It lets us transcend our circumstance and further unites us with God.
- Guidance. Maybe the most helpful of the disciplines—dialoguing with a professional spiritual guide or director about what God is doing in your life. The above twelve disciplines might be best used and highlighted within this context. Having someone pour love into you and you discern the direction God has for you is very special.
There is more to add to this list, of course, but I think it is a good start. Hopefully, I’ll be experimenting with some of these that I do no regularly use and deepened as an individual. We are yearning for depth with God. It is a lifetime process. Don’t fret if it’s not perfect. The good thing is, in some sense we will always be novices and we will always be practicing.