Disciple: Starting a Spiritual Practice
If Jesus found the time for spiritual practice, so can we all
By Jenny Beaumont
As you read this issue of the Disciple, the holy season of Lent is underway. As a season of penitence and self-examination, a season of turning around, and a season to draw near to God, Lent is an invitation to a nearer walk with God. How might you mark this Lent as a time of holiness—a time to deepen your relationship with God, yourself and others? Starting or renewing a spiritual practice is a good place to start, whether it’s during the Lenten season or any other day you feel ready to begin. Yes, it can be difficult to carve out time for a spiritual practice in a busy life. Our lives are full with so many good things, how can we let go to make room for God? When days are filled with friends, family and work, where can we find the time?
IF JESUS FOUND THE TIME….
Looking to the Gospel of Mark, right away in Chapter 1, we find an example of Jesus making time in the midst of ministry and life for prayer, solitude and silence. Can’t you imagine Jesus’ pressing schedule? Jesus didn’t have poor Wi-Fi, cars to be inspected or birthday parties to ferry excited children to, yet he had demands on him and his time, walking the roads of Galilee, preaching and teaching. Jesus had crowds pushing on him, disciples arguing and plenty of criticism in the midst of his mission.
With his disciples, Jesus went to Capernaum on the Sabbath to teach in the synagogue. As Jesus was teaching, a man with a spirit called. Jesus stopped, turned and drove out the spirit. The people around cried out, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about Jesus spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
After the healing in Capernaum, Jesus, with John and James, went to Simon and Andrew’s house. Jesus healed Andrew’s mother-in-law from a fever. The Gospel says the whole town was at the door as Jesus expelled demons! Jesus poured himself out to those around him, comforting and healing.
And then Jesus did something unexpected—he disappeared. The next morning, the disciples expected Jesus to continue his work, yet Jesus had risen early in the morning and left the city for a place of solitude, silence and prayer. In the midst of a pressing crowd of people who wanted to be near him, Jesus sought time with God to nurture his soul. The disciples did find Jesus, “and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” (Mark 1:37-38) Jesus seemed to come away from his time of prayer with fresh perspective on his mission and a plan.
We need that time with God as well. Jesus must have heard a call to draw near to God, a call that woke him
early that morning, a whisper that drew him to seek that solitude and silence. We, too, are called to draw near to God and nurture our souls, to remember who we are and reset on what is most important in our lives. Spiritual practices are part of our ancient tradition that help us do just that. In spiritual practice, we are invited to be more awake to our humanity, to live and attune ourselves to God’s dream for us.
A HELPFUL FRAME OF MIND
In a world where there is always one more thing to distract us from nurturing our souls, Jesus showed us the way to step away from the crushing crowd, to be still and to know who God is by drawing near to God.
Spiritual practices are the way we can see God acting in our lives and the world. As our lives are messy, our spiritual practices can be messy, too. And as our lives and practices intertwine, we see more clearly what can be done in the world.
Here are a few places to start:
- Nurture your desire to grow spiritually. If you are new to spiritual practices, be gentle with yourself. Any prayer, any amount of time that you give to God will help nurture the desire within you. Put down your criticism and judgment of yourself or your evaluation of how well you are achieving the practice, and instead give the practice time to grow and expand.
- Be patient with yourself and your soul. Spiritual practices are a lifetime undertaking and never mastered. They put us into a posture to notice God and respond to God’s invitation to us. They open us to hearing God in our lives.
- Don’t worry or be intimated by the names of practices like Examen, Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer. They are all names of ancient ways of setting intentional space to listen to God. And there are hundreds of spiritual practices, including Study, Bible Study, Blessing Others, Breath Prayer, Care of the Earth, Compassion, Confession, Contemplation, Contemplative Prayer, Discernment, Fasting, Folding Laundry, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Holy Communion, Justice, Labyrinth and Meditation.
Spiritual practice doesn’t have to feel foreign. As author Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Spiritual practices help us to remove the disguise and take whatever comes to us—the surprising, the expected, the profound, the profane, the beautiful and the messy—and experience it as holy.
Think about your life, your gifts and your interests. Do you enjoy being outdoors? Take a contemplative walk or try forest bathing. Do you like to doodle or draw? Try Praying with Color. Do you love to learn? Join a Bible study. Does serving others give you deep joy? Enter service as a spiritual practice.
Once you’ve decided to set aside the space for a spiritual practice but still are not sure where to start, journaling and praying the Examen are two practices that will help you tiptoe into the waters of spiritual practice or dive a little deeper if you’re already there.
Journaling is, simply put, time set aside to write. It’s different than writing a diary. Diaries are collections of events, dates and times, while journals are the writings of our inner world, our musings. What do we love? What scares us? What change would we like to see in our lives? What is our prayer for the day?
Sister Joan Chittister calls journal writing “the x-rays of our souls.” When honest and authentic, she says, they expose and reveal us to ourselves. Over time, if done regularly, a journal can help us see our regular worries and what gives us joy. How does this lead us to God?
John Calvin tells us, “there is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.” Journaling allows us to interact with the part of ourselves that interacts with God. The deeper self and God are always talking to us; it’s just that we aren’t always listening. The act of writing slows us down to the pace of listening so that we can receive insight and guidance.
The Examen is another spiritual practice that invites us to draw nearer to God. It is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our overall experience. The Examen is an intentional daily practice of reflecting or examining your life, giving you a way to look back over the day and consider where you found God. Where did you get in the way of finding God in those events?
Regular daily practice of the Examen allows you to reflect on the person you are and are becoming. You set the time—both the time of day and the length of time you will spend—and, as you pray, you reflect on your day. For great resources and ways to make the Examen part of your daily practice, visit bit.ly/TheExamen.
There is no one or right way to start or build your spiritual practice. What’s important is to make the time to do it, find a starting place that feels right to you, and proceed without judgment and with an understanding that it is a lifelong journey that will grow and expand with you. May you find as you explore a spiritual practice a place to notice God in your everyday life, to tend to your soul, to live more fully into the promise of abundant life and to connect to God’s dream for us all.
Resources to Start or Take the Next Step
- Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People by Dorothy C. Bass (editor)
- Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
- Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson
- Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices by Brian McLaren
Download an App
(Available on the Apple App Store and Google Play)
- Centering Prayer from Contemplative Outreach
This app will guide you through creating a rhythm that works for you.
- Pray as you Go
This app offers a daily prayer session designed to go with you wherever you go and help you pray whenever you find yourself with a moment.
- “Brother, Give Us a Word,” a daily monastic practice to nourish your spirit from the Society of St. John the Evangelist.
- Use a daily prayer resource:
- Gospel-Based Discipleship (GBD) provides you with a daily opportunity to encounter the Gospel and encourage reflection. Each day includes Gospel readings from the Daily Office Lectionary, as well as prayers from the diocesan clergy prayer list and diocesan cycle of prayer, for each day of the liturgical year.
- Forward Movement offers a multitude of prayer resources, including the Daily Office, Daily Devotions and prayers for any time.
Use one of these books to learn about and experience spiritual practices in a supported community:
- Sacred Rhythms, Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton
- Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits by Michael Harter
Check out Black Liturgies
Find Black Liturgies on Instagram for practices and prayers to nurture the soul. Cole Arthur Riley’s daily spiritual reflections can be found on Instagram @blackliturgies and Facebook @blackliturgist. Go to colearthurriley.com to sign up to receive breath practices and letters.
Jenny Beaumont is the missioner for adult and lifelong formation.