Finishing up this section of the series on "call and response," I will present in this lesson a few basic practices that enable ongoing growth in relationship with God throughout each day. This approach recognizes the dynamic openness of the human spirit to attend, inquire, understand and then to do what seems meaningful; it also recognizes that these movements can be influenced by the Holy Spirit throughout each day. What follows, then, is something of a basic "way of life" that would seem to apply to all Christians, regardless of personality type, gender, and even age, to some extent. Later in this series, we will review more disciplines which can help to deepen the practices I will now describe.
Chapter 7 from your Pathways to Serenity resource (henceforth: P.S.) provides a discussion and review of this basic approach. Although I wrote this work almost 20 years ago, I find myself still in agreement with much of what is taught (which in itself is rather unusual for me). Generally, I am dissatisfied with a work shortly after its publication and wish I could go back and edit a few areas. This chapter from P.S. still works out fairly well, however, so I will just quote from it in places, along with another of my books, Here Now in Love (henceforth: H.N.).
A. Daily Prayer
As you might expect, I recommend Lectio Divina for daily prayer, for reasons stated in our previous session -- mostly, because it seems to be patterned very closely on how we relate and communicate as human beings in our human relationships. Why should it be otherwise with God? We are still human beings, and Christ, too, has a human nature.
I also recommend that you take your prayer time first thing in the morning, before your mind starts moving in other directions. My general practice for many years now has been to brush my teeth and wash my face, start the coffee, then do a few gentle yoga stretches to wake up my body. After doing so, the coffee is usually ready, and I pour myself a cup and head out to my prayer place. During the warm season, I like to pray outside; otherwise, I have a room in my house that I go to. My family knows that I do this and they do not disturb me.
It's been my experience that spending 30-40 minutes in lectio divina to start the day sets the tone for the whole day. It establishes my human spirit in relationship with God, which makes it easier to tune in and renew this relationship throughout the day. Others have reported the same in spiritual direction.
B. Practicing awareness, honesty and benevolence
These three virtues help to keep the human spirit properly oriented and focused throughout the day.
A few years after having written the above, I began the practice I call being here now in love. It's very much along the same lines as what I just described, only I find it a more focusing kind of phrase. Recognizing that God is Love and that the human spirit finds its ultimate fulfillment in love, we seek throughout the day to maintain this openness to love and loving in everything we do:
Be where you are and do what you're doing. Stop many times and check in with yourself. Notice what's happening with your will, and open yourself to love and loving. And ask the Spirit to show you the way. It's pretty simple, actually, but not so easy to do.
C. Daily Inventory
This third discipline requires that you take a few minutes at the end of each day to prayerfully reflect on how you have lived your day. You affirm the good you have done, and you honestly note the games you have played and the selfishness you have displayed. This is the time to ask for God's forgiveness and formulate strategies for dealing with areas of weakness. Those familiar with Redemptorist spirituality will recognize this as the examination of conscience held at the end of each day; in Twelve Step spirituality, this is Step 10. (P.S.)
The Examen of Consciousness (aka Awareness Examen) emphasized in Jesuit spirituality also comes to mind, here. You can read all about this practice at http://www.rca.org/disciples/spirituality/examen.html and on other web pages. St. Ignatius of Loyola thought this practice so helpful that he is reported to have said that given the option of only praying or doing the examen each day, he would choose to do the examen.
In my own life, I generally do the inventory right before going to sleep. The process I use varies -- sometimes just a simple scanning back on the events of the day, praying for wisdom to see where God was present, and when I just went off "on my own." This is a meditatio movement of sorts, letting the events of the day serve as the basis of the reflection. I then move into oratio -- expressing to God remorse for sins and missed opportunities, and thanking God for blessings. This often leads to a peaceful resting in a simple awareness of God's presence, and then dropping off to sleep. I used to suffer from insomnia, but the daily inventory has done away with that.
Daily prayer, living here now in love, open to the guidance of the Spirit, and daily inventory: not too complicated, is it? None of which is to say that this is all that is required to live a fully integrated Christian life, of course; I'm only identifying essential practices, here. Belonging to a Church, worshipping with others, discovering your spiritual gifts, serving the community -- all these are important as well, only they aren't likely to mean very much without attentiveness to these essential practices.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What do you think of these three practices? Do you agree that they are essential and indispensable for living an authentic Christian life?
2. Share some of your own experiences in using these practices. What differences do you notice when you make use of them . . . and when you don't.
Phil, I appreciate your sharing your process with us.
I have been reading and listening and sharing the paths of servants and leaders of God for most of my life.
I find them as varied and unique as the people.
The universal points that stood out to me in your words were:
"being here now in love" and trying to live that love throughout each day.
The other was
"in being guided by the Spirit."
Finding the best way to live in love and to hear the guidance of the Spirit seem to be the strongest and most consistent helps in my own journey. I would strongly affirm those as points of focus for each person to find the ways that help them do that.
We try on belief systems, methods of prayer, and we build communities around commonly held practices. Yet, Jesus says, follow me, and sometimes leads us in ways we never expected.
We can journey into the wilderness where only God's Spirit within us can help us find our way at times.
Becoming conscious of how God moves and speaks in us seems crucial. Your practices of reading and listening and being aware throughout the day are great helps in discovering how that manifests in each person.
Hopefully, communities can find the faith to support all those who are seeking as well as those who feel they have "found it."
You bring that spirit to these discussions, and I find that very helpful.
Here's another practice I've come to appreciate:
I built my house by the sea. Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand. And I built it of rock. A strong house
by a strong sea. And we got well acquainted, the sea and I. Good neighbours. Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences. Respectful, keeping our distance, but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier, always, the sand between.
And then one day,
- and I still don’t know how it happened - the sea came. Without warning.
Without welcome, even Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood. Slow, but coming. Slow, but flowing like an open wound. And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning
And I thought of death. And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it Reached my door.
And I knew, then, there was neither flight, not death, Nor drowning. That when he sea comes calling, you stop being Good neighbours
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbours And you give your house for a coral castle, And you learn to breathe underwater.
:By Carol Bieleck, R.S.C.J.
Through the discussions offered in these last two sessions I’ve come to realize that I’ve become an ad hoc pray-er. I seems that I can’t do anything in a regular way for any length of time. And so I’m jealous of those who, like Phil, are so disciplined and able to pursue a rhythm each day.
I don’t know if an ad hoc pray-er can ever achieve as deep a relationship with God as one who may follow a routine, but I try to be aware of God’s omnipresence and be continually and consciously open to His presence throughout the day.
When I’m waiting for the water in the pot to boil my eggs I may offer a short prayer or reflect on a mystery of the Rosary and live it in my mind’s eye or take a standard prayer, like the Lord’s Prayer, and redo it in my own words. I try to have both Christ and the Holy Spirit in mind when I pray for I believe that the main purpose and work of prayer is to allow us to become conformed to Christ in everyway.
Although I don’t evaluate prayer by the measure of emotional involvement great moments of prayer have happened to me when I have been overwhelmed by the beauty of a natural landscape or by the recording of an extraordinary piece of music. I’ve also been overwhelmed by prayer when confronted by a homeless and hungry individual begging on the streets of Chicago. If I have the time instead of giving them a cash handout I offer to buy them a meal at any nearby restaurant or supermarket deli. And I find that it is more the company that fills them (and me) than the food.
Ljohn, Sounds like your method of prayer is right for you. It brought to mind these passages from scripture.
Galatians: 5:13 For you were called for freedom, serve one another through love.
Galatians: 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Galatians: 5:18 If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Galatians 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.
Blessings, for your prayer and compassion!
I agree with Naomi, LJohn, that whatever is working to help you keep a sense of God's presence through the day must be what's right for you. OTOH, we can always have an ear open to other ways of growing, and perhaps that's part of what's happening here as well.
For example, praying first thing in the morning need not be a long period of time; what I do is what I've come to need, so others should find their own requirements, here. It might be a simple morning offering, or a brief stint with lectio divina. Same with the examen at the end of the day -- just a brief looking back on the day, giving thanks for blessings and expressing remorse for failings. Lectio and examen make for a wonderful pair of "spiritual bookends" to help hold one's days in God's care. The how-to and how-long parts can be determined by one's needs, temperament, etc.
Thanks for the suggestions, Phil and I really like the metaphor, "spiritual bookends." Although I start the day with prayer, albeit not routinely, I have never performed an examen at the end of the day. But the more I think about it the more I think I need to invoke it.
Ljohn - I have heard it said, in the context of training spiritual directors, that all are to be encouraged to pray in that manner that the individual pray-er can commence most readily and persist in most easily, iow, in that prayer form one begins with the greatest facility and remains in, with the most facility, the longest.
I relate to your experience myself. In studying the diferent forms of monasticism, I came across the eremitic, cenobitic and idiorrhythmic and most relate to the idiorrhythmic. I am reading about Mount Athos' monasteries, presently, in fact. You can read about these monastic approaches here at http://www.macedonian-heritage.gr/Athos/General/intro.html, where, for instance, it says:
I thought to myself: That would be me! Maybe you can so relate. Ad hoc sounds like idiorrhythmic to me?
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