Sunday, June 14, 2009
Practice . . .
is one of those words that no one likes to hear, or think about. It has such bad connotations. Boring drills and repetitive mind numbing action of doing the same things over and over again thousands upon thousands of times. Perhaps that is why the word practice is so foreign to our understanding of the spiritual life. We don't want our spiritual life to be boring or repetitive or the same thing done over and over again.
Yet, the same principle that makes a golfer wanting to hone his short game hit thousands of chip shots day after day, is the same principle that could be applied to anyone who wants to grow in the spiritual life as well. If there isn't some form of practice going on there can be no growth.
Of course, I could take my golf clubs and hit chip shots all day every day, and I will never be as skilled at golf as Tiger Woods, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try. And just because Tiger Woods has so much innate talent doesn't mean he just sits back and rests without any practice at all. In fact just this year in an interview he stated that since his recent knee surgery he has been able to spend much more time practicing and he has noticed a decided improvement in the quality of his game because he was spending more time on the range and the practice green. Imagine that, Tiger Woods admitting that his game improves when he has more time to practice.
So, we should spend time in the practice of the spiritual life. But how? That is something that is very individual. We tend to know what we need to work on. How you practice your spiritual discipline is a very individual pursuit. There are a few standard fundamentals that will help anyone grow in the spiritual discipline if we practice them:
Immerse yourself in the Word -- Pick up your bible and read a few chapters every day. You can actually get through the entire bible in less than a year if you make a practice of reading a bit each day. Find a translation that you like and understand (there are many, some more conversational than others, some more flowery) Don't worry about the boring, listy parts, skim them quickly or just skip over them: I had a Professor in Gradual School who gave us all a list entitled Reading the bible without having to read any of the boring bits, and it listed which specific repetitive chapters to skip.)
Talk to God (pray) every day --, in whatever way you feel most comfortable. For some people this will mean doing a set group of rote prayers morning and evening. For some people this will mean setting aside time for meditation or contemplation. For some people this will mean practicing the presence of God, or cultivating a lifestyle where they always feel as though they are in God's presence and are in communication with God. For some people it may mean small , sticky note, arrow (the old term for these was ejaculation) prayers throughout the day. For some people, the greatest form of daily prayer is to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours of the Church, These are a set pattern of psalms, responses and readings that all clergy and religious of the church pray every day, and can be prayed by anyone who wants to join in.
The most important thing about prayer isn't how you do it, it is that you do it.
Learn something new -- there are many ways to accomplish this, you could read spiritual readings, listen to or watch something enriching, go to lectures or to Mass or your worship service if you aren't Catholic.
You could join with a group of friends and actually study the bible you have been reading, that is a very different form of immersion, to study the word. To look at the context of the time in which it was written and the people to whom the story is speaking in that time and what that story meant for them and then what that same story means now.
You could join a group of friends for prayer and support in the Christian walk. Get together once a week to support each other, pray for each other's needs and give each other guidance and love. We all can learn something from each other if we take the time to really listen to each other.
Reach Out -- Action is part of the spiritual growth process. Every week you would be doing something for others. It doesn't have to be something grand or amazing like a mission trip to some foreign country, it might just be dropping off some canned goods at the food pantry, or stopping in at the nursing home to visit someone from your church who lives there now. Mother Teresa used to say we didn't have to do great things we just had to do small things with great joy. My prayer each morning is that God will make me aware of the people and situations that have been placed in my path that day so that I may serve the Kingdom. Then when I am faced with a chance to help someone with a heavy load at the grocery, or a few extra minutes of my time for a chat I think of that as my gift to God and not an inconvenience at all.
I think if you start practicing these simple things every day, your spiritual life will grow in amazing ways; ways you would never have imagined. God has a plan for your life, and you have to participate in that plan in the same way that Tiger Woods has to participate in the plan for his career. Think about having a spiritual life more amazing as Tiger Woods' golf career. With practice it could happen.