Several years ago when I started asking people What makes you feel close to God?
The responses astounded me.
Most people did not mention prayer or bible study. Their intimate encounters with God occurred not through reading the scripture or going to church, but through the ordinary every day activities that fill their days.
Of course this is not an empirical study, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that we all encounter God much more powerfully when we walk through the forest or talk to a friend than we do when reading the Bible. Parents see God reflected in the faces of their children, and aid workers see God in the pain and the suffering of the destitute and the homeless.
One person told me about encountering God in the midst of “lostness” when they felt far away from friends, family, and God- the dark night of the soul medieval mystic John of the Cross talks about. Prayer becomes more so a few spontaneous words of appeal to God for the conditions that tear our heart apart, or a hand of blessing to a friend, than it is to be a half an hour spent in intercession each week.
Most Christian leaders and pastors are not good at helping followers of Christ interpret their daily routines in the light of the gospel story and the Bible message. Neither are we good at enabling others to recognize ordinary events as important spiritual encounters that need to be encouraged and nurtured.
I think that it is time for us to redefine what we mean by a spiritual practice. It seems to me that a spiritual practice is any activity we perform on a regular basis that connects us more intimately to God and to God’s purposes for us.
A Not-So Great Divorce
When we only view spiritual practices as prayer and scripture study we really do divorce ourselves from the many intimate moments with God that anchor our days. This makes it very difficult to fully enter into the gospel story as it is played out in our daily lives. We talk about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but the only place that we enable others to encounter that reality is when they go to church or read the bible.
As someone once cynically said to me: Don’t you think that pastors and church leaders are preparing us to live in the world they inhabit not the world that most of us live in?
This statement has a great deal of truth to it, and the ways that we practice our faith and teach others to practice faith really reflects it. I wonder: are we blind to the spirituality of the world around us because we live in a world of sermon preparation and book writing in which life seems to revolve around scripture, prayer and the reading of books?
The Real Frustration of the “Nones”
One of the concerning trends in Christian faith today is the rise of “the Nones.” This term that is often applied to many sincere people of faith are disconnecting from the church. I wonder if we would see this trend reversed if we helped people connect their spiritual practices to the everyday world in which they live each day.
What would happen in my own life if I reimagined everything I did as an opportunity both to encounter and to represent Christ?
Perhaps instead of preaching a sermon on Sunday we should ask our congregations: Where have you felt closest to God this week? Where have you felt distant from God? Then we need to grapple with how to nurture those moments of closeness and support them through the times of distance.
A New Way to Get Dressed in the Morning
Maybe we can help people re-imagine their daily routines as an encounter with Christ. Like getting dressed in the morning.
The labels remind me of the people who produced my clothes and I pray for India and China and Vietnam and especially for those who work to provide me with cheap garments. Some I know are small children- virtual slaves whose young lives are spent in atrocious conditions in order to provide inexpensive items for me to wear. I pray for the organizations that work to abolish this kind of slavery and think about what I can do to change their situation. Perhaps I can change where I buy my clothes and support fair trade certified clothing. Or I might think of those who transport and sell the garments and how their lives have been impacted by the economic turmoil of the last few years. By the time I am dressed I feel connected to people all over the world that I had never really thought of or prayed for before and in the process have drawn closer to God and God’s heart for these people in a new way.
Imagine what a difference it would make in our lives and the lives of our congregations if we enabled each other to become fully alive to the presence of God in every moment. Imagine how it would strengthen our faith if we became aware of the glory of God shining through every part of creation. Surely this is what spiritual practices are all about.
Photo credit Rubbermaid.
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