Spiritual practices for the year
by Marion Van Driel
While countless resources on living the Christian life are available, a comprehensive book by Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, thought to be a classic throughout much of the church, lays out 12 spiritual practices considered central.
Foster categorizes these 12 practices into inward, outward and corporate disciplines. He contends that living a disciplined spiritual life leads to liberty – an idea that seems at first to be counter-intuitive. But as we are shaped through the disciplines, we become free from such things as fear and self-interest. “God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace,” writes Foster.
Practices for every Christian
He contends that hese classic spiritual disciplines are not for ‘spiritual giants’ but for everyone, including beginners. To live simply in an age of excess, to take time out to be alone with God, to submit to God’s leading, and to serve others sacrificially, are countercultural acts of faith.
A challenging road
The word “discipline” is of course rooted by the word “disciple”. Discipleship requires intentionality, sacrifice, constancy, integrity, and perseverance. To learn a discipline requires decisiveness.
It doesn’t just fall into place. I can’t expect to play a piece of music by watching a concert pianist perform the piece. If my desire is to play an instrument well, I must first set a specific goal.
Yearning vs Earning
Lastly, by way of introdction, engaging in these spiritual disciplines is not to gain God’s love or approval He already loves us unconditionally. We experience this very personally. He intentionally sacrificed His life for mine, committed Himself to me and perseveres in wooing me ever closer as His disciple. He desires to have a deep, loving relationship with me. Our pursuit of a deeper spiritual life is one of yearning for more of God.
We begin our series with Meditation.
Many Christians question the term ‘meditation’, equating it with Eastern religions that attempt to empty the mind for enlightenment.
Christ-centred meditation “has nothing to do with emptying our minds,” writes Joyce Huggett, internationally known speaker and writer on prayer.
“Christian meditation engages every part of us – our mind, our emotions, our imagination, our creativity and, supremely, our will.”
While both Eastern and Christian forms of meditation seek – at least for a time – detachment from the world, meditation for the Christian is rooted in the reality of day-to-day substance and listening for God’s voice. Obedience to His voice is the desired outcomesof reflecting on scripture. Time spent in such meditation informs the mind, heart, spirit and will.
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster observes: “It is wonderful when a particular meditation leads to ecstasy, but it is far more common to be given guidance in dealing with ordinary human problems. Meditation sends us into our ordinary world with greater perspective and balance.”
Meditation on God’s Word is a prevalent theme in the scriptures, particularly in the Psalms: I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways (Psalm 119:15). This is not about taking large sections of text and studying it intellectually; rather, it suggests taking a small portion of scripture and repeating it over and over, allowing it to sink deeply into the spirit, being attentive to God’s voice.
Spiritual Director and Coach Martin Contant didn’t grow up in a tradition that taught the discipline of meditation. In his own faith walk, it was learning to come apart and be still before God.
“A lot of our praying is talking too much,” he says. One of the ways that has worked for him is “sitting in the Word, letting it marinate my soul,” involving the four R’s: read, reflect, respond, rest.
Postures and surroundings may vary, but the main theme is being quietly attentive to the Holy Spirit.
Another way to meditate is to imagine ourselves in the text – in a parable or a story in which Christ encounters someone.
Take the story of the blind man’s healing. We can at different times put ourselves in the shoes of the blind man, his parents, or the Pharisees. “That creative reading of scripture, personalizing it, if you will, can be very powerful,” Contant explains. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged using all the senses in this task – feeling the sunshine, tasting the salt air, hearing the temple crowds – placing ourselves in the story.
“If you avoid unnecessary talk and aimless visits, listening to news and gossip, you will find plenty of time to spend in meditation of holy things”. (Thomas a Kempis)
Probably the most common roadblock to meditation is busyness. Today, we might add a few other time wasters to Kempis’ admonition. We might, even for a time, say ‘no’ to habits that sap our time and energy, keeping us from the very thing we desire.
Contant points out that even our daily devotional time – good habit that it is – can be misguided. He reminds us of Jesus’ admonition of the Pharisees in John 5:39 – “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”.
This might be “an indictment to some of our spiritual practices which are sometimes more about checking off the box than coming deeply and humbly into the presence of God.”
Steps of Lectio Divina:
Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God.
Read a short passage of Scripture, noting a word or phrase that stands out for you. Read it again slowly, perhaps aloud.
Reflect on a word or phrase that resonated with you. Let it sit with you. Listen with your heart; try journaling. Bring your thoughts, questions, resistance, joy, to God. Internalize the text.
What is God prompting you to do with this word? Confess? Celebrate? Give thanks? Take action? Pray your response to God.
Rest silently in God’s presence, leaning into Him. Enjoy His company.
For more on this topic, join Marion Van Driel on her blog as she journey’s through the spiritual disciplines.