Engaging the Spirit
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew
their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and
not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
Regularly engaging in spiritual practices more firmly
roots our thoughts and actions in God’s strength and truth. We gain insights
and are aided in discernment. We become clearer about the way forward. We grow
stronger physically, emotionally, and spiritually, able to carry on even when
the powers and principalities are aligned against us. Many of practices are
rooted in ancient traditions but they provide the same spiritual foundation today
as when they were first practiced. The practices are a way for our wise and
loving God to give us the guidance, strength, and compassion we need to live
lives as people of faith.
This ancient practice has been “rediscovered” in the last
20 to 30 years. Using centering prayer can help us deepen our relationship with
God. Put simply, centering prayer is silent prayer that prepares an individual
to experience God’s presence from within. It also invites that presence and
facilitates our movement toward it.
Contemplative Outreach offers additional
information and resources. More information can be found in the many books
written by Thomas Keating and others. Some suggested titles are listed at the
end of this section.
Fasting is another ancient practice that can be
beneficial today. Traditionally, fasting meant abstinence from food. But today,
in a world where we hunger and burn with desire for many things such as the
latest electronic gadgets, clothes, big houses, and fancy cars as well as food,
we can benefit from many different kinds of fast. Fasting helps us sort out our
needs and desires, and puts our abundance in perspective.
Fasting allows us to develop a greater appreciation for
what we have and feel greater compassion for those who have less than we
do. Doing something that is hard, that
stretches us, means moving beyond our will power. To remain steadfast requires
us to rely on God, to seek God’s strength and power. The mystics also tell us
that as we empty ourselves of things and desires, we create more space for God
to enter, allowing God to shine forth from within us bringing love and justice,
peace and comfort.
In her book Soul
Feast, Marjorie Thompson writes, “Completing a fast I have set for myself
is not always easy. I may need to call on God’s help to accomplish my goal. But
by engaging in a regular practice of fasting, “things” begin to lose their hold
over me. I see more clearly both my own abundance and other’s lack of
abundance. I more clearly can distinguish my needs from wants, and may become a
better steward of my money, time, and talents.
Besides fasting from food (or certain kinds of food) or
other material goods, we might also fast from shopping, watching TV, using
social media or a cell phone, using the car, or from anything that we think has
us too much in its grasp. Anyone who decides to fast from food must take care
that the fast will not endanger their health in any way. Never fast from water
For many Christians, the Ten Commandments are our most
fundamental ethical guidelines. “You shall not steal.” “You shall not
murder.” It doesn’t get more basic than
that. “Honor your father and mother.” Yes.
But “observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy”?
What? Is this just a reminder that we
are supposed to go to church on Sunday? The commandment does not say to go to
church, to worship God with your friends and neighbors once a week. It says to
keep a day holy. Why is this so important as to be one of the big 10?
The Sabbath is a day to put God first in our lives, a day
to abstain from our usual hectic pace. It is it a day to turn aside from all
the things that distract us, that seek our attention and tell us that they are
the most important things in our lives.
Our answers to the following questions may help clarify
the importance of Sabbath in our lives:
- What am I called to
do on the Sabbath?
- In my life, how can
I act in ways that put God first?
- On this very
important day, how should I use my time in a way that puts God first?
Spiritual retreats are journeys in faith that deepen our
spirituality and can lead us to transformational living. Whether the retreat is designed for an
individual or a group, it can profoundly inspire and renew. A retreat can be a time of discernment,
guiding a participant in his or her calling as a faithful disciple. Retreats can provide a source for the energy
to transform the life of a congregation, an individual, or the world.
A retreat can be a structured for a group and follow an
agenda or can be totally unstructured with space for individuals or groups to
follow where the Spirit leads. Many online sites list retreat opportunities and
Chittister, Joan, The
Rule of Benedict, Crossroads Publishing Co, 2004.
Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative
Dimension of the Gospel, Continuum Publishing Co., 2005 (20th
Intimacy with God: An Introduction to
Contemplative Prayer, Crossroads Publishing Co., 2009.
Keating, Thomas, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian
Contemplation, Continuum Publishing Co., 1994.
Muller, Wayne, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight
in Our Busy Lives, Bantam Books, 1999.
Marjorie J., Soul Feast: An Invitation to
the Christian Spiritual Life, Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.
Vennard, Jane, Praying with Body and Soul, Augsburg
Fortress Press, 1998.