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 locations:
Chittister, Joan, The Rule of Benedict, Crossroads Publishing Co, 2004.
Keating, Thomas, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, Continuum Publishing Co., 2005 (20th anniversary edition).
Keating, Thomas, 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.
Thompson, 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.