Our lives are often marked by hurry and noise, and we can quickly become out of touch with ourselves and God’s presence in our lives. Spiritual practices help us re-orient ourselves to what matters most in our lives. Spiritual practices are anything that help us slow down and make space for God in our lives. They serve as places where we encounter and are transformed by God. Ruth Haley Barton writes that spiritual practices are how we create conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place by keeping us open and available to God.
Engaging in spiritual practices can look different for each of us and you ultimately need to find what works for you, but here are a few guidelines and couple really easy practices you may want to try.
Guidelines for Spiritual Practices:
- Don’t make it a task! Find something that doesn’t feel like a task, but instead brings rest and peace to your life.
- Minimize technology. Technology is a gift in many ways, but it is also a massive distraction. Find ways to minimize or eliminate technology when you engage in your spiritual practice.
- Do it regularly. While we want to avoid making our spiritual practice one more thing we mark off of our to-do list, we do want to do it on a regular basis. We may not notice anything immediately, but in the long run, taking intentional and regularly scheduled time to slow down and make space will pay off.
- Make it realistic. It is easy to feel like we are not “doing enough” when it comes to spiritual practices. The reality is most of us struggle with spiritual practices because we are not realistic and set the bar too high. We do something for a few days or weeks, but get burnt out. If you are in the middle of a stressful semester or are a parent with young children it may not be feasible to get up and pray for an hour everyday before sunrise. Make your practices small, attainable, and something that you can realistically do on a regular basis in the season you’re currently in.
You may already have some practices you do on a regular basis or know of some that you want to do. However, if you’re just starting with spiritual practices or want to do something new below are a couple of really simple practices that you can do in just 5-10 minutes each day.
Sacred Reading (sometimes called Lectio Divina)
- Select a short passage of scripture (just a verse or two, typically from the Psalms or one of the Gospels)
- Read – Read through the passage slowly. You may find it helpful to read silently or aloud. As you read, pay attention to a word or phrase that stands to you. If no word or phrase stands out, then simply choose one. It’s okay if nothing stands out.
- Reflect – After identifying a word or phrase, read through the passage again. Notice how focusing on this word changes how you read the passage. Take a moment after reading through the passage a second time to reflect on the word or phrase and how it connects to your life.
- Respond – Read the passage again, paying attention to your natural and deepest response to God. Without judging, bring whatever thoughts and feelings you have to God. Don’t try to filter or edit your response, but let it flow naturally.
- Rest – Read through the passage one final time. Simply rest in silence and God’s presence. Be still and listen.
Breath prayer is an ancient Christian practice that helps to incorporate words or phrases of prayer into your life throughout the day. Usually these prayers are said silently, but can also be said aloud or sung. Begin with 5 minutes of breath prayer and gradually increase the amount of time you spend in prayer.
- Close your eyes and recall the line “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Be still, calm, peaceful, open to the presence of God.
- With your eyes closed, imagine that God is calling you by name. Imagine that God is actually asking, “(Your name) what do you want?”
- Give God a simple and direct answer that comes honestly from your heart. Write down the answer. Your answer may be one word such as peace or love or help. It may be several words or a phrase such as “feel your presence” or “lead me into life.”
- Select the name that you are most comfortable using to speak with God. Combine it with your written answer to the question God asked you. This is your prayer.
- Breathe in the first phrase/word (generally your invocation of God’s name) and breathe out the second phrase/word (request or need).
You may need to “try on” several prayers before you find one which truly fits who you are and your desires for God’s work in your life. It may be the same from day to day or it may change. However you use it, the breath prayer is a great way to be reminded of God’s presence with you at all times.
In teaching his disciples about the Sabbath Jesus said, “Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath”. The same can be said of spiritual practices as a whole. They are tools given to us by God to help us become the people God created us to be. While we want to engage in practices with some sense of discipline, they are meant to bring freedom and joy in our lives, deepening our connection with God, self, and others. So as you engage in practices and find out what works for you, we pray that your experience is marked by grace and freedom as you allow these practices to make space for you rest in God’s unconditional love.