As I promised last week, the “Christian Living” posts are going to be about spiritual disciplines as we make moves to be closer to God in the New Year. You can type “list of spiritual disciplines” into your favorite search engine, and everywhere you look will have a different list; some are the same, some are different. The opinion that I keep is that a spiritual discipline is an action we do to become more like Christ, that we need God’s help to accomplish. They may start out easy, but like any type of discipline, they will become harder as you mature in their practice. This week we will look at a couple disciplines that probably appear on most (if not all) lists that I have seen: prayer and meditation.
“Please bless this food to strengthen and nourish our bodies. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.” Chances are high that if you have spent any time around the Church in the United States, you have experienced something like this said before meals. Some may even consider this to be their sole expression of prayer. However, when I talk about prayer I am meaning something quite different for merely thanking God for the food I am about to consume. Prayer is an interactive conversation with God about what we and God are thinking and doing together. Prayer is a space where you are open with God about what is on your mind and are open to His response. There are a myriad of examples within the Bible of what prayer can be: Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4, John 17, the book of Psalms (yes, the entire book), Daniel 9:7-19, Jonah 2, and Exodus 32:11-14 just to name a few.
We pray because Jesus prayed. Prayer is us opening up to what God wants for us. Prayer is where we take our closed fists and open them up to receive from God. Prayer reorients our minds away from us, and towards what God is doing. Prayer is the place that we get to recognize what God is doing through the Spirit in the world, and where we get to join in with Him.
“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
— Karl Barth
But what about prayer by rote? I have often heard people complain that they can’t pray because they do not know what to pray. For centuries people have been using the Lord’s Prayer, books of common prayer, liturgies, and the like in order to practice prayer. This might even be a good place for you to start if you are not in the practice of prayer. The benefit of these rote prayers is that it gets you out of your own head and focused on God, which is what this entire practice is supposed to be about. Some people worry that rote prayers are not the same as prayers you come up with because they are not your words. However, sometimes these prayers are so much more meaningful because your spirit gets to engage in a way it otherwise wouldn’t because it is not worrying about what to pray. Feeling grief and having a hard time expressing it? There’s a prayer for that. Need some guidance but don’t know how to ask for it? There’s a prayer for that as well. Chances are high that once you have finished searching for spiritual disciplines, you could do the same for prayers and find what you need to connect to God. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using rote prayers in your practice. Start out this way, and over time, maybe you can leave behind someone else’s words and begin to use your own.
“It is of great importance, when you begin the practice of prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.”
— Teresa of Avila
When searching for meditation, my favorite search engine said “[Meditation is to] think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” With the current popularity of the mindfulness meditation style, you may be familiar or have even practiced some meditation. However, mediation from the Christian perspective is different from other kinds. The popular methods of meditation are all about seeking to take control of your mind or to better understand your states of being. For the Christian perspective, meditation is seeking to understand more of God and our relationship with Him. In my experience, meditation is how we can have an experience of God. If prayer is where we communicate with Him, meditation is where we connect with Him. Julian of Norwich in writing about meditation said that the Lords will lead us into a deepness of the “same love with which he made us, and in the same love with which he bought us, by mercy and grace, through the virtue of the blessed passion.” Meditation is how we can experience what it means to be loved by God. Meditation is where the Christian can let go of any type of intellectual or rational understanding of God and allow the Spirit to speak to them directly.
I know that speaking of anything spiritual can be a bit scary, especially in a world that values the material and empirically knowable. I now that I was weary when I first was introduced to study spiritual disciplines. But I encourage you to give either of these a try. When I first started a practice of prayer, I opened my Bible to Psalm 1 and I prayed a psalm everyday for 150 days. If mediation is more attractive to you, start small. Try for 5 minutes. Believe me, if you are not in the practice of meditation, 5 minutes will feel like an eternity. Whatever discipline you seek to add this year, keep it up. If it gets too hard, then you know it is working. Do not let the world keep you from becoming more like Christ.
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
— Romans 8:26, NASB