Cultivating Spiritual Practices

I was delighted to lead two seminars at this year’s Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Winnipeg. Cultivating Spiritual Practices was the title suggested to me by Assembly organizers, but the sessions might just as well have been called Deepening Your Walk with God, or Growing Your Relationship with Jesus, or Developing Spiritual Discipline.

In the description of the “Wild Hope” Assembly theme, I read how recent social and cultural changes mean that “There is disorientation for God’s church.” How do we re-orient ourselves in the midst of great change? I believe that cultivating spiritual practices — deepening our walk with God, attending to the life of the Spirit, or whatever term we might use — can be part of that re-orientation.

How can we cultivate spiritual practices? Below is my outline of this seminar.

1. Take Time

For some this might mean praying first thing in the morning even before breakfast. For one couple, it means reading Rejoice! at breakfast with each other and with any overnight guests invited to join them. I love taking time to journal, often at the end of the day or any time.

As I describe in Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal, it’s also become important for me to take sacred pauses throughout the day. A sacred pause might mean taking a moment to offer a prayer before jumping out of the car for my next appointment. It might be a classic practice like lectio divina, or packing up unused household items to simplify my life. Such sacred pauses can be ways of taking time for God.

As the 14th century The Cloud of Unknowing says,

It only takes a scrap of time to turn toward God.

2. Pay Attention

A sacred pause can be a moment, or half an hour, or a whole weekend like Pause: a weekend away.

Whatever scraps of time we might have, what sacred pauses have in common is paying attention — to God and to our own lives.

One of the classic disciplines of paying attention is the examen of consciousness first taught by Ignatius of Loyola. Here is one version that we practiced together in this seminar:

In a time of great change, Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

[silent reflection]

As you look back over the past week, when have you taken time to turn toward God? Was it just a tiny scrap of time, or more? Give thanks for that time as a blessing and gift from God.

[silent reflection]

When in the last week have you sailed or struggled through life without turning toward God, and without even thinking of God’s presence with you? What were the barriers that kept you from turning toward God? Confess and release those barriers to God.

[silent reflection]

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
. . . .
Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our refuge.” – Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11

[silent reflection]

3. Practice

We cultivate spiritual practices by repeating them. As keynote speaker Betty Pries said, the point is not to do these perfectly — even those who are well-practiced tend to speak of themselves as “seasoned beginners.”

4. Be patient

Spiritual practices might not always “work” the way we expect them to. At times we may feel as if our prayers aren’t going anywhere, or that God has nothing to say to us in lectio divina. When that happens, it’s okay simply to let that go, and to try again some other time.

5. Allow God to work and to surprise you

Words like “practice” and “discipline” might give the impression that spiritual life and growth depend on our effort. But it’s God who is at work in us and who grows us, who may speak to us in a dream or some other surprising way.

6. Share your experience

Many spiritual practices are shared practices — corporate worship, corporate prayer, corporate confession, hospitality, service. At the completion of our examen, seminar participants were invited to share their experience with a partner and with the group as whole.

7. Ask questions/explore/experiment

What else would you add to this list?  How do you cultivate spiritual practices?


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6 thoughts on “Cultivating Spiritual Practices

  1. Thank you for posting a glimpse of your seminar here. I wasn’t able to take it in at Assembly, but during the pause that follows Assembly for me, I was able to sit with it and drink it in. You are a blessing.

    1. Thanks, Elsie, there were so many good things happening at the same time, and I know that you were leading a seminar too, so the Assembly was full! This post is a skeleton outline that I used for both seminar sessions, without the stories and sharing that made each session unique and more personal, but at least it gives you an idea of the content, and might serve as a reminder for those who were there. Thanks for blessing me with your comment!

  2. One sacred pause I’d like to practice I learned from an old Choice Radio spot which some EMU students turned into a video….the gist is “For the blessings we are about to receive and consume in this car, make us truly grateful.” The minutes spent filling a car can become an act of gratitude instead of impatience for a job that always takes too long when you’re in a hurry, and resentment for the price. Do we use the earth’s resources with reverence? It can also be an opportunity to thank God for safety and reflect on your driving habits and continued guidance for safe driving for you and all other drivers on the road.

    1. oh Melodie, I love this! What a wonderful way of turning a chore or a “mindless” routine into a mindful practice. I’m going to remember that the next time I stop to re-fuel.

        1. I’m glad I found it too! I’m no longer moderating every comment before posting so comments appear more quickly, but I’m still establishing a new rhythm for responding. Thanks for your patience.

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