Spiritual Practice

Have there been times of the day or settings that have drawn you to be more focused and centered? How does that relate to spiritual practice?

Another day begins. After pouring a cup of coffee, making my way to a familiar spot in my home, and lighting a candle near an icon, I begin my ritual of prayer and meditation. Later in the day, I return for another period of meditation, something I’ve done for most of my life.

Why? What’s the point of all this contemplative practice? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial if I took the nearly hour each day I spend on spiritual practice and do something more “productive”?

Spiritual practice, like most skills in life, requires regular, disciplined practice. If someone wants to become good at playing a musical instrument, exceling in sports, or proficient at cooking a new cuisine, then practice is a must. Few things in life come so naturally that we master them with no effort. We know the mechanics of eating, but it takes practice to learn to identify the subtleties in flavor and texture that are part of truly enjoying wonderful food and beverages.

In meditation, prayer, and other spiritual exercises, what is it then that one is practicing?

First, spiritual exercises enable us to enlarge our hearts. Left unchecked, we tend to become self-centered and preoccupied with our own needs. By creating inner stillness, we learn to turn off the impulses that drive us to want, and sometimes demand things, that do not fulfill us.

Second, spiritual exercises enable us to live in ways that are better for ourselves, others, and the world. Over time, we become better able to maintain a sense of inner quiet and contentment. This enables us to be more compassionate with ourselves and our own limitations, as well as interacting more compassionately with others.

Third, spiritual practice reveals deeper dimensions of ourselves. We discover the false illusions, the hurt and pain from past experiences, and all that is preventing us from living with a sense of inner balance. As a Christian, I believe that this process enables me to better reflect and become the image of the Divine that is at the heart of who I am.

Spiritual exercises are essentially practices in how to be open to living in a graceful way. Spiritual practice inspires us to live with compassion. Spiritual practice creates a greater sense of healing and wholeness in the midst of a troubled world (and often troubled lives). Spiritual practice makes us better human beings. For me, becoming a better person is absolutely worth making the time for regular spiritual practice!

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What does it mean for you to become a better person? How can regular spiritual practice be part of your growth as an individual?

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Praying with Icons

Many people draw inspiration for their lives from art. What are some of the images which have inspired you?

Among the ancient Christian spiritual practices is to sit in silent meditation, while gazing on a stylized artistic image known as an icon. Still prevalent in Eastern Christianity today, icons are meant to convey something of the sacred and the eternal. These images, usually of the Christ, Mary, or saints, are meant to draw a person toward the mystical dimension of life.

Icons convey a foundational theological understanding that’s quite different from that of statues or other images. The ancient Hebrew Biblical text, the Book of Genesis, describes human beings as being made in the image and likeness of God. Icons convey something of that image of God, and as such, they are understood to be sacred. When a person gazes on the image of an icon in a meditative way, it is as though the image of God in the art is brought into communion with the Divine image within the person. In this way, the icon draws us to greater union with the Divine.

While I have a fondness for these traditional images, I wonder as people today, if a new type of icon may be more appropriate for our spiritual journeys and growth?

The spiritual journey in our era is evolving. Western spirituality in recent centuries has been preoccupied with the individual and an almost exclusive insistence on personal salvation. This approach is woefully inadequate to address the tremendous challenges that face humanity today, such as climate change, massive patterns of extinction and genocide, and the massive migration of refugees. It is time to envision the Holy One in new and different ways. The Hebrew Scriptures present the entire cosmos is a reflection of the Divine. The creative energy of the Divine animates the cosmos, just as it animates us and life around us. By meditating before icons of cosmology, we can gain a new sense of the wonder and awe of life and find ways to live more fully and more deeply than we have before.

In the prayer room of my home in the 1980’s, there was hanging above the altar, a framed copy of the famous picture of Earth, taken during an early space mission. Clouds swirl over the ocean, the water is deep blue, and the continent of Africa conveys hues of brown. Toward the bottom is the white mass of the frozen Antarctic. This intensity of color is framed by the blackness of space surrounding it.

I remember sitting with this image and being drawn to consider the sacredness of the Earth. There were no borders or distinctions among people. Instead, Earth maintained a quiet calm of blue and white, all in balance, sustaining life for all its inhabitants. Is it not time to expand our religious art and consider the Divine Image as reflected in this broad expanse of our universe?

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Take a moment to sit with the image of space posted with this blog. Consider how it inspires you to understand the presence of the Holy One in a new way.

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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A Mid-Day Pause

Is there something that’s part of your day, a small routine or ritual, that helps you to be more centered and focused?

We often think of spiritual practice in terms of meditation, prayer, walking a labyrinth, or other activities that have an obvious foundation in a spiritual tradition.  But spiritual practices are not limited to these kinds of activities.

For many years, my mother took about a half hour of quiet in the morning while sipping a cup of coffee.  She referred to is as “her time.”  When she took “her time,” no one was to interrupt her.  She also sat gazing at a particular tree in the back yard.  This was a time of centering and focus which nourished her spirit.

Over the last few months, I’ve incorporated a new spiritual practice in my day.  I consider it my mid-day pause.  It only takes about five minutes.  Yet, its a few minutes that helps me  to be centered and focused rather than caught in the stresses of my work.  My mid-day pause is built around a pod-cast.

Each morning I receive an email and link for The Writer’s Almanac hosted by Garrison Keillor.  It’s published by American Public Media.  While there is a text version of the Almanac, I click to listen.  Typically, I sit in a chair away from my desk, take a few deep breaths, then play that day’s edition on my Smartphone. I listen attentively as Keillor shares stories of famous writers born on that day.  Often, what he shares are aspects of their ordinary life.  The stories are followed by a poem for the day.

Generally, I don’t know much about the authors of whom Keillor speaks and the poems are usually new to me.  I rarely remember any of the specific details  he’s shared for more than a few minutes.  But each day, I’m given a gentle reminder of writers who engaged in daily life, often unaware that they or their words would be remembered, but chose instead to be faithful to their craft.  Through the poem, I’m able to enter for a moment another person’s world and experience some sort of connection to a feeling or image conveyed in the poem.  Some days, I’m left with something from the poem that nourishes me: an image, a metaphor, an experience.  What does occur for me each day is that I have taken a mid-day pause, stepped back from work, and re-collected myself.  The Writer’s Almanac invites me to a deeper stillness and a patient gentleness which makes my work somehow lighter and more fulfilling.

While The Writer’s Almanac isn’t meant to be a spiritual practice, listening each day has become one for me.  In the routine of daily activities, I step away for a few minutes, focus on poetic images, and am refreshed.

Consider ways that you can incorporate a mid-day pause to help keep you more centered and rooted in the spiritual dimension of life rather than caught in the business of the day.

 

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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