We all engage in spiritual practice. If you don’t define yourself as a spiritual person, then your practice is probably infrequent or defined another way. Some abandon spiritual practice because it appears ineffective when they don’t get what they want. In spiritual practice, the goal is God, but some people are more comfortable aiming for Truth, Peace, Bliss, Clarity, Perspective or Transcendence. All synonyms.
As a child, wonder and awe were my practice. I didn’t grow up in a religious home so my inner reality was all there was to guide me. Wanting more but lacking skill, I sought out religion to close the gap, much to the surprise of my family.
During young adulthood, my practice was landed in the Pentecostal experience. Here, God is an experience of the heart that inhabits the praises of his people. My practice was to shed off distractions of time, circumstance, and enter an unseen reality of total possibility. It’s a faith that believes “All things are Possible” (Matt 19:26), where God is a gift giver and my practice was to always be asking.
As a young pastor I discovered churches don’t always embrace a possibility mindset. So after three firings and a divorce I was pretty pissed at God for leading me to what I thought were dead ends. My practice pivoted away from my heart which was now broken. My love of scripture anchored me as I retreated into my “Head.” I discovered the Reformed tradition and gained the practice of relearning everything all over again.
My head based practice was not without experience, but experience was secondary to knowledge of the Truth. Biblical study was a perfect fit for my high-drive, type-A, theologically constructed reality. I reentered church ministry with the goal of redeeming the city by arguing deficient worldviews for Jesus. I relearned the original languages of scripture, obtained my PhD, and gained a chapter and verse command of scripture that fed a lock-tight theological grid. My practice was massive output, which created an impenetrable cage of protection and empowerment.
My problem was the city wasn’t listening. Only the zealous find God by winding life so tight. I had no love for anything but my spin on the bible. My wife nicknamed me the cold hearted bastard, the Apostle Paul called me a zero (1 Cor 13:2) and quite a few called me an asshole. I thought the gospel was theological grid that required my constant defense. My practice morphed into duty, obligation, specificity, doctrinal precision, and obedience.
The Gospel did not feel like good news to me. It was work. Something was wrong.
My mission became correcting everyone’s deficiencies. I understood this as my “apologia” or defense of the faith (1 Peter 3:15). The tighter my sphincter became, the more my inner experience cried for freedom. It was my love of scripture, not its abandonment, that freed me from the gravitational pull of fundamentalism. It was in its discovery that I discovered my self. Love required me to let go of low-level motivators like duty, obligation and status. With them went the approval and validation of the tribe.
I had to recapture that inner experience that was there from the beginning. With the humility of my inner little boy, scripture opened through a contemplative view.
I’m now back to wonder and awe. I used to place so much value on the practice itself, as if it defined me. Now I understand that our practice is only a transport system. The farther we perceive God from our inner experience, the more elaborate the system becomes. When we lose our bearings of inner experience, we quickly adopt religious behavior because judging externals makes us feel better by comparisons.
True spirituality is transformation from the inside out and behavior is the byproduct of inner experience. Religion controls the outside and pits us against the honest but immature aspects of our self. Behavior modification is not transformation.
There is no single practice that fits all people. Our proximity to God is directly related to our proximity to the present moment. Any practice that grounds us in the present (Presence) is our delivery system of choice. Some systems are better than others and religion sells them (prayer, meditation, study of sacred text, service to others, walking, conversation, etc…) Don’t let anyone invalidate what is between you and your maker (Romans 14:22).
Whatever your practice is, practice it. Be intentional. Let the inspiration that bubbles to the surface in our sacred space set our agendas. Keep doing this. As we are pulled by the gravity of the past or the future, remember that salvation is that which redirects our course.
Below is a spiritual practice menu.
Prayer, meditation, reading or study of scripture, singing, chanting, yoga, walking, hiking, being outside, drawing, painting, sculpting, building, creating, song, dance, expression, solitude, conversation, journaling, writing, poetry, physical activity, stillness, fasting, engage with animals, eating, drinking, living your life (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I encourage you to find one that resonates and really give yourself to it. Then look again at your city. It’s far more spiritual that you thought.