Spiritual Practices: Walking, and Five Questions

Sometimes in these uncertain times, I find myself getting very anxious and overwhelmed.  The best remedy for me is to get out and walk, and let the sounds of nature as well as the silence speak to my soul.  I accept it as God’s love manifest in the moment. The act of taking each step, feeling the ground under my feet and the effort of my body seems to counteract the anxious feelings and the strange effects of both social media and social distancing.  This may be enough of a spiritual practice for you this week. 

            I also want to share with you Five Daily Questions that might be a better practice for you, especially if you cannot get outside or exert yourself physically.  These were written by my sister Carol Austin Janssen, who is trained as a life coach.  In these times, our most cherished values are coming to the fore, and these questions may help you live those values intentionally every day.  Even focusing on one of the questions is a good way to get started!

1. How do I choose to be today?

2. What am I thankful for?  To whom?

3. How can I have fun today?

4. Who needs prayer today?

5. What am I noticing right now? 

            I pray that you will be aware of the presence of God as you go through each day, my dear readers.  Know that God loves you deeply and eternally.  –Deb

Spiritual Practice: The Jesus Prayer

While we all follow recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many of us will miss meeting together for worship.  Yet there are other ways to feel close to God.  As a spiritual director and pastor, I am posting a spiritual practice each week on this blog, to help everyone learn new ways to experience God’s presence.

A good one to start with is called the Jesus Prayer.  It is one of the most famous prayers in the history of the Christian faith.  It appears in the gospel story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:19). 

The power of this practice comes through repetition.  Our logical minds are puzzled by its use.  How can just repeating the same words over and over have any effect?  It helps to let go of an expected outcome or reasoning, and simply let the practice open your awareness and your self to God. 

HOW TO DO IT:  Decide how long you want to spend in this prayer.  Choose the version that suits you best:         

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

               “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

               “Jesus, have mercy.”

               “Christ, have mercy.”

               You can do it in a seated position or while walking around.  Breathe in a relaxed manner.  Repeat the prayer silently for the period of time you have chosen.  If there are distractions, simply note them and return to the prayer.

               When you have finished, reflect on the experience.  You may wish to write about your experience in a journal.  Did you notice anything shift within you?  What was your experience of God or Christ during the practice?  Say a short prayer of gratitude to conclude the practice.

I am grateful to Marjorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast, for the guidelines for this prayer.

Finding and Being Sabbath

Photo by Ashleyne Seitz

STOP. 

Most of the time that only means “pause.”  Just long enough to look for traffic, to take a photo, to take a pill. 

But sometimes we know enough to quit what we are doing and pay attention to what matters: a child who needs a bedtime story, a friend who needs a listening ear, a neighbor who needs a helping hand.  We know enough to be compassionate toward one another.

Seldom do we show such compassion for ourselves. 

Eight years ago I was at the brink of physical and emotional exhaustion, mostly from the demands of pastoral ministry.  I sought help in a two-week program of retreat and therapy.  But one of the measures I took was not dictated by a therapist.  I was listening to my true self, my inner spirit.  For months I had the nagging feeling that I needed to spend time daily in quiet, praying and doing other spiritual practices, listening to God and paying attention to my own emotional health. 

So one day I just set the alarm an hour earlier, and the habit has stuck.  It required a change in lifestyle, but it has been worth it.  I could not have done this when my children were young, so I know this is a luxury, and I don’t take it for granted. 

At the same time I was learning about Sabbath from Marva Dawn and Kirk Byron Jones.  The concept of having enough and being enough without having to work hard seven days a week was a new and deeply healing perspective.  Gradually it helped me regard the use of my time, my money, and my energy as a matter of stewardship that went beyond duty.  I could enjoy eating enough but not having to consume unhealthy amounts.  I could buy clothing that is fairly made.  I could take time off just to enjoy life and all its wonders.  Gratitude became a daily habit, and a framework for ministry, my relationships, and my experience of life itself.

Sometimes we are forced to stop, though.  The Corona Virus is just beginning to wield a fierce impact on life in the US.  I am staying home for at least two weeks to avoid contributing to the contagion. 

I know I am one of the lucky people who is not devastated by the financial impact of being off work.  I don’t have to figure out how to arrange for childcare or health care (yet).  But maybe that gives me a perspective to share with everyone who is truly stressed and can’t afford to step back and look at this dispassionately.

In the past I have endured such times, stricken by back pain or hobbled by finances.  It’s hard to think of “stopping to smell the roses” when you are anxious.  But I ask you to try.

Because the sun is still rising with gorgeous colors.  Spring is coming.  Friends are still friends who love you.  God is with you, and there are signs of it in the ways people are trying to help you meet this crisis. 

This is an opportunity, once we have settled into the reality of today, to look at our lives and take stock.  Maria Shriver deems this a “collective moment” when we can push the reset button in the best of ways.  “I believe this unique moment in history is going to reset our lives in every way. I think it’s going to make all of us think about who, and what, we really need in our lives. It’s going to change the conversation from “wanting” to “needing.” Do we really need to shop the way we do? Spend money the way we do? Work the way we do? Rush around the way we do? Live the way we do? Do we spend our time the way we should with the people we love most? What, at the end of the day, is enough for you? For me? For us?”

As I drove home yesterday from the last worship service I’ll be leading for a while, I spotted a couple of swans in a field.  They have been hanging out on this temporary pond for a couple of weeks now.  I stopped my car, and they craned their necks to check me out.  They settled down once they sensed I was no threat.  They were oblivious to the national news, just being swans, beautiful creatures, beloved for their graceful shape, cherished by their Creator.

And so we, too, can STOP and be just who we are.  Human.  Suffering, questioning, confused.  Compassionate, loving, helpful.  Noticing those things that are beautiful, lamenting the pain of these trying times and our personal crises.  Putting aside our differences and caring for one another, and ourselves. 

Brother Richard Hendrick in his poem “Lockdown” is remarking how people are rediscovering their connections: 

They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

The sky is no longer thick with fumes

But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

People are singing to each other

across the empty squares,

keeping their windows open

so that those who are alone

may hear the sounds of family around them.

We are at our best when we remember what it is to be human together.  At such times we can interrupt our usual routines and anxious thoughts in order to act as author Wayne Muller observes (except for the necessity of being “gathered” in creative ways):

“At our best, we become Sabbath for one another.  We are the emptiness, the day of rest.  We become space, that our loved ones, the lost and sorrowful, may find rest in us.  Whenever two or more are gathered, there am I in the midst of you–not fixing, not harming, not acting.  Quietly empty, we become Sabbath, where the sorrows of the world are safely poured and gently dissolve into the unfathomable immensity of rest, and silence.”