Category Archives: Spiritual Practices
How do we define what physical experiences are also spiritual experiences? It depends on our perspective, motivation, orientation, and intention.
So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to doing everything there for the love of God, and with prayer upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy, during fifteen years that he had been employed there. (14)
Further, he talks about the denial of the flesh for the support of spiritual pursuit as having little positive effect in itself. Rather, it was his orientation toward God that had positive spiritual effect:
That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love; that he had well considered this, and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual exercise of love, and doing all things for His sake. (15)
Not everything that happens in our physical bodies has spiritual benefit– and likewise, not everything that we attempt in our minds has spiritual benefit. What makes our actions and efforts spiritual is not whether they take place in the physical or mental world but whether they are oriented toward God.
In this way, eating lunch can be spiritual — or not.
Reading scripture can be spiritual — or not.
Washing dishes can be spiritual — or not.
Going to church can be spiritual — or not.
Taking a walk can be spiritual — or not.
Praying can be spiritual — or not.
Having sex can be spiritual — or not.
Singing a hymn can be spiritual — or not.
Even farting can be spiritual — or not.
I don’t know about you, but I have had some of my most profound experiences of God while sitting on the toilet or lounging in the bathtub. It may not be the most “appropriate” setting for meeting the Creator, but our God is not as disturbed by our basic bodily functions as we might have been trained to expect.
When we engage our bodies and minds together in an orientation, a mindset, a focus toward opening ourselves to the counter-cultural and unexpected work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might just be surprised at the avenues God uses to reach us with words of grace, mercy, conviction, and kindness.
Just like Brother Lawrence, we can learn to experience God while we are performing our least preferred tasks — like washing dishes. God is ready and willing to meet us in whatever moment we are available and listening — whether we are sitting in the church pew or passing gas in the privacy of our boudoirs. There is no situation in which God is not capable of entering and showing us more of who God is and who we are because of God’s presence in our lives.
So next time you let one go, take the opportunity to let God speak into and through the basic, bodily experience of being alive in Christ.
You might be surprised what God can do with a little breaking wind!
Experienced mountaineers have a quiet, regular, short step — on the level it looks petty; but then this step they keep up, on and on as they ascend, whilst the inexperienced townsman hurries along, and soon has to stop, dead beat with the climb….Such an expert mountaineer, when the thick mists come, halts and camps out under some slight cover brought with him, quietly smoking his pipe, and moving on only when the mist has cleared away….You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ? Well, you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain stepplod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth. All demand for constant light, for ever the best — the best to your own feeling, all attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling. — Baron Friedrich von Hugel (as quoted in Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson, p. 109-10)
My husband and I just spent the day in Kings Canyon National Park. Because of my back pain and fatigue issues, this was our first real outside adventure since we moved to Santa Barbara (unless you count snowboarding near Las Vegas in January, during which I stood up a grand total of three times on the bunny slope and quit after the first hour). We want to go backpacking in August, so I need to start getting back into shape after spending the last few months mostly in, on, or near the bed.
All day today, I couldn’t get this quotation (above) out of my head. I am learning to use the “quiet, regular, short step” of the experienced mountaineer.
My husband is constantly reminding me to slow down, pace myself, and enjoy the surroundings, but my destination-oriented brain is solely focused on getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I want to be finished, to go back to the car feeling successful. I want to hurryupandgetthere!
I’m the same way in my spiritual life. I want the “fun stuff” of God’s revelation without putting in the time being quiet, being regular, and being well-paced.
But I’m easily distracted, rushed, irregular. I fill up my days with television and music and talking and all the loudness of life. And when I do set aside time to be still and quiet and experience the presence of God — I want to hurryupandgetthere, too!
But today, in Kings Canyon, we didn’t really have much of a destination at all. The park itself was our destination, and so I was able to enjoy being at the place we wanted to get to, wandering among the meandering paths — paved and unpaved.
For the first time, I was aware of more than just my feet plodding, rushing to the next shaded spot, the crux of the next hill. I was aware of more than just my labored breathing, my annoying allergies, my sciatic nerve.
For the first time, I was able to really look at the mountains and the trees, enjoy the grassy meadows and rivers, feel the mist on my face from the waterfall, notice the smell of pine and cedar on the breeze, look back at my husband and smile.
– Isn’t this great?
For the first time, I was able to appreciate the journey, pace myself appropriately, and experience the healing and renewal that come with just being outside among the sun and shade and surprising beauty.
There’s something about being outdoors that opens us up to natural revelation, to the friendly camaraderie of strangers enjoying a common activity, and to the slow and steady pace and rhythm of a lifelong pursuit of Jesus.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.
Yesterday my husband and I splurged on a couple of 60-minute massages at a Chinese foot clinic that just opened up in our town. We pointed out the type of massage we wanted, were led to two red chair/beds in the middle of the room, and settled in for some long-anticipated relaxation.
Since we both have trouble with our backs, we often bribe each other for massages at home, but nothing beats a well-trained, strong-fingered Chinese foot massage. The last time we had massages, we were still dating, so we were looking forward to the treat we had saved up for.
As I lay under the soft red towel while a quiet Chinese woman worked out my knots with her strong, gentle hands, I thought about my journey with touch over the past few years. I’ve learned to allow myself to be touched in a safe, healthy way. I’ve learned to accept hugs, and then to give them. I’ve learned to accept romantic touch. I have always been the one giving massages, but in the last few years I’ve learned to receive them as well–first, free ones from trusted friends, and then paid ones from trained professionals.
All along, God has been teaching me about the healing and restorative power of touch. We lay hands on one another when we pray. We hold our loved ones close. We comfort and celebrate each other with safe, healthy touch.
But for a long time I believed the lie that no touch was safe. I felt threatened anytime my 3-feet-of-personal-space was violated by anyone other than a family member.
We westerners are so much more physically isolated from one another. Single adults are especially lacking in safe, healthy (non-sexual) physical touch.
Through some beautiful moments, and some long-suffering friends, I have slowly begun to teach my body to receive touch in a positive way.
Yesterday, amidst the cheesy violin solos of My Heart Will Go On, Moon River, and Edelweiss, I closed my eyes, allowed my body to relax under the towel, and told myself to receive this nice woman’s touch in the way it was meant–to provide healing.
Each time I exhaled, I breathed out distrust, anxiety, and infirmity. Each time I inhaled, I breathed in the safety and healing of the Holy Spirit. Getting a massage became an exercise in believing the truth about touch and allowing the Spirit of God to work within me for my spiritual and physical benefit.
By the end of the hour, I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep.
As we paid our fee, tipped our massage therapists, and went off to get some dinner, I was reminded of my plan long ago to open a healing center one day that would include massage therapy along with soaking prayer, inner healing prayer, practical and biblical teaching, and music, dance, and other artistic expressions of worship. Maybe there would even be yoga or Pilates classes available.
What would it look like for a 24-hour House of Prayer to include massage therapy and body movement classes along with healing, teaching, and worship with music?
What better way of incorporating body theology into spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical healing and growth? What better expression of the holistic nature of body theology?
We are physical beings, and we relate best when our physicality is incorporated into our experience–of ourselves, of each other, and of God.
Next time you get a massage, or give someone a hug, or accept a high-five or fist-bump, recognize the moment as an opportunity to experience and express your body theology in action.
Give and receive touch as an expression of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our lives. That’s what we were made for.
This week we explored the spiritual practices of sleeping, eating, and exercising. Sometimes we can experience spiritual significance through these simple, daily activities. Other times, these activities in themselves can teach us about the value of maintaining spiritual practices as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
1) This weekend, identify one life-giving activity.
It could be a daily walk, making dinner, reading a Psalm every morning, taking the scenic route to work, or anything else natural or intentional.
2) Notice what about that activity makes it life-giving for you.
Is it a break from the hectic rush of your day? Is it an activity to share with someone you love? Does it give you renewed energy? Does it affect your mood?
3) Consider ways to apply what you enjoy about this activity to other parts of your daily life.
Should you share more activities with a loved one? Do you need more alone time? Would you prefer to increase the time spent in your life-giving activity? Do you need to plan ahead to create space for more of the same or similar activities?
4) Come back and share your experience here.
What life-giving activity did you choose?
I am not an exercise kind of person. I do not like going to the gym, walking on treadmills, lifting weights, or any other repetitive activity that takes place in a small, sweat-smelling room as a substitute for actual physical activity. Give me a bicycle, and I’ll take a ride around the neighborhood, but what exactly is the purpose of a stationary bike?
If I’m going to get any exercise, I need to work it naturally into my normal routine. Instead of finding the closest parking spot to the door, I’ll park in the back of the lot and walk a few extra steps. Instead of rolling my groceries out to my car in the cart, I’ll carry them out. Instead of taking the elevator, I’ll take the stairs–two at a time.
At least, that’s what I did until I hurt my back last year, discovered I have scoliosis, and began a regimen of medication, ice packs, and chiropractic visits to manage the pain. What I wasn’t very good about doing were my daily stretches and exercise-ball activities that my chiropractor recommended once the majority of the pain subsided.
I have the ball and the yoga mat, but they live under the stairs. I have the Pilates videos, but they live in the DVD drawer. I got out of the habit of exercising because of the pain, and I haven’t been able to get back into it.
My husband is forever encouraging me to go bike riding or hiking with him, but the pain in my back and leg win out over the benefit of exercise every time. I know the pain would lessen if I exercised more, but I’m stubborn. I find excuses to stay in bed and watch TV.
Here’s what I’ve learned by refusing to exercise:
- Exercise is a choice. No one is going to make me do it. It is for my benefit alone, and I am the only one missing out.
- Muscles atrophy with lack of use.
- Bad habits are hard to break.
- Excuses, rationales, and justifications are many and readily available.
- If I don’t make time for it, I won’t have time for it.
- Exercise is easier with a friend to keep you accountable (and company).
- I’m much more likely to take a walk on the beach in the evening to watch the sunset than I am to walk aimlessly around the block.
- Sometimes it’s worth paying for someone to train and guide me rather than trying to do it all on my own for free.
- If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t prepared for fun things like backpacking with the hubby or a day at the zoo.
Having a healthy body can go a long way toward adding to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. But exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits. It’s also a discipline we can learn and apply to our spiritual lives.
Some spiritual practices are easy and enjoyable. They fit with our personalities, natural giftedness, and interests. Other spiritual practices are hard work. That’s why they’re called disciplines.
Not every spiritual discipline is necessary for vibrant spiritual growth and maturity, but sometimes we can benefit from learning a little self-discipline. Who knows when that might come in handy?
How might your life benefit from a little more discipline?
It’s no secret that fasting is a spiritual discipline. Especially as Lent has just passed us by, we are more acutely aware of the relationship between denying the body and preparing the soul. But what about eating? How does indulging in the “desires of the flesh” promote spiritual pursuits?
I have never been a breakfast person. Perhaps it has something to do with being a night owl and an insomniac, but I just can’t seem to digest anything right after I wake up in the morning (or the afternoon). Say what you will about the “most important meal of the day,” but even the thought of consuming food in the morning is enough to turn my stomach.
In high school, I used to force myself to eat the lunch I brought with me every day because I was afraid I would be accused of having an eating disorder if I didn’t present at least an effort at eating. I developed a habit of eating as fast as possible in order to finish my lunch before my body had time to realize what was happening and complain.
In college, I actually passed out once after going more than 48 hours without food while studying for midterms. I had been so busy holed up in my room that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t visited the dining hall in two days.
I’m still not a good eater. I forget to eat all the time, and when I do remember, I am either too busy or too tired to eat well or even at all. But along with my Lenten fast from being awake, I have been making a concerted effort toward listening to my body to find out when it’s hungry. Here’s what I’ve been learning about the spiritual discipline of eating:
- Eating is a good and necessary aspect of human living. It is not something to be despised or beaten into submission but something to be cultivated.
- When I ignore my body’s messages about being hungry, it stops telling me what I need.
- I have to re-teach my body to experience hunger by providing consistent food. I am teaching my body to trust me again.
- Just eating isn’t enough. My body needs a healthy and varied diet.
- When I eat properly, I actually lose weight because my body is no longer in starvation mode.
- My body learns unhealthy habits like craving chips and chocolate just as quickly as it learns healthy habits like craving fresh salads and fruit.
- Not all my body’s messages are healthy. I have to discern the difference between being hungry and just having a craving for junk food.
- When I listen to my body and give it healthy food on a consistent basis, my digestive issues magically disappear. Imagine that.
- It’s also easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when I am eating well.
- Eating isn’t about gaining or losing weight; it’s about making healthy choices to help bring wholeness and balance to my body.
- Making the time to eat, and taking the care to choose the best food rather than whatever is easiest or quickest, is like making time for God.
When I am able to make healthy, balanced choices for my body and discern among the messages my body sends which ones are necessary and which are not, then I am better prepared to live my life in a healthy, balanced way. Learning to listen to my body is teaching me to be more discerning, more conscious, and more intentional about my daily living.
The spiritual practice of eating is hard work, and I’m not always very good at it. I tire easily and fall back on ignoring my body or feeding it with whatever is easiest. But I know that learning to make good choices and put more effort into what I put into my body is teaching me the value of intentional living.
How are you living your life on purpose? What are you intentional about?
Sleep and I have a love-hate relationship.
I battled insomnia for most of my childhood and adolescence. In grad school I slowly began to settle into a routine of sleeping 5-6 hours each night. When I graduated and found myself sleeping 6-7 hours on a regular basis, I thought I had arrived at a normal sleeping pattern.
Then I discovered I actually need more like 10 hours of sleep per night, which means every night I sleep 7 hours, I wake up sleep-deprived. So over the course of the Lenten season, I put real effort into sleeping 10 hours every night.
Here’s what I learned about the spiritual practice of sleeping over the past 40 days:
- New habits do not form overnight.
- I am allowed to be imperfect, fail, and fall short of my goals.
- Sleep is good for my body.
- I’ve never actually slept enough in my whole life.
- Listening to my body is hard work, and I often miss the first two or three messages.
- When I listen to my body and do what it says, I actually feel better, healthier, and more awake.
- When I don’t listen to my body, we both suffer.
- I’m not as young as I used to be. Wow. That makes me feel old.
- Getting enough sleep improves my mental and physical energy, my digestion, my attitude, and my motivation to enjoy daily activities.
- Not getting enough sleep makes me grouchy and lethargic.
- I am allowed to prioritize my need for a good night’s sleep above being available for work opportunities or hanging out with my hubby.
- I am still way more likely to prioritize being available for work or hanging out with my hubby above getting a full 10 hours of sleep every night.
- How I treat my body, and what I do with it, affects my spiritual life.
- This spiritual practice of listening to my body is hard work.
Now that Lent is over, I’m tempted to fall back into my old habits of forcing my body to live and do as I say without regard for what is healthy. Learning to listen is an ongoing lesson. I’m slowly realizing that when I disregard what my body says, I suffer. But when I do listen, I am able to achieve more health, wholeness, and balance in my life.
I can’t expect to find healthy balance in work or relationships if I am unwilling to first achieve balance within myself–body, mind, and spirit. It is up to me to choose my priorities, to choose self-care, to choose to listen to my body and follow through on what is necessary to be a healthy, whole person.
In this season of life, how is God calling you to find health, wholeness, and balance?
In keeping with tradition, we’re wrapping up this week’s theme on praying naked with four suggestions. Choose the one that best fits, and come back to share your experience.
1) Pray in the bathtub (centering prayer): As you remove each article of clothing, remove along with it some distracting thought. Allow the water surrounding you to remind you of the movement of the Holy Spirit within you. Don’t be discouraged by distracting thoughts, but allow your nakedness to remind you of your purpose, and continue to set distractions aside. Once you are centered (this can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, so don’t rush yourself), allow God to speak to you. This might take the form of a recurring distracting thought, an old emotional wound, a nagging memory of an unreconciled relationship, a line of music or verse of scripture, or anything else. Whatever emerges, take it to God and experience God’s love, healing, forgiveness, acceptance, and renewal.
2) Pray in your room (intercessory prayer): As you undress, be aware of the vulnerability of your naked body. Allow that vulnerability to guide your conversation with God. As you become more comfortable with your nakedness–alone in your room–allow yourself to experience compassion for those whose vulnerability is taken advantage of. If that is not a natural experience for you, read Stacey’s post as an example, and ask God to open your eyes not only to your own needs but also to the needs of others.
3) Pray semi-covered (inner healing prayer): For those of you who have experienced trauma and may be triggered by the vulnerability of your nakedness, try undressing and then covering yourself with a towel, robe, or blanket. Allow the covering to be an intentional reminder of God’s protection over you. Read Gen 2:25, slowly, aloud, once every five minutes for 30 minutes. Between readings, sit quietly and allow God’s truth about your body to take root. As any shameful memories arise, offer them to God. Ask God to enter those memories with you and show you the truth about yourself. If you’re feeling too vulnerable at any point, try putting some of your clothes back on, one article at a time. Allow the act of getting dressed to be an intentional reminder of God’s protection over you.
4) Sleep naked (resting prayer aka letting-God-do-all-the-work): For those of you who find the whole conversation about praying naked to be uncomfortable or ridiculous (or if the above suggestions just aren’t for you), try simply sleeping naked tonight. Again, as you undress, be mindful that you are uncovering yourself before God. Ask God to enter your experience and show you something new. (If you sleep with a partner, be sure to warn him or her that you are sleeping naked tonight as a spiritual exercise, not as an invitation to sexy time. This is your chance to experience your sexuality within yourself and with God. Have sexy time tomorrow night.)
I had planned to write a post for today about ways to pray other than naked. (If you missed Stacey’s guest posts on praying naked this week, you can read them here and here along with my introduction.) But I got caught watching a video of Eugene Peterson’s recent talk “Practicing Sabbath” at Q with Dave Lyons, and I couldn’t get this excerpt out of my mind.
Nothing happens when you pray, you think. There’s nothing in prayer that gives you any satisfaction in terms of having accomplished anything. So learning to pray is learning to not do in the awareness that God is doing something and you don’t know what it is at that moment.
When people ask me how to pray, sometimes I’m tempted to tell them what I do that first hour in the morning [here he is referring to his daily devotional time of reading scripture and praying the Psalms], which I’ve done since I was 15. But I realized at one point, that’s not so. When I leave my study, close my Bible, that’s when I’m praying.
I pray all day. Prayer now is something that suffuses my life. Most of the time when I’m praying I don’t know I’m praying. Later on I realize I have been. But to get to think about prayer in a little more comprehensive way as the interior life that the Holy Spirit is breathing in us every time we take a breath suddenly changes prayer from being a practice like you practice the piano to being a practice like you practice being a lawyer or practice being a parent or practice being a carpenter. You’re doing it when you don’t know you’re doing it.
Don’t you love it when you’re around a really skilled craftsperson? They just do it beautifully and economically and you realize: that man is carving something, and he doesn’t even know he’s carving. He doesn’t think: “I’m carving. Isn’t this wonderful? I’m carving!”
My goal–and the witness of a lot of people I’ve read through the centuries–is not to pray in such a way that you’re conscious of praying but to live a life suffused by prayer so that your life becomes a prayer. But that’s not the kind of thing you can write a book about. It’s only a thing you can live and see other people live.
If “play” and “pray” don’t work together, both are diminished. That’s why both are necessary. Otherwise, they become duties that you have to perform.
Whether you pray by getting naked, going for a hike, reading scripture, interceding for others, contemplating or meditating, or any of the many, many other ways to pray–let prayer suffuse your life so that you experience the inspiration [read: breath] of the Holy Spirit with every breath.
How do you pray? Share your experience in the comment box below.
I’ve always hated showers. Give me a glistening white tub full of sudsy warm water, candles on the ledge, and a glass of red wine. That’s the way to be clean.
Showers are for the hurried, getting clean all in a rush of water hurtling down and straight into the drain–like getting caught in a downpour and giving up any hope of finding shelter before you’re soaked. Showers are for standing; you’ve got someplace else to go–and you’re going to be late!
Baths are for lingering, resting, enjoying. No agenda. No interruptions. Only peace. Warm, scented, slightly alcoholic peace. Taking a bath is my favorite form of centering prayer.
I’ve had some very profound moments, naked among the bubbles and salts and dripping faucet. Moments when God speaks, when my heart breaks, when I am listening. Moments of forgiveness, release, understanding, wonder. Moments of experiencing God’s tenderness, mercy, lovingkindness.
In these moments I feel like nothing separates me from God. I can lie back in the water until my ears are covered and my hair swishes like seaweed around my head and feel held, encompassed, hemmed in. I can stretch my legs one over the other, stick my big toe in the leaky faucet and examine myself exactly as God knit me together–my skin softened by the soap and salts and getting wrinkly from the long soak.
I can be fully myself in these moments, alone in the sanctuary of my white bathtub. In these private moments I share my most intimate, sacred self with the Creator. No cathedral, chapel, prayer garden, or monastery compares to the holiest of holies that is my tiled bathroom–with the steamed-up mirror, flower-shaped bathmat, and humming air vent that occasionally creaks when one of the screws comes loose.
That is my sacred space. That is where I am most spiritual–and most physical. That is where I experience God–in the bathtub.
This week I’m honored to host a beautiful moment in my dear friend Stacey Schwenker’s journey through experiencing her sexuality as a single person. She’ll be sharing her experience of getting naked before God tomorrow.
Until then, how do you get naked before God?