Seminary for me was an amazing time. It was a time of deep thinking about deep things, a time of marinating myself in new ideas and theologies, rituals and practices. I started walking labyrinths, doing contemplative prayer, and meditating regularly among other things. And I took those spiritual practices from that amazingly rich few years and sank even more deeply into them as I moved through my internship, my wedding, my move to New England, and the start of my first ministry.
Then, I had a baby.
While I had always had some concept that parenting would mean less time to myself, I was wholly unprepared for what this actually looked and felt and smelled like, boots on the ground. I don’t remember showering much during those first few months, let alone finding time to contemplate the meaning of life. I hardly had a chance to eat an entire meal in one sitting during the first six months, so it should go without saying that I didn’t exactly have the energy to eat my food very mindfully, savoring each bite with gratitude.
The late nights and early mornings and long days caring for my sweet, precious, but very demanding colicky baby ate into my normal exercise routine, my prayer life, and everything I had gotten used to doing to take care of myself. And after a while, I began to notice that I was more prone to get upset easily, to take things personally. Little things began to get to me a lot more than they used to.
I finally knew I needed to make a change the day I broke into tears when a grocery bag filled with glass jars of baby food ripped as I was putting it into the car. Yes, it was annoying, inconvenient, and a little embarrassing to get down on my hands and knees to search under my car for the last few rouge jars. But even in the moment I knew I was overreacting.
I didn’t want to lose my cool every time I misplace my keys, or the milk goes bad, or my son spits up on my robe as I handed him off to the nursery worker at church before heading into the Sanctuary. I wanted to strengthen my spiritual and emotional muscles again so that I had more of a choice in how I responded to things like that. I wanted to regain a deeper level of serenity, to deepen the still pool of my soul.
Dough Muder, the author of our third reading this morning talks about how spiritual practice has been helpful to him in becoming more emotionally resilient and stable. He writes:
There’s one way of living in which you react to events with depth, appreciation, and creativity. All the wisdom you’ve gathered in life is available to you, and you may even add to it by noticing something new. There’s another way of living in which you react to events through knee-jerk patterns. Life gets away from you, and when you look back you say, “Why did I do that? I know better.”
A spiritual practice is working if, after you do it for a while, you notice that you’re doing the former more often and the latter less. You’re spending more time in the deeper end of life’s pool—swimming, not drowning.
Getting to a place where we have the inner stamina to swim through some of life’s rough patches rather than just survive them. I think that’s the point of spiritual practice. And if the words “spiritual practice” don’t resonate for you, try out “inner practice.” Whatever we call them, they are those activities or disciplines we pursue regularly that help us access what Nick Page in our first reading called “the elation of compassionate connectedness—that incredible feeling of being a part of all actions—God or Creation as a verb—a self-organized interdependent event.”
Or as James Ford put it in our second reading, spiritual practice is what helps us move past life’s distractions so we can stop and notice the gifts in our lives. He writes:
The underlying premise is that this ordinary world, when we really attend, presents everything we need to heal our broken hearts and to find a moral compass and to live lives. But we don’t. There is too much distracting us from the present moment, too much going on, too much noise rising in our hearts, and instead we live distracted lives, never fully noticing. The universe is always offering a gift: a moment of presence, where in fact, everything is presented. All I have to do is stop and notice.
Between all of the demands of the holiday season and the increase in unstructured time between Christmas and New Year’s, my regular practice has fallen by the wayside more than I’d like. So, in the interest of practicing what I preach, I have committed myself to do my spiritual practice every single day for the month of January. Maybe you’re in a place in your life when you know you just can’t make that kind of commitment. And that’s ok. Life has many seasons, each of them different. But I imagine there may be some here today who are hungry for some more inner serenity, who are ready to make a month-long commitment to their hearts and spirits.
Whether it’s sitting meditation like Rev. Ford, prayer like Nick Page, a self-designed spiritual practice like Doug Muder, or something else, I know that some of you already have a strong spiritual or inner practice. Some of you might not, and some might be like me – getting back into the swing of things, re-wiring good spirit-care-habits. Like I said earlier, some might just not be in a place to do anything extra. Wherever you are in your own inner journey, you have company here, you are welcome here in the fullness of who you are, messiness, hectic schedule and all.
But for those of you who can, I hope you will join me this month in centering down into a new spiritual or inner practice, to nurture reflection and intention in your life. Lord knows we need it in this beautiful but broken world of ours. Maybe there’s something you’ve always been drawn to, something you’ve always wanted to try. Or, maybe there’s something you used to do that you’ve gotten away from that you’d like to revisit at this point in your life. Whatever it is, I look forward to hearing all about it.
O Source of Peace, lead us to peace, a peace profound and true. O Source of Peace, bless us with peace. Amen.