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Why Spiritual Practices?
As a young piano student, I immediately fell in love with the piano. I practiced daily. Early in the morning and late at night, I practiced. I was so diligent that I would go on sight-reading binges well into the A.M. hours. My mother had to convert our one-car garage into a studio. As would be assumed, the more I practiced, the more I learned and the more I loved it. With this practicing, not only did my love grow stronger, but my fingers grew stronger, my sight-reading skills got better. My ability to do the work of proper practicing even grew. Most importantly, my performances reflected it. Endurance, agility and quality; my work was better. And so, this too is the spiritual life, the journey that we find ourselves on daily. Love breeds practice which ultimately breeds good work. If we love God, and want to reflect in the world the wholeness and righteousness that is God, we must practice. Beginners and seasoned workers alike, must take the first step on their knees.
Prayer is a time-consuming practice because it literally should be happening all the time. Centering prayer, contemplative prayer, meditation, healing prayers, worship through song and word, affirmations, blessings, and even casual conversation with God are all acceptable. In order to produce optimum love results, some form of prayer is required. Jesus, love actualized, often went away to pray (Mk 1:35, Lk 5:16, 6:12), and in the Garden of Gethsemane, he threw himself on the ground and prayed (Mk 14:35). The Pauline writer suggests that followers of Jesus must "pray without ceasing" (I Thess 5:17).
The Pauline letters are written to the early Christians who are being persecuted. Jesus is praying in the Garden before his death. These are certainly the "Lord, help me!" prayers that most of us are familiar with in our lives. But during the times when scripture simply says that Jesus "went away to pray" or in Luke when "he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God" (Lk 6:12 NRSV), what did this prayer time look like? Did Jesus simply sit in silence? Did he repeat a mantra, an affirmation to promote positive thinking? Did he weep as he prayed for peace and liberty for all people? Perhaps, he sang a favorite Psalm. Undoubtedly, there were times when he shook his fist to the sky in frustration. The classic "why me!" prayer is not beneath Jesus. These examples are given to support the notion that prayer is necessary. The only question left is:" what should the spiritual practice of prayer look like in my life?"
If we consider the various modes of prayer, we must remember to be true to ourselves, and true to the practice. If you are not a singer, you should not sing unless it is produced much like glossolalia, unsolicited. On the other hand, a spiritual practice should also be viewed as a discipline meant to accomplish a long term goal. For the very talkative, silence should be included regularly in the prayer practice. Written prayers should be included. Prayers of the saints who have lived exemplary lives in the faith are useful. (There is no need to reinvent the wheel.) Note that meditation and rest are not the same thing. Meditation is a pursuit of mindfulness; we want to be aware of our place in God's world. Thoughts are not rushing in, however; a still small voice is speaking. Rest is necessary to experience the 'casting all cares' on God for a time. Whatever the method, prayer is paramount in the life of not only Christians, but anyone who is a self-proclaimed activist fighting for the ultimate good to be experienced by everyone in the world.
Prayer is a love-producing spiritual practice. Novices can start with contemplative prayer, reflecting on and resting in the love of God. That takes care of the first and great commandment to love God. The second commandment, no less important, can be initiated through the practice of blessing. Pick a neighbor, known or unknown, or pick an enemy, and pray a blessing over them.
"May the Angels in their beauty bless you. May they turn toward you streams of blessing."1
And I bid this blessing to you as you begin exploring the spiritual practice of prayer:
"May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart To come alive to the eternal within you, To all the invitations that quietly surround you."2
1O'Donohue, John. To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2008. Kindle edition.