I, Randy, woke up this morning a little weary. The rain from last night was pounding against the air conditioner unit in my back bedroom window. The “ping ping” of the rain “bullets” hitting the metal backing of the air conditioner had a certain rhythm throughout the night that, at first, was pleasing to hear, but quickly became annoying. It is mid-October, so I should simply take the unit out as I prepare for another New England winter. Getting up and really needing my coffee now, Jac (my five-year-old black lab pup) and I venture out for our daily routine – the doggie park and the coffee shop!
Now, depending on my day, Jac and I will select from several parks to visit. Sometimes we go to the park that is very busy. There can be 25-30 dogs at one time, all playing, chasing, fetching, splashing in the water fountain when it is on, and for the most part existing in harmony among the different sizes, attitudes, and breeds. Today, I picked the other park. This park is much quieter with a lot more shade. It tends to be less frequented by certain dog owners because in this park the homeless and less fortunate often gather as they survive another day. I like this park at times because it allows me to simply be with my dog and myself. The homeless have gotten to know Jac and they embrace his love and his puppy breath. In this park, Jac and I can simply connect and play fetch without the interruption of other dogs and dog owners who love to chat. As I keep throwing Jac’s pink rubber ball and watch him gallop through the wet grass and autumn leaves, I begin to settle into my thoughts and ponder my past week. The fountain in the park is now turned off and the array of Fall leaves reminds me of the ever-changing cycles of our lives. I am at a point in my life where I understand the lessons of “intention” and I have come to understand gratitude in a much more profound way. As Jac returns with the ball, ready for his Dad to throw it again, I realize this dog park experience, in the quiet Autumn morning, is one of my many spiritual rituals that help me align my body, mind, and soul.
Spiritual rituals will be different depending on the person; depending on the place and time in their life. My spiritual rituals have grown in number and time throughout the years. For example, my journals serve as a safe and sacred place for my victories and defeats. When I need reflection time, I burn incense and candles to quiet my mind and settle down. This down time and quiet time is key for me. I have certain friends who have commented that they have never seen a person who needs so much down time. But, I am learning what works for me, and I need “me time” to hear God’s voice. Learning to have no TV time has been a part of this. Sometimes I may simply sit in a chair and have what I call an “air bath”. Sometimes I may take a bath in my bubbles and sea salts. Sometimes I journal, sometimes I read one of my self-help books, and sometimes I paint on my canvas that I have purchased from the art store. I paint like a two-year-old, but that’s OK for me because the paint on canvas serves as a powerful way for me to remember when I do not always feel like journaling or talking to someone.
I also have spiritual rituals around landmarks and landmines. I have collected seashells on the beach that have served as reminders for landmarks in my life. I have built altars with shining little rocks and pebbles. I carry small polished rocks in my pocket to remind me of my past anger and resentments that have taken me to destructive places. I have been known to write a letter and then burn it as a ritual of letting it go — symbolic of my release of the old and my making room for the new. I have certain scheduled phone calls, dinner appointments, and small group discussions that keep me on the pathway to health and serve as spiritual practices for me. Even certain movie themes can challenge my spiritual reflection and my dialogue with others. I am a big movie-goer.
I have learned the hard way that if I stop practicing the things that move me towards God, I simply begin to fall into old patterns where my False Self likes to be and my True Self can begin to tarnish. Keeping my rituals alive, active, and thriving is one of my focuses to keep the New Man strong and the Old Man weak.
What are your spiritual rituals? Are they different from others? What can you learn by challenging your attitudes and beliefs around spiritual practices outside of the church?
Randy offers us, here, a clear piece of his spiritual journey and what some of the religious rituals are for a secular age. His attention to detail, his appreciation and craving for experience, and his reflective nature are characteristic of spiritual formation. His desire and efforts to align his body, mind, and spirit are lessons learned through years of struggle. Scripture calls us to the plumbline (Amos 7:7-8) of measurement, and in the New Testament we are called to be ‘in Christ’ and ‘follow Christ’ (Gal. 5:25) as our pathways of formation. Getting ourselves in a “position” to hear God and respond to God are key to spiritual formation (II Cor. 12:1-4). Learning to listen to the inner voice and learning to discern the voices of the ‘new man’ and the ‘old man’ (I Cor. 15) are key to moving forward in faith and influence in the world. You will also recall the value of building altars and creating landmarks along one’s spiritual journey. Altars were ways of marking significant events in the spiritual journey of individuals or groups. (Matt. 5:23-24; 18-20,35). Another truth that postmoderns hold dear is that of the incarnation. The truth must put on skin. They need the “experience” and they experience the virtues of Christ through their relationships with others and the world He created. (John 1:1; 10:30;14:10).
1. What are the criteria for healthy rituals that fuel your spiritual formation?
2. How are you living into those rituals daily?
3. What might the next step look like to deepen your walk?
4. What lessons are you learning about spiritual formation in a secular age?
5. What adjustments might God be calling you or your church to make to be more effective witnesses among the postmodern generation?
©Edward H Hammett (Author of Reframing Spiritual Formation: Discipleship in an Unchurched Culture) and James R. Pierce www.tranformingsolutions.org