Practice, Practice, Practice--Part I
This July on the Arlington Commons Church Blog, we’re exploring spiritual practices that help us grow closer to God, ourselves, and each other. Thoughts? Experience? Practices you try and recommend? Challenges or pushback? Questions? Leave us a comment! We want to hear from, learn with, and grow alongside you.
Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice, practice, practice!
I started playing the violin when I was seven years old and played into my early 20’s. The joke above was oft repeated in the world of individual lessons, group theory classes, and orchestra rehearsals. Is it funny? No. Cheesey? Yes. True? Absolutely.
I never made it to Carnegie Hall. I never made it out of the Lubbock Youth Symphony Orchestra second violin section. BUT...I’m grateful for the value of practice that the experience taught me.
What does this have to do with the spiritual life? I’m a firm believer that spirituality, drawing closer to God, ourselves, each other, and our world, is a journey. A life-long journey that takes: practice, practice, practice.
Just like with the violin, I confess I don’t always practice my spirituality daily. But I do know, that like playing an instrument (or a sport/game/academic discipline/craft/artistic pursuit/insert-your-passion-here), habits matter. Practicing helps. The journey isn’t straightforward--even after playing for years, one day you find you have to go back to scales. After praying for years, one day you’ll find you have to ground yourself in the basics.
Spoiler alert: there is no carnegie hall of spirituality. Sure, some people are more disciplined, over time, at grounding themselves in God, in finding inner peace that translates outwards. But spirituality isn’t a competition with prizes or winners/losers. It’s not a performance.
Spirituality is a practice.
Whether you’ve been praying for years, have never prayed before, or find yourself somewhere in between, I offer some spiritual practices to guide us on our journey. Some scales, if you will, to build our foundation. First up:
The Ignatian Examen
This practice comes out of Ignatius of Loyola and his community--you can find lots of good information (and even an app!) here: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com
But here are the basics--I invite you to try them with me, at the end of each day (and if you skip a day, it’s ok! There is grace! Practice again the next day). Ask yourself these 4 questions and see what happens. Pay attention. To your life. To God. To your relationships. Where does it take you?
Get comfortable. Find silence. Close your eyes. Ask God to enter in. Take some deep breaths and ask yourself these questions (reflect silently, journal, or share with others engaging in the practice with you):
1. Go over the days events in your mind and give thanks to God for the gifts, large (family, friends, shelter, food) and small (a smile, a walk, a surprise encounter).
2. Pay attention to your emotions. What did you feel? What does this tell you? Is God leading you to do something with those emotions?
3. Choose one feature of your day and meditate on it--something small or large that stands out. Sit with it. Listen. Soak it in. Pay attention.
4. Pray for the day ahead: what do you anticipate? What are your hopes or anxieties? What do you want to do differently from today? Sit with it. Pay attention.
After a week of praying the examen, do you notice patterns? Are you more aware of God’s presence throughout your day? Are there changes you need to make? Relationships you seek to strengthen or heal? Pay attention. Practice. Practice. Practice.
by Kate Floyd