We can hardly get Christians today to observe a weekly spiritual practice, let alone daily. This was my response to the teacher of the meditation conference I was attending who claimed he had never visited a church that encouraged a daily spiritual practice. My teacher was a writer whose writing flourished once he embraced Buddhism and a daily meditation practice. His statement irked me – as a Christian, as a leader in the Church, as a pastor who immediately questioned herself. Had I ever encouraged my parishioners to a daily spiritual practice? I had. Hadn’t I? Of course I had.
Why was I so defensive? How many churches had my Buddhist friend actually visited? He’d never visited mine. So why did I take his criticism so personally?
I just finished my sermon on Luke 10: 38-42 where Jesus tells Martha that she needs to spend time sitting and listening at his feet. Working through this text I felt as if Jesus was speaking to me as well as Martha. I do so much in my life. I am constantly doing. But everything I am doing is expected of me. I can’t stop parenting my children, nurturing my marriage, or investing myself in my vocation as a college chaplain. Jesus expects me to do these things. I know he does. He’s the one who, I believe, called me to marriage, parenthood, and ordained ministry. But in the midst of all this doing he also wants me to have a daily sitting practice, a time of listening at the feet of Christ.
Throughout my life I’ve tried a variety of spiritual practices. I’ve prayed the liturgical hours. I’ve meditated, contemplated, walked the labyrinth, invested myself in centering prayer and lectio divina (sacred reading). I’ve gone on spiritual retreats, spent time with monks and nuns, and worshipped in a wide variety of communities. All of this spiritual practice has been wonderful and incredibly edifying. But when I get busy, it all slips away. The doing takes over the practicing and I become like Martha, envying all the Mary’s of the world.
There is something not right, though, about the guilt I feel as I fail in these daily spiritual practices. My Christian faith is my life, a life incredibly full of meaningful work, healthy relationships, and amazing opportunities to serve and give. Why, in the midst of all of this, must I feel like something is missing?
My husband, Dan, is one of my greatest inspirations. Also a Presbyterian minister, Dan feels most at home in the academic world. Prayer is not really his thing. He can do it, of course. And he is often called upon to pray. But his preferred spiritual practice is cerebral. He is awakened by reading the words of Thomas Merton, Bernard Meland, Paul Tillich and John Cobb. I liken Dan’s theological reading to the deep contemplation Thomas Merton describes that leads to the gift of awareness, or “an awakening of the Real within all that is real.” Over the past twelve years of our marriage I have observed Dan’s daily practice of deep theological contemplation gift him with a wonderful awareness. He is the most spiritually mature person I know.
I’ve come to realize that each of us, as children of God, is unique. Therefore, our practices can be unique. Practicing our faith together, in community, is tremendously important. Faith that is only practiced alone is a self-centered, static faith. We must gather together around some commonly held rituals and practices. But it is just as important to have our own, unique, individual practices that open us up and awaken us to the divine.
At this point in my life, I’m awakening to the idea that writing is my spiritual practice. Writing is what leads me to a deep place of contemplation. It is my path to awareness. Oftentimes, I don’t know what I know until I write it out. I also don’t know what I believe. Writing is the practice that brings spiritual seeds to the surface for me. God plants these seeds as I walk through the world, noticing life. Writing brings the seeds to bloom. I can only know and appreciate their flowers if I am diligent in my practice. When I am diligent, I feel the satisfaction and the peace that comes from, again in Merton’s words, awakening to the Real within all that is real.
How about you? What is your unique daily practice? What leads you to a deep place of contemplation? What helps awaken you to the Real within all that is real? Whatever it is, do it daily.
 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York: New Directions, 1961), p. 75.