By Jared Jaggers
We’re all on a spiritual journey of one sort or another. I’ve been learning over the past several years that this journey often involves “moving on” to new ways of holding belief and possibly new theologies. Some great teachers have inspired me and guided me along the path. However, this semester I realized that no one had ever taught me how to practice my Christian spirituality that had evolved in significant ways. No one had taught me to pray to God as I have come to know God in different ways.
I find it’s helpful to have multiple images of God at once. Some favorites of mine are God as Father, God as Mother, God as the ever-present ground of Being, God as Artisan who fashioned the Rocky Mountains and Utah’s Canyonlands, God in Jesus who befriended the sinner and outcast. When my theology embraces these differing images, I have a more expansive notion of God that allows me to find spirituality and sacred experience in more of everyday life.
How, though, do I pray to God who may show up differently in different chapters of life? If you’re anything like me, you were raised with great skill in confessional pleas for forgiveness to God as the cosmic Judge who assesses personal morality. How do I pray to God when I need inspiring creativity or nurturing love? How do I pray to God who shares my passion for social justice? As Cooperative Baptists, I think that it’s time that we rediscover some spiritual practices that may allow us to know God in different ways or that may push us to new works of justice, mission, and healing in the world around us.
Endless examples of spiritual practices could illustrate how prayer and other practices can expand our imagination of God and open us up to God’s work in new areas. However, I will restrain myself and give only two examples.
First, the Daily Examen is not new or novel to many people, but it holds great potential for personal growth and spiritual nourishment. Having evolved since its institution by Ignatius in the Middle Ages, there are many ways to practice it (Here is a simple outline I have found helpful), but it generally involves a methodical review of the previous day, noticing feelings and the movement of God, praying over those noticings, and looking forward to tomorrow. My spiritual director encourages me to give attention to God’s graces and what God may be inviting me to do, not simply to note what I did well or not-so-well and craft a to-do list in response. My director also recommends keeping a spiritual journal to note what is noticed over time for later reflection.
This daily practice can take only 30 minutes, but can foster the spiritual life in invaluable ways:
- It nourishes spiritually and mentally – in the midst of our busy lives, this practice of quiet and stillness offers a sacred space where we can mentally reorganize and spiritually re-charge. It feeds the soul as you notice how God is working through you instead of how you could have done something better.
- It brings the movement of the Spirit in ordinary life to attention – even as a professional religious leader in training, days and to-do lists can go by with alarmingly little attention to the Spirit.
- It aids discernment by keeping a record of God’s influence in daily life – after a few months of noticing God’s movement and keeping a record of it, discerning what God is up to and what is the next faithful step becomes a simpler process.
- It encourages Christian mission and advocacy for justice by reminding of the interconnectedness of life – as I review my day and see where God was present, then plan tomorrow with attention to God at work in my schedule, my participation in God’s work becomes apparent and more easily perceptible. Through this practice, I discover greater purpose and feel less burnout in daily life.
Second, and much more broadly, any ordinary activity can be harnessed as a way of praying to open the innermost-self to God in new ways. I’m not referring to praying while cooking or walking, but using that activity as a prayer in itself. Perhaps the activity should begin with a prayer using words, but God can be encountered profoundly through physical and non-verbal prayers. I have friends who have learned about the care and hospitality of God by cooking and hosting dinner parties. My wife feels fully alive when she uses her painting to add something sacred to the world. I have come to know God more intimately through hiking and backpacking simply with my attention turned toward God.
Receive this benediction: May you meet the incarnate God in new ways this Advent season. May you notice the sacred in your everyday life and may it inspire you to then make God’s will incarnate to the world around you. Amen.
Jared Jaggers is a 2016-17 CBF Vestal Scholar, a student at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas and a lay leader at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. Jared’s professional aspirations lie in pastoral and educational ministry, and he is an avid reader, outdoor adventurer and coffee drinker.