peer learning groups

New and renewed spiritual practices

By Laura Stephens-Reed

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart…” This has long been my favorite hymn. It was sung at my wedding, and it will be sung at my funeral. It sums up well my take on the journey of faith.

We all have those aspects of church that resonate most deeply. It could be a hymn or a ritual, or it might be a special worship service or event, a class, a fellowship opportunity, or even a committee meeting. Each of these outlets can be a spiritual practice: a means of reconnecting us with God as well as with the divine image within, others, and the world.

According to minister Kathleen McTigue, any mode of being can be a spiritual practice if it includes the following:

Intention. You are doing something purposeful, not haphazard.

Attention. You are doing that thing with an open and focused heart and mind, not out of rote.

Repetition. You do the thing more than once, hence the word “practice.”

(You can find more about McTigue’s three pillars of spiritual practice, along with a range of thoughts about designing meaningful rituals, in Casper ter Kuile’s book The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices.)

With these three criteria in mind, I wonder how many of our spiritual practices still qualify. Maybe we’ve forgotten why we organize the order of worship in a certain way or how our committee helps our church live into its mission. Maybe we say the Lord’s Prayer without really thinking about or feeling the words. Maybe we’ve gotten away from some of the disciplines that have powerfully grounded us in the past. I bet many of our much-loved practices could use some renewed emphasis on the why, the what, and the how often.

I encourage you to look at how you and your church go about your doing and being. Where is there need for more intention, attention, and repetition? What rituals no longer work for this people in this time? What new practices do you want to create for yourself or with others in order to transform your relationships with self, neighbor, community, and Creator?

In this time of upheaval, people are looking for spiritual practices to anchor them, and there is an opening both to give tried-and-true measures new life and to create thoughtful new ways of being and growing together. Let’s embrace this chance with enthusiasm and creativity.

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