6/8 Rule of Life
"A rule for life is a simple statement of the regular rhythms we choose in order to present our bodies to God as our "spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1). Each rule, or rhythm, is a way we partner with God for the transformation only he can bring." (p. 36 Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)
Many of us have heard of the Rule of Saint Benedict or the Franciscan Rule of Life. These Rules were written by monks for monks as a way of structuring and ordering the common life of the monastery. However, having a rule of life goes all the way back to the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." The earliest followers of Jesus thought that every Christian should follow these four ways of living: learning the teachings, being a part of the community, sharing in Communion, and praying together. Ever since then, Christians have been developing their own rules of life and rules of living for their communities.
Having a rule of life can be a very enriching practice. One way to try out a rule of life is to set a time limit on it, such as: "I will pray for ten minutes every morning for 40 days." Then when the 40 days are over you can look back on the rule and your relationship to it and see if it is really a good rule for your life. Not everyone's rules of life are the same. Night owls probably wouldn't like the early morning yoga and meditation practice of a morning lark. Whereas the morning lark might not be able to handle saying Compline every night at 11 pm. Part of the flexibility of a rule of life is that it fits your life and allows you to connect with God. What is in your rule of life?
"How do you tend to recognize God's presence in your day?"
Also known as the Examination of Consciousness, the Examen is a practice of questions which leads to seeing God in the details of our lives. Most people know of the Examen from the Catholic Jesuit tradition, popularized by Ignatius of Loyola. There are many different formats or ways of using an examen practice to deepen our spiritual lives. The focus in each one stays on the details of our daily lives and how and what affects our spiritual lives.
In most examen practices, a time is set apart at the end of the day to reflect on where God was in the daily activities. By going through the different activities and looking at our bodily responses or where we saw God or writing down the words which exemplify the activities, we start to see patterns emerge which show us where God is at work. For many, questions of gratitude about our daily lives can be very helpful in long term spiritual growth.
Many people think the examen practice needs to be rigorous and difficult. However, the examen can even be fun. One way of doing an examen practice for yourself, or perhaps your children, is to play a game of I Spy: the I Spy God edition. Where have you spied God in your life today? What points to God's presence?
"On the pages of a journal, in the privacy of a moment, we can take tentative steps into truth and scour our feelings, hurts, ideas and struggles before God." (p. 57 Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)
I will admit, I added journaling to the list for this summer because it is one of my favorite ways of working out my thoughts, prayers, and the ups and downs of all of my life, not just the spiritual. Not all journals are the same, just as not all people are the same. For some, journaling is writing long prose about how they are doing and what is going on in their lives. For others, journaling is making lists of activities and their consequences, or series of pictures or words tied together in personal meaning. Today, art journals or Bible art journaling are trendy activities. I have multiple journals for different aspects of my life and different kinds of creative moods.
However, journaling is not only the process of writing or creating art, but also the process of reflecting on the writing or art created. Real journaling goes back over what has been writing or created before and looks for patterns or trends to see what is going on in our lives which we might not fully realize. In many ways, like the examen, it is in the reflecting back on what we have done, seen, heard, written, or created that we find where God has been at work in our lives. While it is lovely to be able to feel and know God's presence in the moment as it happens, many times we start with coming to know God in hindsight, looking back over what has happened to us. What have you created lately?
"In a world where people use the Internet an average of 30 hours a week and keep the TV or radio on 7.9 hours a day, we need to get unplugged from virtual reality and address our addiction to technology and the toxins it brings into our lives. Unplug, and look into the eyes of another human face - see the beauty of God's creation!" (p. 87 Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)
We all know how much we time we spend looking at screens... right? In the quote above, it says people use the Internet on average 30 hours a week! That is an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes a day! For those of us who work in offices on computers, this average might actually be low. With all the constant distraction and interaction online, sometimes we simply just need to unplug. Put down the phones and tablets and computers, and spend some quality time with other people.
God created us as interactive and relational beings. We all need some time where we are in personal contact with other people, in conversation, in non-verbal way, and in touch. Some good ways of unplugging are by taking intentional times away from phones, tablets, computers, and televisions and doing something else. By stepping away from the constant barrage of 'instant' communication, you can focus on other types of communication, perhaps even communication with God! To get started thinking about your plugged in/unplugged balance, keep track this week of how much time you spend looking at a screen, any screen. Is that time balanced by how much time you spend face to face with other people?
7/6 Spiritual Direction
"Spiritual direction is a relationship that allows one to assist another in discerning God's activity and presence in his or her life. This relationship assumes that we all need help to listen to God and live out his call." (p. 116 Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)
Many people experience spiritual direction for the first time at a retreat. They are scheduled time with a priest, monk, nun, or other spiritual director where they are to talk about where God is in their life at that time during the retreat. Spiritual direction is a God centered relationship requiring trust and maturity. The spiritual director gives a new perspective to the life story of the directee by helping them see God at work through conversation, reflection, and exercises.
Find a spiritual director with whom you can have a good relationship some times takes a while. Many retreat centers, diocesan centers, and some churches have lists of trained spiritual directors, however, as a relationship, it is important to find someone you trust and who will listen to you. The best starting place with spiritual direction is to start talking about where God is in your life with someone you know who listens well to God and can speak truthfully and compassionately. Who helps you see God's movement in the world?
7/13 Small Groups
"Jesus was never a lone ranger." (p. 149 Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)
Nope, Jesus wasn't a lone ranger. One of the first things he does in his ministry is chose twelve disciples to walk with him and to be with. He spends hours with his disciples, teaching them, talking with them, eating with them. Jesus has a small group in which to process and work towards his goals and to support him when the going gets tough. (Though in his case, he was usually supporting them...)
The best small groups have an intentional purpose and agreement, they have a structure which everyone supports and have leaders who keep the group on track. Otherwise, small groups come in many many many different kinds of groups. Bible study, book study, prayer, action, games, hobbies, support, ministry, training, coaching... all sorts of small groups exist in the world. Small groups help us understand our lives by experiencing the ways others' understand their lives. Small groups give us connection and relationship and allow us accountability when we set out on the road.
While we have some small groups here in this community, we don't have a small group for everyone. There are many groups in the wider community of Franklin and I hope you are part of a small group which supports you in some way. If you are in search of a small group, let Kaycee and I know. There are many ways for the community here to connect to each other and there may be opportunities waiting for you!
"So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." (Acts 1:6-9)
Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to be his witnesses, to the ends of the earth. We have talked about being a witness this year. Being a witness requires seeing and sharing. The disciples had seen a lot of things when it came to Jesus and his ministry. They had seen God very handily at work in the world and now was the time for them to go out and share their stories with others. Being a witness means not only talking about Jesus, but sharing, through words and deeds what God has done for you.
Witnessing as a spiritual discipline requires trust in the Holy Spirit. We share in ways that sometimes feels very vulnerable to us. Sharing about something as personal as God at work in our lives opens us up in ways we are not all used to. As a witness you also have to trust the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. No one will be immediately transformed because of your story, however, your story can be a starting place for someone else's journey to God. How can you intentionally be the face of God to someone else today?
See you in church!