What spiritual practices do you do?
Eh? What’s a spiritual practice?
I wrote in my chapter of Inside Verdict that the church isn’t very good at helping members keep the promises they make. I promised to read the Bible, to pray and to join with other believers in worship.
Reading the Bible is difficult. So it’s nice that someone explains it for 15 minutes once a week.
Praying is hard. So it’s nice that the same person prays on my behalf for a few minutes once a week.
Joining other believers in worship is ok. So long as I’m able to get there at 11am on a Sunday and I’m ok with ‘joining’ meaning sitting in rows looking at the back of someone’s head (if it’s busy enough that there is someone sitting in front of me).
It’s easy to criticise, but I think one of the most profound failings of the church with all age groups is our failure to help people develop spiritual practices.
Most people reading this won’t know what I’m talking about. We don’t even use the phrase in our churches.
Christianity has a rich tradition of spiritual practice. Prayer is one of them. Meditation. Fasting. Walking the labyrinth. Prayer beads. Retreats. Lectio divina. And yet we don’t talk about them, much less promote and practice them.
In fact, the very opposite is sometimes true. We are suspicious of spiritual practices. They are things that other religions do.
We have been shaped by the Enlightenment to such an extent that we now have an almost entirely cerebral faith. God lives in our heads, not our hearts. Except that’s not really anyone’s experience of God, is it? We feel God.
I quoted a passage from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple on Sunday:
Shug Avery asks ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church?’
Celie’s answers ‘I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to share God, not find God.’
God doesn’t live in church. God lives in everything. We say it, but if we really believe that then how do we equip people to see God in everything and meet God everywhere rather than coming to church expecting to find God there and leaving disappointed?
Spiritual practices are a key to helping us have a deeper faith (and better mental health!).
The reason the Enlightenment left us with a cerebral faith was literacy. People can read. The church is only just catching up with this remarkable development. Before mass literacy (that’s not a theological pun!) people needed someone to read to them and explain what things meant because they had no access to books. That has changed. Completely. Our style of worship hasn’t.
So, what is worship for?
Someone once told me it is how we show God his worth. I like that answer but it lays down a challenge. If God means everything to us then shouldn’t worship be about everything we are and all that God means?
I think at some level worship needs to do three things; connect, engage, inspire.
Worship has to connect with people. Deeply. It has to help people connect with themselves, each other and God. A sermon can do that. Singing can do that. Prayers can do that. But so can other things. Connection is one of the things Xers and Yers need.
Worship has to be engaging. It has to draw people in and create a space where people feel able to engage without fear. But it also has to engage with the world. Worship can’t be a nice, safe spiritual bubble. It has to reflect the joys and the struggles.
Worship has to inspire change. I’m fed up being told I fall short. I know. I get it. Help me to be better. Inspire me, don’t blame me. We talk about forgiveness but it feels like someone keeps a list, and the list gets added to each week. Worship needs to encourage us to be more and to make a difference in the world.
I keep returning to these arrows.
The balance and focus of spiritual practice and of worship is vital. These are like chair legs. The story is the floor (backwards and forwards). If we neglect ourselves (inward), our church/fellow travellers (together), our community and world (outwards) or God (upwards) then we end up on a chair with uneven legs and we spend all of our time wondering why it is so hard to balance.
So, what spiritual practices are you engaging with? What is worship for? What should it look like? And who should do it?