Holy Asides
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September 18, 2014, 9:52 AM

Spiritual Disciplines: Tools of the Trade

As I have been practicing the first of our presented spiritual disciplines, Contemplative Prayer, I have a few reflections that I wanted to share. The first is that I never thought I would truly appreciate, let alone enjoy, Contemplative Prayer. In this type of prayer, we are simply silent and receptive before God. Some have even described this practice as “wasting time with God.” And that is how I often felt about it. There were so many other things I could be doing. (Not just in recreation or chores, but real “spiritual” work.) I could be working on sermons, visiting parishioners, or writing “blogs.” I could do something tangible. And I think that this is the difficulty, especially for me. So much of the work of a priest is not quantifiable. Are people growing spiritually? How much? Are we living fully into God’s vision? Where is the fruit? Is this a time of sowing or reaping? Prayer through the Daily Office, or Intercession Lists, or Journaling is active. More than that, it is controlled by me. I am finished when I say, “Let us bless the Lord,” or read the last name, or set down my pen. In Contemplative Prayer, God sets the agenda. And there have been times when He speaks immediately, and others when it takes quite a bit of time, and still others where I hear nothing. (When I say “hear”, I don’t mean audibly—rather there is an inner sense within the silence.) Yet regardless of what happens, I always leave that time revived and refreshed.


The second reflection is that being still is hard work. It takes practice. It takes time and effort to clear your mind, relax your body, and be still. And while I have gotten better at reducing the time that it takes to enter into prayer, my mind still is very active throughout these times. One very helpful suggestion is to imagine a stream flowing and let any thoughts and distractions float to the surface of that stream and be carried away. I am typically not a visual person in prayer, but this has served as a very helpful exercise.


My final reflection came out of a time of Contemplative Prayer, but is not a reflection about it, per se. That is, these “disciplines” are actually tools. Just as we have a variety of tools in our tool kit to serve different purposes, the same is true with spiritual disciplines. We utilize them in different times and seasons of our spiritual journey. There are times God calls us to be still; times when we need to confess; others when we need to fast. Because, while scissors can serve as a flat-headed screwdriver in a pinch, it is far more effective to have the screwdriver. I pray that over these coming months (or years) that we might add to our toolboxes as we grow in our spiritual life and depth with the Lord.

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