Tomorrow we head to Pittsburg and the Jubilee conference and I continue to reflect on what is a spiritual practice and what it means to be a Christ follower in today’s world. This morning I came across this helpful blog post by my friend Shane Tucker Matters of the Heart, which suggests I am not the only one grappling with this issue.
Part of what I realize is that I need to redefine what I mean by a spiritual practice. I think that a spiritual practice is anything that connects us more intimately to God and to God’s world. It is not so much something we do but rather the spirit with which we do it. Now that doesn’t mean that I can do anything I want and call it spiritual. What it does mean however is that my life needs to be focused on a very clear vision of God’s kingdom purposes and everything I do needs to be interpreted in terms of how it helps me live more deeply into that world.
So what do I mean by this? I have long believed that most people practice their spiritual disciplines within an environment of chronic randomness. They have very little idea of where they are heading and so even though they may read the bible regularly and pray regularly they really do not have a clear plan as to where these practices are meant to take them and how their prayers and scripture reading move them along the journey.
On top of that it really restricts our understanding of spiritual disciplines to these kinds of practices. I am not sure if this will all make sense because I am thinking out loud here but the workshop that we did last weekend on Justice at the Table really opened my eyes to how I need to reinvent everything I do in order to see my entire life with spiritual eyes. Not only does each time I eat become a re-enactment of the communion table, but it also opens my eyes to see all those who are involved in each act of eating – those who produce my food, those who harvest it, those who are excluded because I never invite them to my table.
Eating is now a spiritual discipline that encourages me to view my actions in light of how it impacts their lives too and to do something about it. So my every act of eating connects me to my loving God who grieves for those who are hungry and to those who are sick because they inhale toxic pesticides when they fertilize crops and even to the earth that is polluted by these pesticides.
Similarly gardening also becomes a spiritual discipline. The early monastic communities saw in their gardens a recreation of a glimpse of the garden of Eden – for me my garden is more a glimpse of God’s restored world in which the beauty of God’s original creation is restored and there is abundant provision made for all of God’s people to be provided for. And as well as that there are wonderful lessons to be learned about God and God’s purposes.
If I really believe (and I do) that God’s ultimate plan is the restoration of all things in Christ and recognize that part of what I am called to as a Christian is to join God in the business of this restoration then everything I do becomes a part of that process. I pray and I read scripture because it better equips me to participate in the work of restoration – by bringing about the inner healing I need to make this possible, or by strengthening my relationship to God so that I can operate more in the power of the holy spirit or by drawing me closer to God’s people and to God’s world.
But my spiritual practices don’t stop there. If I truly believe that all people are made in the image of God then part of my journey toward God involves uncovering that image in the lives of people I encounter. Every person I meet and everything I do becomes an encounter with God. I fight against poverty not just because poverty is wrong but because poverty distorts the image of God and God’s new world is a place in which all people are abundantly provided for. And I fight against racisim because that too distorts the image of God and God’s new family is a richly multicultural family in which people from every tribe and nation and culture are accepted and embraced. And I fight against oppression and injustice because God’s new world is a place in which all are set free to shine forth as reflections of the image of God in all the ways that God intends them to be.
You can probably tell that I am rather passionate about these issues. And I find that the older I get the more passionate I become. The more I encounter God through my increased understanding of life as a spiritual practice the more passionate it makes me to see others encounter God in this way.
May your kingdom come we pray each time we pray the Lord’s prayer yet most of us do not take that seriously. What would happen in your life and mine, in your community and mine if we really took this prayer seriously for all of life?