Today’s post is written by MSA summer intern Amanda Stevens. Amanda is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University and works as an Applied Behavioural Analyst doing in-home tutoring for children with autism.
When I met Christine for the time, our conversation meandered from getting to know each other and the story of how the Mustard Seed Associates began to eventually the topic of spiritual practices. As Christine talked about the importance of adapting spiritual practices to a changing world, I started having flash backs to my time studying abroad for a semester in India.
When I woke up each morning, I made my way quietly up to the roof of our apartment building, it was completely white and lines of laundry floated like banners beneath a flock of pigeons making their unified rounds over the city. This roof is where I came to meet God. Not long after my arrival in India, I learned that in order for my emotional and spiritual well-being to stay intact, I had to find ways to interweave communion with God throughout my day.
I remember the first day in Coimbatore, India so vividly. We rode around the city in a bus, the comfort of chai and Indian sweets finding their homes in our stomachs, the garland of jasmine wrapped in our hair assuring with a sweet scent, and Bollywood music dancing from the radio as we drove around the city. It was a sensory overload that left me feeling an excitement high. It wasn’t long before this new country started to wear on me though, as I found that every day I could go from an emotional high to a despairing low in less than an hour. There would be days where we would drive in our bus through the country and I would be filled with hopelessness that there was this much darkness in the world as I saw children, adults, and animals all with starved bodies, streets caked with garbage, a group of elderly women pick pocketing, and then, that same day, find myself at a joyous wedding or a local community dance or religious festival. I was being pulled in both extremes with no firm foundation to center myself.
The landscape of India was completely different from the landscape of my home and, as a result, the ways in which I encountered and interacted with God were reshaped. I began claiming time in the mornings to awake in God’s presence; this is how I found myself on the roof every morning. I would walk the perimeter of the roof very slowly and chant a prayer to myself “Give me peace like a river, give me joy like a fountain, give me love like an ocean.” Some mornings if there was a particular concern on my heart, I went and sat on the veranda breathing in the incense from the courtyard and simply waited for God to speak to me, and he did. It would have been easy to get carried away by all the events happening each day but making that space to meet God each morning was my way of arming myself for the day.
Every other weekend, our group would travel to a neighboring city or state and so again I had to adjust my spiritual practices; this usually involved journaling which I practiced everyday as a way to remain insightful of how God might be speaking to me. But I would also carry a verse or an image God had placed in my heart. In particular, I remember one weekend trip in which I woke up the night before with a severe stomach illness but chose to go on the trip the next morning anyways. It so happened that our bus ride involved speeding up a windy hill while dodging monkeys, other travelers, and broken down buses that couldn’t quite make it; this did not help the state of my stomach. But I held on to the verse Psalm 139:5-10 “you both precede and follow me”, knowing that God was there to meet me around every corner, and somehow my stomach sickness remained under control and rather than ride in worry, I rode in wonder witnessing some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.
I ended my days in the same way I started them, by heading up to the roof, but my cue was actually the local Muslim call to prayer. India is packed with so many different religions, and for most Indians, religion interweaves and connects into every aspect of their lives and culture. In my adjustment, I found myself letting the local traditions and culture direct and open new ways of engaging with Christ. So whenever I heard the call to prayer, I let it be a reminder to me as well and I would go up to the roof and sing God’s praises over the city; letting my praises to God reinvigorate me with strength while also establishing a connection with the land that God had placed me in.
Whether we realize it or not, the landscape of where we are at in our lives is changing. Now that I am home, my spiritual practices have readapted again, though some things have remained and my heart remains open to new ways that the Lord wants to connect with me.
What are some of the ways that God has been creatively inspiring you to reshape your spiritual practices according to your changing landscape?