I’ve found that, during a typical day, one of two things is happening to me. I am either being shaped by the everyone and everything that is around me or I am shaping and changing the things and people around me.
When I am shaped by the things around me, its usually not a good picture. I’m anxious about a deadline, or spending too much time dealing with a problem that could wait until another day or that someone else could address, or fuming about someone who cut me off in traffic, or maybe I’m just trying to avoid thinking about something that really needs my attention by focusing on some other triviality. You get the idea: if I”m not alert and ready to deal with life, I become a victim of all of the crap that life is throwing at me, bouncing from one moment to the next, never catching my balance.
On my good days, however, I have a sense that things are working the other way: priorities and perspective tend to fall into place, and I find that the world is being shaped by my conduct, instead of vice versa. Instead of reacting to my own anxieties, people seem to find peace and hope when they are around me. The right things get the right amount of attention, and I don’t worry so much about the things that are out of control. In short, I feel like I have achieved something that is much closer to a spiritual equilibrium.
That sense of balance, of spiritual equilibrium is, I think one of the end goals of Christianity — but it isn’t something that is achieved easily. In fact, Chrisitans throughout the ages have discovered that it can’t really be achieved without a set of practices – sometimes called disciplines – that help to keep your spirit in tune.
Different people have different practices that work for them, and I don’t pretend to hold all of the solutions for how it ought to be done. However, two resources in particular, have become mainstays in my daily rhythm of spiritual practices. They are…
1. Fixed Hour Prayer. This is the practice of praying certain types of prayers at certain times of day. Actually, “prayer” is a very loose term for what is involved in Fixed Hour Prayer. Usually, the process involves much more than reciting things that are addressed to God. It also involves slowing down, being silent, and meditating on short quotations or scriptures. A great place to get started on fixed hour prayer is explorefaith.org. This web site has taken Phyllis Tickle’s adaptations from the Book of Common Prayer and put them in a format where they are accessible on the web. At any time of the day or night, you can find the appropriate prayer for the time of day here.
2. Contemplation. This is the practice of simply stopping to reflect on, and to become aware of God’s presence. I have found that Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily emails very useful in this regard. You can subscribe to those emails here.