When you hear the phrase "spiritual practice," you might think of traditional Christian disciplines like lectio divina or Scripture memorization. While the following practices depart somewhat from those traditions, if practiced regularly, these, too, though unconventional, can be extraordinarily powerful in guiding you into the present moment and drawing you closer to God, which is ultimately the essence and purpose of a spiritual discipline.
The Spiritual Practice of Staying in Place
Benedictine monks and nuns take a vow of stability when they first join the order. "The vow of stability affirms sameness," says author and Episcopal priest Elizabeth Canham, "a willingness to attend to the present moment, to the reality of this place, these people, as God's gift to me and the setting where I live out my discipleship."
To "affirm sameness" is radically counter-cultural in our society. We are conditioned, even encouraged, to drop one thing and move onto the next.
Bored on the job? Update your resume.
Shoes scuffed? Buy a new pair.
Acquaintance irritate us on Facebook? Unfriend.
We abandon with ease, enticed by the fresh and new.
Yet it's clear this relentless pursuit of the perfect place, the perfect situation, the perfect job, and the perfect person often leads to restlessness, anxiety, discontent, and even distance from God.
Outside the monastery, stability as a spiritual discipline can be practiced on both the macro and micro level. Practicing stability in the big picture of our lives means practicing contentment and gratitude in our careers, our parenting, our marriages, our homes, and our places.
On a micro level, the spiritual practice of staying in place might look like sitting on a park bench for five minutes during your daily dog walk, or gazing out the window during the few minutes it takes for your morning tea to steep.
Allowing ourselves to stop, to stay in one place, even for a few moments, offers us a chance to rest, to breathe, and to experience communion with God in the minutiae of our daily lives.
The Spiritual Practice of Digging Dandelions
When done mindfully, digging dandelions, doing dishes, folding laundry, washing the car, or any other monotonous chore on your to-do list can become a spiritual practice.
This past spring, after one look at the blur of yellow blanketing nearly every inch of my front yard, I pulled on my gardening gloves, grabbed the dandelion digger from the garage and proceeded to rid my lawn of the noxious weed, one bright bloom at a time.
As I kneeled, I let myself be immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of creation. My body relaxed into a rhythm, the cool grass bleeding circles of damp on the knees of my jeans. I began to notice and focus on my environment - the pungent smell of early spring dirt, the fresh scent of new growth high up in the pine boughs, the staccato call of the chickadee, the rise and fall of voices up the street, two neighbors chatting in the morning sun. I was fully present in the moment.
The next time you have a particularly monotonous chore on your to-do list, try doing it mindfully. You may find that as your body moves, the sights, smells, and sensations of your environment rise to the forefront, paving the way to inner stillness and peace.
The Spiritual Practice of Arriving Early
Most of us typically dash from one errand, appointment, and meeting to the next with barely an extra second to spare, yet the simple practice of arriving to your next destination even five minutes early can have a lasting impact on your mind, body, and soul.
Most days I intentionally arrive at my son's middle school several minutes before the dismissal bell. I ease my mini-van to the curb, click off the ignition, roll down the driver's side window, slip off my shoes, tuck one foot under my leg, and wait.
I try to resist scrolling Instagram or checking email on my phone. I don't always succeed, but when I do -- when I listen to the birds and the wind instead, when I gaze at the pollen sprinkled across the windshield like pixie dust, when I watch the tabby meow at the front door across the street - something subtle but lovely happens.
My jaw unclenches. My shoulders relax. My to-do list recedes into the background. My body and soul breathe.
In short, I retreat. I release my obsession with "getting it done," my worship of efficiency and productivity. I let myself be, if only for a few moments. I surrender to my senses - the scent of apple blossoms wafting through my open window, the scarlet flash of a cardinal amid verdant foliage.
As I wait for my son to walk up the sidewalk, I read the faded type that runs along the bottom of my mini-van's side mirror -- "Objects are closer than they appear."
The same can be said of our own selves, our lives, our loved ones, our place, our God. They are all closer than we think, closer than they sometimes appear. Arriving early and sitting still helps me remember that this is true.