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I was asked this week about spiritual disciplines. Every religion I’m aware of has practices and exercises to deepen our connection with God or develop our own insight. Those who are “spiritual but not religious” often find they benefit from a regular practice, many of which have been developed in religious traditions and communities. These include meditation and contemplation, of course, as well as more directed practices such as prayer in its many varieties. More active disciplines include yoga, tai-chi, and some of the martial arts. These have often been secularised in the West; but can be more beneficial if practised with a spiritual intention. Practising music can be a valuable discipline as well.
Daily journaling and meditative reading are common disciplines. Christian monastics developed a practice of scripture reading called lectio divina, that is, lip-reading of scriptures and psalms, either silently or in a quiet chant. Portions of the Gospel of John are especially suitable for this.
There are also ascetic practices that range from mild, such as a weekly day of fasting, to challenging, such as walking the Camino de Santiago, all the way to physically dangerous practices which (having myself jumped from airplanes) I will not criticize here; except to note that any practice that is physically dangerous can also be spiritually damaging, and should not be considered without responsible community and a trustworthy, experienced spiritual director or guide.
Religious practices or spiritual disciplines should encourage our connections with one another, and may (hopefully will) result in a sense of focus and either engagement or detachment that is often described as worshipful or spiritual. Christians are generally expected to be part of a worshiping community: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25). Islam and Judaism both have considerable expectations of discipline and community, and deep resources for prayer and practice.
Most experienced contemplatives will vary their practice from time to time. Anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously should have a discipline. It’s well worth seeking the guidance of someone you know who has a meaningful spiritual practice of their own.
The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church