On the surface it seems like it should be relatively easy for me. I teach the stuff! I can read in spirituality almost any day I choose. Some days I have to read it in order to teach a particular class for the day. However in all honesty, it is not any easier for me than any other person. Just because I teach spirituality does not make me spiritual. I could teach you about Buddhism, too, but that does not make me a Buddhist. And teaching something is not the same thing as journeying in that reality.
I could teach you about prayer. We could read a book or two about prayer and pass an examination on the material. But that does not mean we have learned to pray. We have learned about prayer. There is a big difference!
So how does one begin the spiritual journey? I am sure there are many different answers from different people. Let me identify three aspects of beginning and, then, navigating the spiritual journey: intentionality, discipline, and action. Obviously, all three of these are general. It is up to me and you to get specific. Let’s look at each one in turn.
First comes intentionality. This is crucial. If we can use an image, it is the keys to the car. Nothing happens until you turn the key in the ignition. This is how intentionality works, too. It starts the spiritual journey. That is still true for me now many decades into the spiritual journey. I still have to be intentional. I have to set aside some time for prayer. I don’t pray in an automatic way. I intend to pray…and then, I can pray. It is that simple. But it is not always that easy. It is easy to forget---to fail to be intentional.
Secondly comes discipline. I cannot imagine walking a spiritual journey without discipline. Discipline means I find a way to repeat the prayer of the first and second day. Discipline is the key to the spiritual journey becoming the daily reality that it needs to become. In a sense discipline is the way my intentionality is lived out over time. It is the repetition of the original intent to be on a spiritual journey.
The last part of the journey is the most obvious. If I don’t act, nothing happens. An intent to be on the spiritual journey is not yet to begin. It is an intent to begin. Until and unless I actually act---until I actually pray---then there is no journey. Wanting to be on a spiritual journey is different than actually being on the journey. Again, this is where action and discipline connect. Discipline is repeated action over time. That is what it means to be on a spiritual journey.
All these thoughts were precipitated when I read part of the lectionary reading for the weekend. Some of the reading comes from one of the longest Psalms of the Hebrew Bible, namely, Psalm 119. The reading for the day begins with the Psalmist petitioning God: “I cry to you; save me…” (Ps. 119:145) I can resonate with this petition. I probably don’t think about “crying” to the Lord. Likely, I don’t use the range of emotional language that the Psalmist employs. But I can resonate with asking to be saved.
And then comes the part that made me think about walking the spiritual journey. The Psalmist says,147 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I put my hope in your words.” (146) This is a recipe for the kind of discipline that is an action that sustains a spiritual journey. In the morning I can get out of bed and cry for help---I can pray to God. And I will put my hope in God and God’s promises to keep me safe.
And then at night, the Psalmist has more intentionality, discipline and action. The Psalmist says, “My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” (147) This tells me that I could live throughout the day. But as day closes, I can keep my eyes awake for a little bit longer. The Psalmist says to meditate on the promises of God.
That is a good way to go into the night. Meditate on God’s care though the night. Meditation is a nice alternative to prayer. For me meditation is some leisurely pondering. It is a different kind of action. It adds variety to the discipline. And it shapes my intentionality in a good way.
What are shared here are basic ingredients of the spiritual journey. It is what keeps me on track. And when I get off track, it is how to get back with the journey.