Recently it dawned on me that my spiritual discipline is a great deal like my physical discipline. I am sure that is not novel, but I also am sure I never thought about it quite like that. Being active physically has been important to me for as long as I can remember. I am lucky in the sense that it has always been something I wanted to do, rather than felt like I had to do it. Perhaps growing up on a farm helped the process. I cannot remember when I did not go outside to work or to play. On the farm there was a great deal of work. But there also was a fair amount of play. Both are healthy.
In due time sports became very important to me. I certainly was no star, but I played with gusto. I had fun and was active. I continue to play long after my eligible years in school were finished. Being physically active was a way of life for me. It was not a matter of virtue. I did it because I wanted to do it; it was fun.
Spiritual discipline has not always been a part of my life. For sure, I cannot remember not going to church. In my younger days going to church was simply what we did. I don’t recall being asked whether I wanted to go. It was a given. But I would also be less than honest if I did not say I differentiated going to church and getting something out of going to church! For sure, I was physically present. But most of the time, I do not think I was spiritually present.
Again, that habit continued long after I left home for college and all the years since college. I have never been one who thinks that going to church equals salvation or whatever “merit” is thought to be the “reward” for going to church. During my adult years, I figured out that participating in my faith journey with a group of people was important. In effect, I began to articulate a sense of community. Community became a necessary ingredient in my spiritual journey. It still is.
I realize it is optional whether I do physical exercise and spiritual discipline. I could cease doing either or both. I could quit exercising and being spiritual. But in my case, that would be stupid. And I prefer thinking I am not stupid!
Physical exercise is perhaps the easier one to understand and appreciate why I would keep doing it. It keeps me somewhat in shape (my athletic days are very distant in the mirror of my life). I like to think being active physically keeps me mentally on top of it. I know I feel better and am sharper. Again, there are no guarantees, but I plan on playing as long as I can.
I suspect people could wonder about the spiritual discipline. Spending some time each day in various disciplines, like prayer, meditation, silence, etc., could seem childish, wasteful or silly. Sometimes it seems, our culture would assume that smart, relatively successful, emotionally healthy people would not need spiritual disciplines. The implication would be, if you have your act together, why would you need spiritual stuff? I rather doubt that I have my act together!
I don’t think practicing spiritual disciplines adds more days to my life and likely has little to do with eternal life. I am not against either one---more days or eternal life. But they are not why I practice spiritual disciplines. I practice them in order to continue trying to be present to life and to practice the Presence of the Spirit that gives you and me life itself.
I like the way one of the Psalms from today’s lectionary puts it. Psalm 91 opens with these familiar words to me. “You who live in the shelter of the Most High…” (91:1). That is still a challenge for me. I don’t think I am able to “live” in the shelter of God’s Presence. Perhaps I do, but I am not always aware of it. Practicing spiritual disciplines gives me the chance to become aware of this Presence. Practicing those disciplines enables me to be mindful that I can live in the shelter of the Divine Presence. It is more a daily quest than a daily conquering.
The second half of the initial verse of Psalm 91 essentially repeats the first part of the verse. That part of the verse talks about the one “who abides in the shadow of the Almighty.” (91:1). I like the verb, abide. That is my aspiration. If I keep practicing the spiritual disciplines, then I have a better chance of coming to abide in the Presence of the Divinity.
Why would I care to abide in the Divine Presence---especially if I am not doing it precisely to gain more days in life or necessarily eternal life? I care to abide in the Presence because that Presence is the very Heart of the universe. In my understanding God is the Heart of the universe---the Soul of the universe, if you can think of it that way. To be able to come to know and abide in that Soul would be the most soulful thing I could imagine.
It would lead me to come under Divine Protection. Practicing spiritual disciplines helps me learn to spend more and more time under this Protection. Ultimately the hope is to abide under the Divine Protection.