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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual disciplines’

fastingThey said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” [John 5:33 NIV]

In this instance, Jesus clearly stated that his followers did not need to fast while they were with the “bridegroom.” But of course, the implication is equally clear that once the bridegroom is gone, then fasting will be back in the picture.

It’s actually a ancient practice but a simple one. Up until more modern times, fasting has been all about the food. The preparation and consumption of food used to be a large portion of a person’s day (hunting and gathering and all that).

According to a study done back in 2006, the average American now spends 67 minutes a day eating and drinking, literally. That’s a lot less than our ancestors. Ironically, we spend more time driving (average 101 minutes per day) and a whopping 2.8 hours watching TV. A more recent report, lumped all media together which added up to 500 minutes a day or almost 8 hours (this includes work and pleasure).

daily consumption of media

So, perhaps you considered fasting from food during Lent this year, but quite honestly, a little fasting from media might be a more challenging sacrifice. 🙂

I have fasted several times before from food. Usually, for me, it has to be an all or nothing kind of thing. I can’t just fast a single meal a day or one day out of the week. If I’m going to fast, then I need to fast for several days running. The first three days are usually the most difficult and then after that, it’s pretty straightforward. The best part is not the food or lack of food, it’s the space that not eating leaves in my day and in my mind. I may only eat and drink 67 minutes a day, but there are countless other minutes involved with food.

I’d love to know if anyone has counted the number of times a mom is asked over a lifetime, “What’s for dinner?” I think a lot about the logistics of meals: what to make, what is needed to make what I decide to magrieving girlke, when will I have time to go to the store, what time do I need to start, what time should we sit down, who can’t make it to the table, what foods go together, etc. etc. Yeah, I like fasting. They’re on their own next week.

I usually start my fasts with a dilemma or a question. As I had anticipated, my move out of my big suburban house where we raised our kids and into a much different downsized old house in town, has generated some new grief and the outlines of depression. I don’t much like being a widow even though it’s been tempered by a delightful but demanding infant grandchild in the room next to mine. But even that can’t push back the weight of what feels like a heart of stone. Come sweet Healing God and speak into my losses and birth something from them; soften my heart again.

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ListensCome close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66:16-20]

It’s not always easy to listen. If you are anything like me, you are forming an answer or comment to whatever the other person is saying while he/she is saying it. How often do I only hear a portion of what is being said. How often I react to one phrase and miss the second. How often I miss the point. And in short order, it’s no longer a conversation but a debate, or worse, an argument, or worse still, a screaming match. All because one or both of us didn’t really listen. Maybe we heard words but we didn’t listen. We didn’t attend to one another.

God, on the other hand, is always ready and willing to listen. And through God’s listening, I have an opportunity to learn from God about listening. God hears intent. God hears motive. God hears between the lines. God listens to the heart.

Oh, I suppose, God also listens to the dribble of my complaints and my shoulda, coulda, woulda. But these, I believe, he merely collects in a bowl and sets aside. What God is waiting to hear is a deeper self, of confession and repentance, of forgiveness and help.

onionsLike a layered onion, the outer layers aren’t much good for anything but protection of what is within. I am asked to peel those layers away. Sometimes, it takes a conscious effort to do so. For this reason, Lent becomes such a perfect time to strip away the chaff, to starve that part of me that normally consumes so much of my time and energy (like the preparation and eating of meals or going out to restaurants or snacking on sugars and guzzling sodas).

It’s a good time to fast. To prepare to fast. To peel. To strip. To offer God some truth.

God listens.

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I understand the command to pray, or to “call out” to God; I understand “asking” for help; I understand the concept of blessings and the intent of intercession. I know there are answered prayers and there are unanswered prayers. I know it is implied and implored. It is a discipline and a state of being. It is a foundation of faith. I know these things. And yet, my prayer life diminished. I am hollow in prayer. My prayer has become relegated to the emergency and no longer the essence of my day and breath. I was there and now I am not. I was deep and now I am shallow again.

I was floating in the deep waters. I am back in the sand and it is low tide, the water of life seeming to retreat.

I have not recovered from the ending of my project in study and prayer and writing. That held me close but once the regimen was removed, my house collapsed. There is a sorrow now in me. And flagging sense of loss once more. An attack of remorse and disappointment that is hard to shake.

I skied up and down some great mountains and hills and my momentum kept me going for a long time. But now, I am on a wide plateau and there is no motor, no synergy, no muse, no battery pack. There is only the craggy rocks before me with no guide wires. I am looking for the first hand hold, the first leap, the first small goal to reach in order to begin with a sense of possibility.

To do first. . . to pray . . . to read . . . to serve . . . to wait . . . ?

Like an alcoholic who was doing so well and then drinks again, so have I been. There is nothing left but to slog back again to authentic sobriety, which for me, is authentic spirituality.

I took a vacation from my inner self, expecting the connection to remain open and instead found my inner spirit roaming like my cell phone, and now, out of power. Plug in, sure. But to what first?

I think it’s prayer. I think it’s stillness. I think. Breathe. Breathe.

Just a little worried. This time.

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Photo by James Thobe

Peace is another word for God as is Light and Love and Jesus. I seek and I find and then I must pursue the next seeking and the next finding.

I Peter 3:11
They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14]

Through the course of this Lenten study on seeking, I have discovered that seeking is also asking, it’s an internal process, an acknowledgment of now and a need change, it’s humbling, it’s sowing, it’s trusting in both the process and the results, it’s repentance, it’s persistence and desire (as strong as thirst in the desert), and most of all, it’s learning to recognize the One who is sought. It’s a cycle of findings.

Like any other spiritual practice, it’s a discipline and requires both mindfulness and diffidence. This is a journey for the long haul. This is a lifelong practice.

I lose the sense of process so quickly along the way. My personality is one that prefers projects (beginning, middle, and END). I want to get there. I want to see the finish line so I know I’m going the right way.

But, alas, the walk of faith is not built this way. I know it in my head and yet, I keep trying to change the rules of engagement.

In nature, every season has a new challenge, it’s either too wet or too dry, too cold or too hot. Predators abound as do victims. Disease finds root and spreads. Death appears unyielding and potent, but then new life springs up with even more vigor, like new growth after a devastating forest fire.

Hope and faith are the fuel of seeking.

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It’s time to put some idols under the microscope. I get too complacent about my idols, thinking they have little power, after all, how bad could they be? I’m a walking believer, I study the scriptures, I pray, I go to church, I even fast . . .

I John 5:21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods)–[from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life]. Amen (so let it be).
{Amplified]

All faith-based disciplines are a help to the life of a follower of Christ. All of these practices aid the fuller indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But for every discipline and practice that is a help, there are “idols” that pull and push against us . . . me.

My idols (in no particular order):

  • Newspapers, News, Blogs, or just about anything on the Internet
  • Lattes and Loose Tea, brewed correctly
  • Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, FlickR
  • Sleeping late; pushing the snooze button 4 times
  • Being Busy, really busy, I mean really, really busy
  • Reading as many books at the same time as I can: current load is 8
  • Driving alone, so I can listen to an audio book
  • Smart Phone
  • Gadgets, or coveting gadgets, or reading about gadgets
  • Being funny
  • Being casual about money, a joke, since it’s in short supply
  • Writing anything: blog, book, reports, instructions, grocery lists
  • Photography, even without a good camera; or maybe it’s kvetching about that too
  • NPR (if I’m short on audio book) – silence not allowed in the car
  • Panera with a few special people (you know who you are)
  • Scheduling the family: even after age 18
  • Age lines, puffy veins, dry eye, sore feet, plus lots of extra pounds
  • Talking, a nice way of saying gossip
  • Being with and taking care of dogs & cats
  • Candles = ambiance
  • Pandora: Smooth Jazz
  • Work: librarian, manager, volunteer, parent
  • Workshops and Training – learn something else new
  • Children’s needs, Husband’s needs and all the needs they don’t know they need

Oh, come on, goofy right? Aren’t idols supposed to be like Mother Teresa or Brad Pitt? Aren’t they the rich and famous, the indulgences, the lofty or the lowly?

No, not really. I mean, I suppose those are issues too, but really, for me, it’s the “time suckers!” : anything that takes me away from my awareness of the Presence within, the marriage of Spirit, the inner life, Christ in me and me in Christ. That’s the very essence of what it means to be an overcomer in this world, this age, this culture. I know all this in my mind, but instead, I act out: I step on my scale and start another diet, I read too many posts, I play too much Scrabble or Words with Friends, I fill my time and watch the digital clock on my computer turn over, minute by minute by minute.

I occupy my mind. Ha Ha. Occupy Irmgarde. These activities, these mind numbing time wasters, they are all camping out inside me. And even if none are particularly bad, they draw me away from my center.

When I was in acting school, I learned a surefire remedy for hiccups: every time! Basically, it requires the person to “relax the diaphragm.” That’s all. But, to do cure usually requires silence, stillness, breath, and centering.

To cure idol pandering depends on the same practices.

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Why are we (including me) still writing and reading about prayer? How much more can be said? What other discoveries do I expect? Christian book stores are full of essays, real life stories, and teachings. Blogs and websites even more so. What does it take to “get it?”

James 5:13-14a, 16b
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them . . . The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

In one of my devotions while praying the hours, I encountered a writing that identified prayer as the most difficult task of a believer. Why is that true? What is it about our understanding of prayer over the ages that makes us disinclined to practice it without a lot of help. Help might come in the form of a prayer book, a rosary, a special “place” (a pew, a designated chair at home, or a particular position); help in prayer may seem to require other people or musical accompaniment.

I think the problem rests with physicalizing a spiritual or non-corporeal process.

I try to master my outer world in order to “make time” and space for prayer when in reality, the mastery is within. The real reason we may be encouraged to speak and sing prayers out loud us that it helps tame the incessant wandering of our minds. We practice corporate prayers in order to focus on a particular set of words and hopefully, join the inner self with the spoken word.

But truthfully, I can read a prayer and plan dinner at the same time. I can sing or pray out loud and review my most recent argument with my husband or children that morning. I can speak the Lord’s prayer and get lost in it much the same as famous singers lose their places singing the National Anthem at football stadiums. I’m not paying attention. My mind is elsewhere. I am not praying. I am going through the motions.

Prayer is about communing with the Holy Spirit. And although it may be easier to communicate within when it’s quiet or when I set aside my regular schedule to meditate or repeat prayers/mantras or execute a plan, the real “work” is in the heart and mind.

In the King James translations of verse 16 in James 5, it is the “fervent” prayer that is effective and powerful. Some people believe fervent to mean emotional or ongoing, long-winded or passionate; some even think of fervent prayer as fiery, vehement, or zealous. I used to think the same way.

Instead, I’m thinking no outward expression of a fervent prayer is going to have any more power or effectiveness than another kind without the interior self in full participation. It is not what I say or how I say it. Just now, I actually found a website blog that states, “Every time we pray, if we do so correctly, God’s mighty power is released . . . ” Is this what it’s come down to? We’re all trying to figure out how to “pray correctly?” That cannot be the solution.

The Holy Spirit is with me whether I am standing, sitting or walking. The Holy Spirit is present in the shower and at the computer. The Holy Spirit hears, sees, comprehends me in a way like no other. Unfortunately, my praxis is shutting out the Spirit from my conscious mind. I tend to relegate the Holy Spirit to role of observer only. That is not how prayer works.

“So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.” [Romans 8:26, Amplified]

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Nope. Not interested in enduring hardship. Sorry. Feels too much like self-flagellation. Suffer! Suffer! It’s good for you! I don’t want it. But doesn’t hardship come with life as much as joy? It is the human story.

Hebrews 12:7
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Perhaps it’s the coupling of the word “discipline” with hardship that sticks in my craw. I want to roll my eyes and say, “don’t do me any favors.”

I suppose, then, whether I like it or not, I need to examine my knee jerk reaction to discipline. I always think of discipline in terms of mistakes and wrongdoing. I get disciplined because I screwed up. Yuck.

But there is an aspect of discipline that I rarely consider and that’s regimen or training. My son recently finished Navy boot camp and he pretty much hated it. The constant demand for detail, for accuracy, for precision, and of course, long hours and hard work, were more than he thought he could handle. But he made it. He completed the challenge and once it was done, he knew he was better for it. It was rigorous and unpleasant at times, but he learned many lessons from the process.

There is a type of training that comes with becoming truly human. Not the human that is self-absorbed and striving for personal achievement and power, but the human who discovers the paradox of living like Christ. That human is different. And those hardships have to do with letting go.

These are the true hardships and once those are endured, the other perceived hardships like sickness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, loss of jobs, hunger, whatever . . . they are more easily lived through.

How can I keep this in my mind today? Discipline.

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