The Psalmist tells us that in the morning they seek for God, early in the morning they watch for God. That image of rising early in the morning to watch for God as one might watch for the rising sun over the horizon is a beautiful image of what spiritual practice can be. Often times when we turn to our spiritual practice we may not get the mystical experience we hope for. There may not be a flash of insight or feeling of intimacy with God or deep union with all things which we know to be a balm for our life. Yet to turn regularly to your spiritual practice whether it be prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, yoga, or some other way of opening one’s self to the Sacred remains important in those moments. Even when you do not feel anything overwhelming from your practice, it still opens you so you might watch for God, look for the Sacred, in your own life.
For me, the practice of meditation as a part of prayer does this for me. When I meditate, I am stepping back to truly look at my life. At times this is very uncomfortable. I don’t want to face the heartache I feel over someone passing or having someone close to me battle chronic illness. I don’t want to reflect on the mistakes I’ve made, or perhaps good things that have occurred that are long past. Though meditation brings us to a sense of clearness, of quietness of soul, and of peace at times first we must let ourselves see and experience without judgment aspects of ourselves we wish to push down and forget. We practice not pushing judgment on those experiences, those moments, on ourselves and others as thoughts & memories of them come up. I find for me this is hard. Memories may come to the surface where I am filled with shame in that memory for failing to know or understand things which would have made my life work. “If only…” comes to mind. Yet by letting go of that judgment I realize much of the suffering the memory produces comes not from what I endured but the judgments on others and myself I still cling to about what I am remembering. Also as I begin to let go the need to judge myself and others I begin to see how God was present and at work even in the darkest, scariest, and most shameful moments. I begin to see how God is still present in those moments, able to teach me new lessons when I put away judgment on the past and see my life there with new eyes.
Meditation helps me engage in this same process on the events of the day which have just occurred and which lay ahead of me. Stripping away the barriers of judgment of others, myself, and the day that has passed like pulling away seaweed collected on driftwood gathered on the beach I become able to see my life more clearly. In it I can with more clarity see both the mistakes I have made and am making, as well as the opportunities and gifts. Through this I am awakened to how God is present in my ordinary everyday life. I am freed to experience God as God is present not as the ground-quaking thunder of a charismatic experience or mystical flight of transcendence but as the quiet whisper like the background song of birds, chatter of squirrels, and cry of cicadas which ever surround us late summers in the Carolinas but which we often walk by without noticing. In that oh so quiet whisper God calls me to deeper knowledge of God & myself.
As I write, I just celebrated 12 years of marriage with my wife. I cannot help but think of our relationship as a metaphor for the relationship with God our spiritual practices engender. We have had times of flights of passion, of romance, and of great fun. Yet there have been trying times — a time early on in our marriage I didn’t know if we’d stay together, times that we also have faced heart-wrenching tragedies, times we made bad choices we’d do differently today, and also times where our relationship was just going through the hum-drum every day. I wouldn’t trade a moment for this diversity of shared experiences has given me a relationship with someone so dear to me, that has transformed my life in so many beautiful ways. To sustain it we have had to make regular time together. Sometimes that regular time is like the storybook romance. Sometimes it is goofy, silly, and hilarious. Sometimes it means we have a fight we have to make up from later. Sometimes it is pretty hum-drum. But making that quality time together, even when it is not like a storybook romance, is the glue that keeps us close and why our 12 years together seem such a joy and treasure to me.
It is like that in our spiritual lives. The practices we engage in to access the Sacred need not always give us some height of mystical awareness, some overwhelming warmth from above. Instead they connect us to the Sacred in our everyday life, sometimes joyfully, sometimes painfully, sometimes in ways that are hard to define. That daily practice knits together a closer relationship with God, with yourself, and with those around you, which transforms you too. And I find at the end of the day it too is worth it.
Find your spiritual practice. Be faithful to it. And in so doing grow to deeper awareness of the God who lives in, with, and through you & all things and through God, come to deeper love for yourself, others, and all God’s world.
I ain’t whistling any Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,