(Re) Discovering Your Sacred Rhythms in Lent

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.  –Mark 6:30-32.

In the beginning of the book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes a time she felt Christian fatigue syndrome. Although heavily involved in doing church activities and service for Christ, she no longer felt the joy and peace she expected to feel in giving her life so fully to God.

I believe that people who are alive with love for God sometimes can become so busy doing for God or for others, or learning about God, that they can forget to just spend quality time with God.

This situation is compounded by the fact that we live in a culture that heavily promotes busyness, high productivity, multitasking and, in general, doing over be-ing (the poor economy doesn’t help). People I know who visit other parts of the world often comment that people in other countries are not such workaholics. Some cultures have shorter work days, more vacation time, and longer lunch hours–and they actually think Americans are crazy to want to focus so much on their jobs over relaxation with family and friends.

For those of us who follow Christ, this raises an interesting question: How do we spend time with God? Certainly, God is always with us, everywhere we go, but how are we “with God”? That is, how do we find time to make our hearts and minds attentive to God’s presence in the midst of our everyday lives? How do we experience God?

One way is to examine how Jesus approached work and ministry. In the biblical passage above, the apostles are getting back together after having been sent out in pairs to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. They have also just been given the news of the death of John the Baptist.

What Jesus does at this point in the story is rather remarkable. Jesus does not ask the disciples to use their success to build media hype. He doesn’t require new multitask methods to increase the profit margin (baptizing with one hand while healing the sick with the other?). Jesus doesn’t send them into battle to revenge the death of John the Baptist.

Instead, at the height of all their ministerial productivity and popularity, Jesus says:

Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.

I wonder if the disciples were surprised at this sudden shift of gears. Maybe they thought to themselves, Are you kidding? Didn’t you just commission us to spread the good news and heal the sick? Now you want us to ignore the needs of these people, escaping out into the wilderness? Could you make up your mind?

Jesus isn’t interested in milking the media, maximizing profit, or getting more done in less time. Jesus doesn’t view people as electronic gadgets that never need sleep (well, even those need recharging!). Jesus treats every disciple (and all people) the way best friends or intimate lovers treat each other, saying, in effect:

Let’s get out of here. Let’s go someplace where we can be alone.

In the story, Jesus and the disciples escape the crowd in the boat, going off to rest, to talk, to pray. The mob, with their many legitimate needs, would find them tomorrow, at which time they would be lovingly served.

People reading this blog do a great many things to serve and love God’s people–and what a great thing indeed that is! But among the many things you “do” this Lent, may God bless you with the rediscovery of quiet moments tucked here and there, an awareness of God’s presence during your work, or perhaps even a whole day or two to run away for a tryst with the One you love above all others.

Until next time, Amen!

Invitation: Contemplative Spiritual Practices Group

Sunrise beach walk--photo by Julie McCarty--click to enlarge

Every now and then, I find I have to do something to spice up my relationship with God. Like any relationship, God and I can get stuck in a rut, take things for granted, or let things go a little stale. Of course, it’s not really God who is letting things flounder, but rather I am the one who gets a little lazy or distracted.   (Sometimes the feeling of boredom or being stuck in a rut in prayer can really be God calling one to a deeper way of prayer—but that is the subject of another article.)

One way I hope to put a little pizazz into my prayer life this summer is by meeting with a small faith group to explore various contemplative spiritual practices. For six sessions, meeting every other week, we will be exploring different ways from the Christian tradition to pray and relate to God.

We will be meeting every other Wednesday beginning on June 29th, from 7:00 to 8:30 at a member’s home. Because of my background and training in this area, I will be facilitating the first few meetings. This group is part of the small group ministry at Easter Lutheran Church (ELCA) here in Eagan, Minnesota, but one does not have to be a member in order to join us. So you are welcome to attend if you are interested.

To begin with, the book we will be using is called Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert. The author lives up in the area of Crookston, MN, and is a church pastor with many  credentials and experience in teaching Christian prayer. We’ll be looking at only 2 chapters per meeting so as to allow time between sessions to experiment with prayer on your own. The book is available from Amazon, Border’s, and Barnes and Noble for about $11. Local stores would probably order it for you. Topics include how to pray using short passages from Scripture, journaling, praying in nature, integrating prayer and life experience, finding God in silence, and other topics. The book is very helpful, but you do not have to obtain it before the first meeting.

Creating a Life with God explains how to pray with Scripture using the ancient Christian method called lectio divina (sacred reading), the Jesus Prayer, entering into silence and solitude, finding God in day-to-day experiences, journaling, the role of body in prayer, praying in nature, etc.  It looks at how various Christians of the past used these different ways to build their spiritual lives. You can read more about this book at the publisher’s site here  and a review of it here.

As I mentioned, if you live close enough to join us, we would love to have you come. Just contact me for more info and directions to our first meeting location at a member’s home. (Click on contact page above.)

And if you are interested but cannot attend, think about reading the book yourself. Feel free to send questions to be discussed on this blog if you like.

Until next time, God be with you,  Amen!