Our inability to attend church during this pandemic is still a hot button topic.
In one curt, Friday afternoon statement, the President demanded that churches should open on Sunday even though nearly every state had already made provisions for limited openings. He also declared churches to be essential services because they
have more voters are just as important as liquor stores and abortion clinics. Besides, how complicated can it be to unlock the front doors and dust off the collection plates in two days?
Christians across the country are expressing their gratitude for his godly decision. Now they are able to return to the one place where they can act like christians without annoying the people around them.
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But the more important question is, how are you doing in your heart and soul?
Christians gather at church for worship, discipleship, and fellowship but it seems to me like church is the only place where many people get spiritually fed. If that is true then it both saddens and frightens me that we are that anemic.
Here are a some questions to ask yourself: Do I pray every day? Am I a blessing to others? Is my soul ever touched, moved toward God? Do I have friendships that are positive and godly?
Adult spiritual food, as Paul might call it, can be a private, personal pursuit and there are timeless, deeper spiritual practices that are available if you are willing to invest a bit of yourself.
Of course this is nowhere near a complete list, but here are some ways to close the space between you and God. Have a look and see if there are some that can fit you:
Thanks. There aren’t many things healthier for us that being thankful. It reorients us from ourselves and our obsessions toward something more solid and hopeful. It realigns our values, priorities, and direction.
I wrote awhile ago about a daily habit I developed of looking at the morning sky and saying, ‘Thank you father for this day’ then leaving my mind open for what else I should say to God. Any time taken for thank you is time away from complaining, worrying, selfish impulses – what could be more worthwhile?
Music. What is more worshipful than music? And the good news is that God speaks through any and every genre. If you have some you enjoy, great. If you need to search YouTube, great. Even better, go to iTunes or Spotify or Google and search for something worshipful that you’re not familiar with. Go someplace private, strap on the earphones, and immerse yourself.
Spiritual conversations. Yeah, you read that right. You can have spiritual conversations with people outside of church and on days not named after the big light in the sky. Yes, I know Zoom fatigue is a real thing but you are also able to arrange for a social distance coffee, or a social distance walk, can’t you?
More importantly, you can raise spiritual topics, discuss faith questions, talk or confess or testify about deeper things than whether we will have professional sports this summer. Go ahead, talk and listen, we are spiritual sisters and brothers.
Readings. My Utmost For His Highest is the classic evangelical daily reader and is available in a variety of formats. But there are so many more: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is daily thoughtfulness, Henri Noewen’s The Return of the Prodigal is a quick read and a big hug. Anything by Rachael Held Evans, Brennan Manning, Max Lucado, Richard Rohr, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, C.S. Lewis, James Martin, is readable and soul searching. I could go on but I’m out of breath. (Personal opinion: avoid televangelists, mega-church, and mega-ministry pastors.)
The Book of Common Prayer. This is a traditional collection of bible readings, prayers, thoughts, confessions, praises, you name it. Arranged for daily use and available in print, online, or through an app. (I use an app that is easy and meaningful.)
Lectio Divina. This is an ancient method of reading the scriptures. It involves reading slowly, considering any word or phrase that seems to stick out as you work through a passage or story. If nothing stands out in your thoughts, then read again until you come upon something meaningful to reflect on. Then, you know … reflect on it. (There are also some worthwhile apps for this.)
Conversational prayer. Also known as talking. From the heart. My grandma Rogers did this all the time; she talked to Jesus as if he was sitting in the room with her. And he was.
Examen. I have written previously about this Ignatian practice and I find it soul cleansing and healing. (Yep, apps here too.) At the end of the day it involves taking a few minutes to reflect on these five things:
- Be thankful for blessings. Reflect on your day and anything you are grateful for, big or small, that comes to your mind.
- Ask God’s Spirit to reveal the times through the day when you did not respond well.
- Review your day and ask God to point out moments when you have failed or acted selfishly.
- Ask for forgiveness and healing. Pray for protection from harm or guilt that may have been caused. Consider how you might have acted more wisely.
- Pray about tomorrow. Imagine what you will be doing, who you will interact with. Ask for help for the unseen and strength for your temptations.
Hitbodedut is related to this. It is an ancient Jewish practice that involves talking to God out loud while standing or walking in a secluded or private place (preferably in a forest or field but your backyard or bedroom will work as well).
It is telling God your feelings, thoughts, desires, troubles, joys – anything that comes to mind is appropriate, no matter how small. It is also an opportunity to talk about one’s own mistakes and flaws. If no words come to you, repeat whatever word is at the front of your mind. Even a quiet, breathy scream is a legitimate expression. Then listen.
All of these practices are simple, but be warned: as with anything worthwhile they require dedication, repetition, and honesty. God is always close, but it is our responsibility to welcome and allow his presence. God doesn’t speak easily to the outside, he speaks patiently to the inside.
So go ahead and reach out: quiet whispers and loud screams; loud whispers and quiet screams; all of the above. Let’s grow close to God while we’re waiting for our wise pastors to open the buildings.
And even then, then let’s keep growing.