Rev. Jackie Hibbard
Heather floated the idea of a theme for today around Spiritual Practices last month during our Caring Ministry meeting. I wasn’t sure where we would each go or even what the lectionary text was at that time. We met a couple of weeks later to do some worship planning together and read through the lectionary texts and landed on this one you heard read by Cathy. One of the other readings was from the Hebrew Bible in the book of Job and let’s say it is intense. Job describes himself as bitter and looking to God so that he can lay his case before him to plead that God take away his pain and burdens and restore him once again.
I’m guessing we’ve all felt like that at some time in our life. Everything feels really hard, nothing is going our way, things are heavy and dark, and we feel like God is missing at best or at worst conspiring against us. Maybe you have pleaded desperately for God’s help. Maybe you’ve been too scared to do that or thought you didn’t deserve God’s help. Maybe somewhere along the line you learned to just deal with whatever happens and not complain too loudly. Maybe you have gotten busy with your to do list and forgotten you. Maybe you are tethered to your phone and compulsively check to make sure you haven’t missed a call, text, email or social media post. Perhaps you go from one meeting or obligation to another without any kind of break. Or maybe, like Job you complain bitterly.
And this text from Hebrews … God’s word and works are like a double edged sword able to cut through anything. Can it cut through your fear, your walls, the beliefs about yourself and the world that you have learned and/or crafted? Can it pierce your heart? Can God really understand how you feel? Your pain, your wounds, your joys and gladness? According to this scripture and many others, yes. And … we are actors in this too. Jesus understands our pain according to the writer of Hebrews and to do that we need to approach God with boldness so that we may find mercy and receive grace and help in time of need. It’s not all on God, we have a role in this relationship is what I take from this.
I was introduced to a book last week that I’ve been making my way through over the last week. Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and other Caregivers by Kirk Byron Jones. (Judson Pr; 20th Anniversary Edition (January 29, 2021) ) In it, he describes the rampant problems of hurry and overload in our society and how they effect our lives in negative ways. He said that when we focus on hurry and busyness and doing at the expense of our self, this is self-neglect and self-violence. That just stopped me right in my tracks. He goes on to say throughout the book that we get so busy doing things that seem essential, that we forget to fill up and simply be. If we don’t focus on being, then we can’t really do or serve ourselves let alone anyone else. And in focusing on the being, filling our spiritual tank up, we can be better to ourselves and those around us. Perhaps the double edge sword from our text this morning is doing and being - we need both. If we focus on one more than another, neither serves us.
Some of you know that I was pretty sick earlier this week. I woke up on Tuesday and my body literally said, not today. You can not push me any further, today you rest. I fed the animals, because they have to eat, and went back to bed. Every time I woke up and thought, oh I feel better, my body said, nope, not yet! And back to bed for me. Literally I slept for most of the day and through the night. I was hearing the authors voice in my head – self-neglect and self-violence will get me nowhere. Wednesday, I felt a little better and I had about 90 minutes of feeling good and then back to sleep. That cycle continued all day. Thursday I finally started to feel a little more normal but daily naps this week are essential. Thankfully, this wasn’t COVID for those of you who are wondering – a cold or sinus infection plus the biggest dose of fatigue that I have felt in quite a while. It’s a place I vowed I would not allow myself to get to after leaving my highly stressful job over 2 years ago. And I thought I was doing ok until I get another wake up call to pay attention and stop doing so much. This week, I discovered that Sleep is a Spiritual Practice.
During the pandemic I built in lots of down time, went on a daily walk with Harley, spent quality time with the horses and had some regular spiritual practices that kept me balanced. I noticed a few weeks ago that things were out of balance again and made some plans to adjust my schedule but what I didn’t do was focus on the spiritual practices. I wasn’t bold enough to really claim what I needed fully.
What are spiritual practices anyway? Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat from the website Spirituality and Practice define it this way, “Spiritual practices are specific activities you do to deepen your relationships with the sacred and the world around you. Practices help you connect to God (or whatever name you use to describe that "something more" beyond yourself). They enable you to become actively engaged with your inner or "true" selves — the depth of your being. And they expand the breadth of your experiences, encouraging you to relate in a particular way to other people and the whole creation, including animate and inanimate beings.
"We are what we practice," Jewish writer Avram Davis observed. "If we become angry a lot, then essentially we are practicing anger. And we get quite good at it. Conversely, if we practice being joyful, then a joyful person is what we become." So we practice all kinds of things all the time, but the decision to do spiritual practices is intentional. These activities have meaning and purpose, and they influence how we live our lives.
Practices are usually very concrete and practical. They specify just how you can walk your talk. Sometimes before you can act, however, you may need to clarify your values and beliefs. Asking and living with questions is a kind of practice. Some practices require setting aside a special place and time, but most of them can be done in the midst of your daily life.
A spiritual practice does not have to be hard. It rewards presence, not effort. Some practices do yield an outcome, but many are done simply for their own sake. And practice does not make perfect. Don't expect to overcome all your weaknesses and fix all your problems. Indeed, difficulties are to be expected and can be used as aids on your journey.
Practice is a process, and it changes over time. You may make a commitment to do a specific activity for years or you may get what you need from it in a day.
Practices do not have to be complicated. Consider how many of the ritual exercises of the world’s religions are simple: lighting a candle, eating a piece of bread, bowing. And don’t disdain the use of your mind. Naming, remembering, watching, identifying, imagining, questioning — these are honored elements of the spiritual life. The best practices for you will arise naturally out of your ordinary activities as you reframe and redirect them toward new depth and breadth.” (https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/about/what-are-spiritual-practices)
See sleep, an everyday, ordinary activity, can be a spiritual practice! I’ve known this for awhile because I was introduced to the Nap Ministry during the pandemic, but I hadn’t claimed it as a spiritual practice until this week. The Nap Ministry was founded in 2016 by Tricia Hersey and is an organization that examines the liberating power of naps and they say “REST IS RESISTANCE” Check out their website! (https://thenapministry.wordpress.com)
I have a gratitude practice too – and sadly the last few weeks as I got so focused on “doing” that I let it go to the wayside. I know at least one of you here today also has a daily gratitude practice and has a paper on her refrigerator where she writes what she is grateful for at the end of every day. I’ve gotten back to that practice this week. It helps me remember that I am loved, cared for and all is not hard or lost.
Our Tuesday & Thursday morning Breathing Space has become a regular spiritual practice for many of us. When we first dreamt up the idea in a Caring Ministry meeting at the beginning of the pandemic, none of us had any idea how important this spiritual practice would become for those of us who gather. A simple reading, silence and fellowship builds spiritual depth and community … and resilience for when things get difficult or we get tired.
Some other spiritual practices include prayer, reading affirmations, reading the Bible, poetry or a devotional book. Lighting a candle, focusing on your breath for a few moments and allowing thoughts to float by, sipping a cup of tea mindfully, coloring, singing, dancing, breathing at stop lights in your car. If you come to one of my horse meditations you learn that noticing your body and the sensations, emotions and messages it holds is a spiritual practice and sitting quietly with a beloved animal can be as well. In the 9am service we practiced walking meditation, which is another spiritual practice. Anything that brings you closer to God and helps you slow down and be present is a spiritual practice. What are some ideas you have … say them out loud if you are here or type them in the chat on zoom!
We must take time to rest, to practice whatever spiritual practice feeds you and realize that this is an essential part of who we are called to be. We are neither indispensable or invincible – if we don’t fill ourselves up and let God help fill us, we will break and be no good to anyone. Be bold as the scripture says as you approach God with your spiritual practice and allow yourself to receive mercy and find grace in a time of need.
It takes practice. Sometimes we forget, but then return.
To end our time together I want to read a few lines from the Jan Richardson blessing in Lectio Divina style. It’s another spiritual practice that I have been drawn to a lot recently.
Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and listen and take in these words.
Blessing in the Chaos by Jan Richardson (From Painted Prayerbook)
To all that is chaotic in you, let there come silence.
Let there be a calming of the clamoring, a stilling of the voices that
have laid their claim on you, that have made their home in you,
that go with you even to the holy places but will not let you rest, will not let you hear your life with wholeness or feel the grace that fashioned you.
Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos,
where you find the peace you did not think possible
and see what shimmers within the storm.
Read again – what word or phrase speaks to you today?
Read again – what message does this hold for you? And we’ll move into a 2 minute extended silence for you to take that in. At the end, I’ll ring the singing bowl to bring us back together.
Approach the throne of grace with boldness, to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need or simply to fill up again on the Spirit of God that is there for you so that you can continue to serve yourself, your loved ones and the world.