Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only those who see, take off their shoes.
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Being oblivious to the Sacred is endemic these days.
Amidst our drive by, fly by, shop-till-you-drop frenzy of a world, most of us have conditioned our capacity for attentiveness, for contemplation, for hearing the “still small voice of God” right out of ourselves.
Some blame electronic technology, others blame their family of origin, still others blame capitalism’s tendency to commodify everything under the sun.
All these factors may have infused this malady into our psyches, yet the invitation to first acknowledge and then Embrace The Sacred is—I’ve come to believe—still all around us, woven into the very fabric of Creation itself.
What we need to cultivate is what Jesus once called “Eyes to see and ears to hear.”
My eyes were opened and my ears unstopped to the “everywhere-and-everywhen” ways of the Holy during The Sacred Year. This was a period of time I set aside during my frenetic life as an itinerate motivational speaker, to engage a series of Spiritual Practices—some ancient and some modern—in hope of finding nourishment, rootedness, and an increasing depth in my life and faith.
Having lived and written about The Sacred Year, I’d commend three specific Spiritual Practices as you seek to embrace the sacred this coming year.
Spiritual Practice #1: Attentiveness
If you’re reading these words right now, pervasive distraction and ceaseless multi-tasking is likely normal for you. While multi-tasking is a good thing for computers, the consistent conclusion seems to be that multi-tasking’s effect on human beings is anything but positive.[i]
The simple fact is that multi-tasking fractures the attention we’re able to give to whatever is before us.
As an antidote to the epidemic of perpetual partial attention, during The Sacred Year, I began taking an hour to eat an apple.
It might sound strange, but how else might one begin cultivating attentiveness? Divided evenly between my five senses, that means I had 12 minutes with each to explore the way the apple looked, felt, sounded, smelled and tasted.
Surprisingly, the more apples I contemplated the more aware and contemplative (from the Latin “to observe”) I became in general. As we engage it, the practice of attentiveness seems to spread out, infusing other areas and other relationships, helping us become more attentive.
After the third apple, I stopped multi-tasking people, started becoming more available and present to the people I love most in my life. No more asking half-baked questions during a conversation where I’m only partially present.
But why not start small? Go grab an apple, and set aside an hour. (And, I’ll let you in on a mystery that you can go explore with your own apple: what common kitchen ingredient do apple seeds taste like?)
Spiritual Practice #2: Silence
If a thing’s rarity makes it precious, silence may well be worth more than gold.
From dawn till dusk our lives are filled with noise—the sound of traffic and car horns, buzzing smart phones, the little pings of email / tweet / DM notifications, and let’s not forget the less-than-inspiring elevator music in every retail store.
Though the effect of noise seems subtle in daily doses, I’m convinced it compounds over time until our ears and very lives give us a persistent headache.
Even 5-10 minutes of “centering silence” in the morning can help counteract the toxin of our culture’s ceaseless noise.
At the beginning of The Sacred Year, I found it especially helpful during my practice of “centering silence” to light a candle and contemplate the way darkness has not overcome the light.
As you enter into this year, consider dedicating 5, 10, even 20 minutes to a daily rhythm of “centering silence.” If possible, do this before checking your email, before turning on your cell phone. Light a candle. Bask in its warmth and light.As you grow deeper into the practice, notice the way the “centering silence” becomes a sort of anchor point, a place of reference and orientation that you can return to during the day, no matter how noisy life may be.
Spiritual Practice #3: Simplicity
Contrary to the dictates of today’s reigning economic theory, Thoreau once wisely noted, “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”[ii]
Simplicity isn’t about chiding ourselves for owning too much, but rather cultivating the capacity to become more thankful and content with less than we’ve been led to believe we ought to want (or deserve).
The Spiritual Practice of simplicity can take on many forms: consider giving away all articles of clothing that you haven’t worn in the last year, instituting a month-long moratorium on buying “anything new” (fascinating how removing the urgency to purchase creates space for healthy evaluation), or even trying to eat on $2.00 per day. (Around 2 billion people subsist on less than $2.00 per day in our world).
Practicing the latter (plain oatmeal for lunch, simple beans and rice for lunch and dinner) had a surprising effect on me: I began to anticipate, notice, and appreciate EVERY meal with a heightened sense of gratitude and delight. Whereas I had simply consumed food before practicing simplicity, I began enjoying it instead.
This is the pearl of great price buried way down deep in the practice of simplicity: it enables increased delight and increased satisfaction, even as it empowers us to consume less of Creation’s finite resources.
Misunderstandings of Spiritual Practice have twisted them into ways of one-upping others, or trying to earn God’s approval.
The most clarifying metaphor I’ve yet come across is that of a sailboat: Spiritual Practices are sort of like trimming the sails. Doing so is essential, yes, but well-trimmed sails are only secondarily responsible for the sailboat’s movement.
Trim your sails all you want, but if it weren’t for the Wind, there’d be no movement at all.
But—thanks be to God—the Wind of the Creating, Sustaining and Redeeming God billows throughout our very days and lives.
Grace and Peace to you as you Embrace The Sacred this coming year.
Invitation to share: Because we’re all on this journey together, consider sharing what you discover through the above practices via the hashtag #EmbraceTheSacred.
About the Book
Michael Yankoski’s new book chronicles his intentional pilgrimage into Spiritual Practice: The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice—How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life (Thomas Nelson, 2014). Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books and e-books are sold. Read an excerpt at the Patheos Book Club here.
Michael Yankoski is a writer, aspiring theologian, and urban homesteader who dreams of becoming a competent woodworker, musician, and sailor. He received his MA in theological studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a (novitiate) Oblate of St. Benedict, and has authored four books including Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America. Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are PhD students at the University of Notre Dame. Web: www.MichaelYankoski.com Facebook: fb.com/myankoski Twitter: @michaelyankoski
[i] See, for example, Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains.
[ii] Henry David Thoreau. Quoted in Wayne Muller, The Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest(New York: Bantam Books, 1999), 200.