Practices Each Day, Week, Month & Year
It is easy for us to fall into experiencing contemplative practice like practicing a sport or a musical instrument. We start to feel like we need to make sure we do not miss a practice. Some of us put together complex schedules of contemplative practices each day, week, month, and year.
There are people who seem to believe we earn spiritual points by completing practice sessions.
Our contemplative practices are not like spending time in the weight room or running scales. There are no guarantees our practicing will improve our spiritual strength.
Why, then, are contemplative practices important? What are we doing if we are not trying to get better and stronger?
Spiritual life is not a competition. We are not working to become the contemplative equivalent of Olympic athletes or professional musicians.
My experience is all about living in a world which makes contemplation challenging. I am surrounded by distractions and shiny objects which attract my attention. It is almost impossible for me to be contemplative without practicing each day, week, month, and year.
We need to establish a practice which strengthens our contemplative spiritual life each day. Some of us practice centering prayer or lectio divina, or both, each day. We may be able to practice contemplative walking around or reflective reading. For some of us it is quiet time with a cup of tea or coffee before everyday life wraps its arms around us.
A regular daily contemplative practice helps us enter the rest of our day with the attention it deserves.
Gradually, day by day, our daily practices teach us how to shape our contemplative lives one day at a time.
We take time to listen to sacred stillness and stillness permeates our lives. Each day is a step in the right direction.
Practices Each Week
The steps we take each day form the foundation of our contemplative practices.
Many of us have busy everyday lives. Its is a challenge for us to squeeze daily contemplative practices into our schedules each day. We may be able to find more room in our weeks for reflection and contemplation.
The concept of a weekend was intended to give us time for fresh air and reflection. Many of us have turned our weekends upside down by filling them with activities and responsibilities.
One ancient weekly contemplative practice is developing a Sabbath.
Sabbath gives us the opportunity to spend time in stillness and rest. We trust we can step away from the work of our weekdays to find more depth and the larger picture.
Some of us spend part of our weekly Sabbath in a place of formal worship. It is easy for others of us to become frustrated with the way worship communities soak up our time with activities.
Whether we are drawn into formal worship communities or not, we can find a weekly contemplative practice.
We may take advantage of quiet days or centering prayer groups sponsored by others. Next month, another spiritual director and I will begin an online centering prayer group which will meet each week.
Developing weekly contemplative practices give us ways to keep track of our reflection over time. We can use our practice to reflect back on the spiritual path we have followed or forward to the future.
A weekly practice is not about measuring how well we are doing or how far we have come. Each week gives us insights and questions into its own experience. It is not about measuring how fast we are going or how strong we are becoming.
We pause each week to take a deeper breath.
Practices Each Month
Developing a monthly contemplative practice can often be a way to reflect on more than a week or a day.
We take time to be still and listen. Some of us practice participating in a monthly quiet day or retreat. I also plan to begin a monthly online quiet day with another spiritual director this fall.
Other monthly contemplative practice describes how I practice as a spiritual director. The schedule I follow most often with the people I talk to is meeting each month.
We make an appointment in advance and spend an hour or so in conversation. Most of what I do is listening and asking insightful questions. Talking each month usually gives our conversations authenticity and honesty.
Some people tell me I am the only one who listens to them.
We share thoughts and feelings, exploring around and beneath them to find their purpose and meaning.
Each month has a life of its own, discovering things which have hidden themselves even from us.
Together we practice contemplation each month. Talking and listening, asking and answering, laughing and crying.
Our monthly contemplative practices form the next level of spiritual life in us.
Practices Each Year
Last week I spent time at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, where I am a lay Oblate. I try to take a retreat each year for a few days around the time I was received there.
My annual contemplative retreat gives my year a rhythm and flow. The months feel different because they are either moving away from or back toward my time at the hermitage.
The time at the hermitage is essentially time of listening to stillness and rest. I do not necessarily think profound thoughts. It is a time of being open to what sacred stillness has to tell me.
An annual practice helps all the other pieces of contemplative life fit together. As each practice supports reflection and openness, an annual practice holds practices together.
Each contemplative practice we develop helps us pay attention in its own ways. We recognize things we have missed before and we hear the meaning in the stillness in each moment.
We weave together practices for each day, week, month, and year.
What will we do today to build practices for each week, month, and year to come?
How will we choose practices for each day, week, month, and year ahead?
[Image by photosteve101]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.