A Candle in the Dark: My Spiritual Practices

tumblr_m6p17vsswh1qzqj3jo1_1280I am what psychologist Richard Beck calls a “winter Christian.” By that I mean that my relationship with God largely centers around my struggle to make sense of the crap in the world. I am not a critic of God or of the Church or of the Faith, but I am sensitive to shallowness and BS. And I steadfastly refuse to be taken for a ride. Being a winter Christian means that I tend to highlight the way in which God enters into our dark places and mourns and suffers with us, how he holds out hope of a future restoration as a way to tame the darkness and that I tend to lowlight the immediacy of God’s gift of joy and healing in the moment, how he breaks into the present with his future kingdom. To be sure, I believe that he acts in the present, but my default expression is one of sadness and longing. I much prefer the haunting melody of “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” to the bright thunder of “Joy to the World.” I like Advent better than Christmas and I like Lent better than Easter. I prefer a candle in the dark with a piano and a soft melody to brightComplinecandle lights with an electric guitar and an energetic praise song.

And my spiritual practices reflect that in that I tend to pull more life out of the spiritual practices where it is just me and the expectation of happy-clappiness is not present. I tend to struggle more with the practices that involve others because of the potential social expectation that all of us be joyful all of the time, that melancholia is a sign of weak faith (as an aside, if Abraham’s attitude to the unfulfilled promise of a son is any indication, complaint against God is a sign of great faith!). My personal spiritual life is largely built around praying the prayers of others, waiting in silence on God, and reflecting on the degree to which I am living out the life of holiness to which I’m called (spoiler alert: I always fail the holiness test!).

So, without further ado, I thought I’d lay out my spiritual practices. I hope what I do regularly might give guidance or inspiration to others looking to adopt spiritual habits. And, just so we are clear, I am deeply imperfect. On a day to day basis, I rarely do EVERYTHING (and sometimes, I don’t do anything) on this list. But I want to. And it is a goal toward which I strive. And failing to achieve my goal is, of course, a path toward sanctification.

  • I pray Lauds every morning and Compline every night. I make use of the Liturgy of the Hours, but I occasionally use Phyllis Tickle‘s Divine Hours.
  • I engage in centering/contemplative prayer every day.
  •  Before I go to sleep each night I write out a prayer of confession, a prayer of intercession, and a prayer of thanksgiving.
  • Every Sunday I answer these five questions about the previous week: 1) What am I thankful for this week? 2) As I review my week, when did I feel close to God? When did I feel more distant? 3) What have I learned about myself this week? Am I pleased with this insight? 4) Who do I want to be next week? How can I be that person? 5) What do I look forward to in my week next week?
  • I read for an hour or two every morning from whatever Great (or helpful) book I am on. (I am currently reading N.T. Wright‘s Resurrection of the Son of God).
  • I pray over each of my daughters this prayer each night: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. May the Lord Almighty grant you a restful night and peaceful end. Amen. Dear God, please give X sweet dreams and a restful night so that she is ready for the day tomorrow. And Lord, I am so thankful for X. I am so grateful for the day she had, especially getting to do Y. And dear God, we are so thankful for big sister Ellie/little sister Catherine. We are thankful for Mommy and Daddy, Granny and Grandpa, Grandma and PaPa, Uncle Doug, Uncle Colton, and Aunt Amy. For the doggies Poco, Mr. Mom, and Chloe. And for our friends, especially Z. It is in Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.”
  • I meet with my spiritual mentor every three weeks or so.
  • I am currently participating in a formal Bible Study at my church.
  • Amanda, the girls, and I are part of a community group from church that meets every other week.
  • And, of course, I attend Sunday services.