The art of spiritual practice
'You create a path of your own by looking within yourself and listening to your soul, cultivating your own ways of experiencing the sacred and then
practicing it. Practicing until you make it a song that sings you.’
Sue Monk Kidd
When we think about engaging in some form of spiritual practice or discipline, those that come most readily to mind are perhaps such traditional religious practices as prayer, fasting and worship. Indeed, these may be the only forms of practice we have been introduced to in the context of our religious or spiritual communities. Consequently, many of us struggle with finding practices that are helpful for us and with committing to them in a way that has the potential to be life-transforming.
Spiritual practices take many forms and there is a much greater variety of them than most of us are aware of. For example, in her book, ’50 Ways to Pray’, spiritual director, Teresa Blythe (2006), introduces us to fifty different spiritual practices drawn from many different spiritual traditions. The Buddhist writer, Madonna Gauding (2009), covers nearly three times that many meditation practices in her book, ‘The Meditation Bible’, again drawn from a variety of traditions. Even taken together, these two books do not come anywhere close to identifying the full range of practices that people draw on in their spiritual lives all over the world. In addition, other writers such as Jane Vennard (2014) and David Elkins (1998) introduce us to a range of activities that we might not normally think of as spiritual practices.
From a progressive perspective, any form of intentional activity that we undertake on a regular basis and that is designed to resource us in deepening our relationship with the Divine or with our innermost self or soul is a form of spiritual practice. This includes not only traditional religious practices such as prayer and fasting but also a whole range of other activities that we might not think of as being religious or spiritual in nature. It recognises that for many of us, ordinary, everyday actions and activities such as breathing, walking, running, singing, dancing, reading, writing, creating art, making music or communing with nature can become imbued with spiritual significance and can also play a part in our search for the Divine.
If we are finding committing to spiritual practice difficult, it may be that we are drawing on practices that are not right for us. Just as our spiritualities are unique so too are the ways in which we create sacred space in our lives and just as our spirituality changes and evolves over the years, so too does the way in which we practise it in our lives. As Sue Monk Kidd reminds us, we need to create our own path rather than blindly follow someone else’s. And we need to allow that path to change course whenever it needs to as we move through life. From time to time, therefore, it is important for us to examine the practices we engage in regularly and to ask ourselves whether they are feeding our soul, refreshing our spirit and helping us to connect with the Divine. The particular practices that our tradition points us to or that others find helpful may not always be beneficial for us and practices that we have found helpful in the past will not necessarily be helpful for us in the present or future. As the Buddha once said, ‘To insist on a spiritual practice that served you in the past is to carry the raft on your back after you have crossed the river.’ We need to have the courage to experiment, to make changes and perhaps even to look outside the walls of our own tradition for practices that will resource us effectively.
Books about spiritual practice
The following books will introduce you to a wide range of spiritual practices from a variety of different traditions:
Teresa Blythe (2006) 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from many traditions and times. Abingdon Press
Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat (1996) Spiritual Literacy: Reading the sacred in everyday life. Simon & Schuster
David Elkins (1998) Beyond Religion: A personal program for building a spiritual life outside the walls of traditional religion. Quest Books.
Madonna Gauding (2005) The Meditation Bible: The definitive guide to meditation. Godsfield Press
Jane Vennard (2014) Fully Awake and Truly Alive: Spiritual practices to nurture your soul. Skylight Paths Publishing
Spirituality and Practice: Resources for spiritual journeys