By Rev. Robin A. Rhodes
Everyday spirituality is a good topic for this half-way point through the Christian Lenten season of reflection. Many of us have been on the journey of attending to our physical, social, emotional, and mental self-care. Like the other dimensions listed, our spiritual life is an essential part of our wholeness and well-being. Our spiritual life is a very unique exploration of the ways of living that our whole selves – hearts, minds, and souls – through time, work to bring into relationship all that we love and know with all that we do and support in the world. This is the common human search for the ability to surrender and trust our beliefs and choices that will offer us the wonderful transformative creativity to be attentive to and recognize the spiritual ways that continue to enliven our daily lives.
The spiritual dimension of our life is the search for meaning and purpose and the peace of mind and joy, which becomes our deepest responses to all our relationships and responsibilities in our human life. With this in mind, here are my favorite and the simplest ways to add spiritual self-care to your life.
- Discover your communities of grace. Good support is available in communities that are committed to living out spiritual values together while honoring each person’s unique path. They do not have to be traditional places of worship; for example, the 12-step programs encourage a spiritual path through their fellowship and commitments. Communities of grace are gatherings where you are known, accepted and loved, and where you find safety in the midst of your life journey.
- Accept progress, not perfection. Changing our lives from habitual ways to disciplines of self-awareness is not always comfortable. When I was younger I struggled year after year to give up drinking for Lent. The experience of failing led to the spiritual insight that I could not do spiritual work without spiritual help. In Alcoholic Anonymous’ Big Book, which explains the organization’s 12-step process to recovery, there is a great sentence about the initial doubt that arises when someone is faced with the recommended spiritual disciplines of the 12 Steps. It says, “What an order! I cannot go through it!” Then there is a paragraph that follows with the encouraging wisdom, “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is we are ready to grow along spiritual lines. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” Then this portion of Chapter 5 goes on to explain “that God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” Each day we can practice being gracious with ourselves on our path toward spirituality.
- Live each day with the commitment to increase your spiritual self-care. I start the day by saying, “Help!” This is my honest effort to connect with God. Then, throughout the day I pay attention and stay open to the spirit’s presence, recognizing and delighting in the infinite ways the spirit communicates. I know that I am connected when I recognize that I am praying; when I recognize that I am in the presence of wonder, awe, and beauty; when I recognize that the ordinary and mundane is somehow infused with holiness; and when I sense a real awakening to peace and wisdom. Simply paying attention is a very informative and lively spiritual practice.
- Create meaningful rituals. The definition of a ritual is when the ordinary is infused with more vibrancy and meaning. Here are just some of the ways that we add ritual into our daily life. At these moments, we can recognize this connection to be with what is best in ourselves, and we can appreciate that we are taking good care of our spiritual selves: reading daily meditation verses and stories, writing verses and letters, appreciating the beauty of nature, singing songs of joy, sharing with others the journey’s gifts and challenges, trusting others with our truth, staying in the peaceful moments with gratitude and humility, saying prayers, sitting quietly and appreciating the new day with the morning tea, being creative, being with children, friends, and animals, teaching and learning, doing sitting meditations on our loving-kindness toward all humanity and nature, being of service to the poor in spirit, offering care, marching for justice, laughing and having fun, being physically attuned, and expressing love by greeting each other with the blessing of a smile.
- Reflect at day’s end. Another favorite spiritual practice for me is called The Examen, which was a daily exercise taught by St. Ignatius, a Spanish Basque priest and theologian. The Examen process invites us to look back over the day with an open heart and to remember the moments with a set of questions. Here are some examples of the type of questions: When did I sense the most belonging today/the least belonging? When did I feel the most alive today? When today did I not feel the love of life? When was I aware of the presence of God? What moment would I want to invite the presence of God back into for reconciliation? With such questions, we pray into the events of the past day and we pray to look forward to tomorrow.
When we coordinate our physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual care, we progress toward the human goal of being able to live life fully engaged in the connections that matter to us. The life of the spirit has inoculated us from the alienation, hopelessness, and loneliness of modern life. Spiritual care reminds me of that airline warning to get our own oxygen mask on before we can help others. But once we get that spiritual mask’s life-giving oxygen flowing, then we are available to be present for whatever the day brings. Fully alive, fully connected to self, others and the spirit, we are able to be engaged in the life of the heart. We are able to live more courageously with the hope of a better, kinder world tomorrow and of our participation in this future.
Rev. Robin A. Rhodes is the chaplain at Hillsides. She is a deacon in the United Methodist Church. She lives in Claremont with her husband, Paul Buchanan. She is usually humming Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”