The Spiritual Practice of Apologizing

Today’s article in the series What is a Spiritual Practice is The Spiritual Practice of Apologizing by T Freeman. “T” describes himself as a dad, husband, self-employed lawyer and apprentice of Jesus.  He is part of a small team planting a church in downtown West Palm Beach Florida.  He blogs at Getting Free

“I’m sorry.”

What a powerful phrase. What an underrated, nonreligious way–available to us all–to cooperate with God’s work in this world.  It’s truly amazing what all can be accomplished by a good apology.  For the one apologizing, the process can (momentarily) defeat one’s pride, halt one’s cooperation with destructive forces and begin one’s cooperation with God.  In apologizing, we overcome our fear of judgment; become vulnerable to another person, and we become truly free from our past.  By themselves, those are pretty significant outcomes–and that’s just for the person apologizing. But simultaneously and more importantly, for the one receiving an apology, the process can be the best available aid to their healing, the opportunity to lose bitterness and pain, and to have their sense of value and what is right and “normal” to be (re)aligned with God’s ideas instead of something much less.  The apology changes the culture into which it is uttered.  It resets the standard of conduct in a relationship from a perverted state, but only by risking the messenger, not the hearer(s).  The apology is literally a powerhouse for progress in the inward and outward work of God, and occasions for its use are everywhere, every day: at home, at work, with our spouses,  friends, neighbors, and children.  Yet, for all its power and frequent opportunity, it is not common, and it is not hard to imagine why.  To apologize goes against the core of all we are and seek apart from Christ.

Read the entire article

What Is A Spiritual Practice – More Great Posts

I hope that you have been following the blog posts in my blog series What is a Spiritual Practice. There are a number of excellent articles that have been posted in the last couple of weeks and the submissions keep coming in.  We still have the promise of topics as varied as parenting, yoga, civil protest and even love making as spiritual practice. If there are other topics that you would be interested in hearing reflections on let me know and I will see if I can recruit someone to write on them.  Or if you would like to contribute please send your post.  The comments on twitter, facebook and here on the blog make me realize how important reflections like these on the everyday spirituality are.

My apologies for being a little slow in posting over the last few days.  It has not been because of lack of submissions.  We have been in Portland for the last few days and writing posts on the blog has taken a back seat.

So in case you missed some of the articles here is the complete list of postings so far.

The articles that have been posted in the last couple of weeks are : –

Brigid WalshGleaning as Spiritual Practice

Bowie SnodgrassGrief as Spiritual Practice

Thomas TurnerEngagement as Spiritual Practice

Stan ThornburgMaking Space for the Rabbi

Gary HeardEncountering the Stranger as Spiritual Practice and GPS Navigation as Spiritual Practice

Jason FowlerListening for God’s Voice in Music

Sheila HightBirdkeeping as Spiritual Practice

Steve TaylorComposting as Spiritual Practice

John O’HaraAnyone Can Cook – Spirituality in the Kitchen

In case you missed some of the previous posts here is the list from previous weeks

Bethany Stedman – crying as a spiritual practice

Christopher Heuertz – Feeling close to God in the graveyard

Gerard Kelly – twittering as a spiritual practice

Tim Mathis – blogging as as a spiritual practice

Mary Naegeli – Writing a sermon as spiritual practice

Hannah HauiCultural Protocol as spiritual practice

Jamie Arpin RicciPet Ownership as spiritual practice

Matt Stone – Listening to Enemies as Spiritual Practice

Dan Cooper – Washing Dishes as Spiritual Discipline

Maryellen Young – The spiritual practice of taking a shower

As you can imagine I cannot resist making my own contributions.  So far I have contributed 2 posts myself and am thinking about another on raspberry picking as spiritual practice.

virtual Eucharist: Is this a spiritual practice

Is Breathing a Spiritual Practice

Engagement as Spiritual Practice

This morning’s post is by Thomas Turner from Everyday Liturgy.  It was first posted on the Everyday Liturgy blog

While on vacation I saw on my brother’s bookshelf a book by Gene Edward Veith entitled Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture.  Intrigued, I read the introduction to see what it would cover and how exactly it would guide Christians into contemporary thought and culture.   Toward the end of the introduction Veith makes this statement:

“The specific contributions of major figures of postmordern thought such as Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, and others, I am skipping.  Nor am I plunging into the technical details of critical theory, hermeneutics, or other highly specialized kinds of discourse postmodernists generally use to thrash out their ideas.”

I was quite shocked to read that a guide to contemporary thought would skip the very foundations of contemporary thought and culture.  Veith announces that he will not be meeting the postmoderns on their terms, the terms that contemporary culture and thought are all based on, and thus ends engagement with real postmodernism and instead writes about the typical puffy popular version of postmodernism that is so welcoming to cheap shots from conservative critics.

Engagement is crucial not just to scholarship but to spiritual practices as well, because only in engagement can we grow in meaningful and powerful ways.  In educational terms, engagement creates disequilibrium, when ideas seem not to make sense next to each other, and the student must then construct further knowledge in order to regain equilibrium.  In this sense, refusing to engage with ideas, theology, and worship that are different from ours is a refusal to create disequilibrium and to create further knowledge about God.

Engagement as a spritual practice views difference as a moment of welcome instead of a moment of danger.  For some conservative or fundamentalist critics, engagement is seen as dangerous interactions—fraternizing with the enemy, so to speak.  Throughout the Judeo-Christian traditon though there is instead a strong ethic of welcoming: welcoming people into their camp, into their homes, to the table, etc.  This ethic, in all its fullness, relates to thought and culture as well, because how can one eat and live with another and not have cultural interaction?  Yet, within this Judeo-Christian tradition is also the constant reminder that the people of God should never compromise with the world or other cultures but instead always be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  In this way engagement is a spiritual practice that allows us to interact with other ideas, to shape our minds, to renew ourselves through heady processes of faith and doubt, questioning and discernment, contemplation and fellowship.  We grow spiritually when we have disequilibrium, which can be humble times of thought or eye opening engagements with thought and theology like Paul’s participation in Athenian philosophy or the visions Peter receives concerning food.  These engagements are high moments of disequilibrium for both saints, and their wrestling with ideas makes them better Christians and influenced the spiritual lives of millions of Christians who would follow their teachings.

Engagement is not just a spiritual practice, but is in fact the essence of all spiritual practices, for in our engagement with God, with ourselves, with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and with others we are constantly being shaped through prayer, Scripture reading, worship, liturgy, theology, sacraments, and fellowship.  Engagement is what makes things sacred, because engagement is constantly calling us away from our status quo and into spiritual growth.

We just need to begin to notice how we engage: are our engagements healthy? amiable? disruptive? rude? envious? angry? hate-filled? loving? compassionate? understanding?  And do we ever stop, be silent, and recognize we are constantly in spiritual engagement throughout the day?

Grief as a Spiritual Practice

This mornings post for the What is a Spiritual Practice Series is by Bowie Snodgrass program director at Faith House Manhattan

Grief as a Spiritual Practice

I was spiritually touched by the televised farewell to Michael Jackson.  I think it was good for the country to have a collective day of grief for one so beloved by so many.  It got me thinking about grief.

Churches have sacraments for grief and many cultures have customs to help people accept permanent loss.   In my life, the process of letting go of those I knew and loved best has become a primary spiritual practice in my journey with God.

My dad is a priest and we moved around a lot when I was growing up.  I was born in Manhattan, spent my first year in Bronxville, two years in the South Bronx, seven in Newark, four in Cincinnati, and finished high school in Olean, NY.

We were deeply integrated into the greater church family in all of these places and left behind many loved ones.  I developed a deep sense of loss very young.  Below is a poem I wrote when I was 27 about a childhood memory:

Did I ever tell you

That I’m sentimental?

Or the story

Of my last day in kindergarten?

I had gone to preschool

Too at Playhouse

In West Orange, New Jersey.

I remember that day

Walking around the playground

Past the monkey bars

And adventure tower

Where I had played with

My friends, people I had known

For two or three

Of my five-year life

And I cried.

I knew life would

Never be the same again.

I have lost places, pets, best friends, adventure buddies, lovers, and a few family members.  And I’ve realized that allowing myself to lose something is a process I must attend to in order to move forward – and to try to love again.

I have experimented with ways to do this, faithfully and with God’s assistance.  Prayer is place I turn in times of loss.  Think about it and talk about it – with God.  Ask for what you want.  Ask for mercy. “Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief” (Psalm 31:9).

I have also found solace in the companionship of my family and friends.  I once found myself alone in a kitchen literally crying over a mess of milk spilled on the floor.  I called a girl friend who came over immediately.  I began despairing that I was never going to recover from my recently lost love.  I though I should have been ready to move on… but here I was, in tears before the day had begun.  “Don’t try to mess with grief,” she warned me.  “Or grief will come back and mess with you!”

Be good to your body in times of grief.  Go for walks.  Eat delicious food.  Let others care for you.  Grief is a highly physical emotion.  Strong as love is grief and “love is as strong as death” (Songs 8:6).

I always felt that God knew my grief and that my grief was small compared to those of others. As I grew, and my horizons broadened, entering into new places and new relationships, I believed more and more that God is everywhere and grief is everywhere too.  It is part of life and should be entered into intentionally, not resisted.  One must move through it to move past it.

In this practice, I have learned how to love. How to take care of myself and to give my love fully.  How to love and be loved by God.  And, most importantly, to believe in resurrection.  It is a practice that has been part of my spiritual journey.  May God bless you and be merciful in your times of grief.

“May Jesus the resurrected Christ be close always and may we know that there is always more good love, everywhere to give and to receive.”

Jimmy Carter – Losing My Faith For Equality

Jimmy Carter, president of the United States from 1977 to 1981 has just left the Southern Baptist Convention because of their discrimination against women.  I have always admired him for his involvement in peacemaking and concern for the poor.  This stand has increased my estimation of him 10 fold.  My prayers are with him as he speaks out in this historic way. It also seemed to me that his actions are an important spiritual practice very much in keeping with the series that we are conducting here

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasis the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Making Space for the Rabbi

Today is likely to be a busy day on my blog – not because of those who read it but primarily because I am going away for a couple of days tomorrow and there is so much that I want to post before that – including book reviews, thoughts on Jimmy Carter’s statement about leaving the Southern Baptist Convention and not surprisingly thoughts from an overflowing and abundant garden.  I also plan to upload some of the wonderful posts I have received in the last couple of days to be published while I am away so hopefully those of you that visit here regularly will not be disappointed.

Today’s contribution for What is a Spiritual Practice, is from Stan Thornburg, Quaker pastor at a small church in the Willamette Valley of Western Oregon.  Stan blogs at Born to Eat Toast I hope that you enjoy this post as much as I did.

I remember bitching and moaning to Richard Foster about the disadvantage of being 2,000 years too late to actually follow Christ in the same way as “The Twelve” did. For me trying to actually be a disciple of someone behind the cloud of unknowing didn’t seem fair. The Twelve could actually see Jesus in action, ask him about what was going on, complain to him and each other about it, discuss it around the campfire, scribble pithy notes to be someday inserted in their gospels, etc. “We’re at a great disadvantage!” I whined. Richard said something like, “Maybe you’re just too focused on yourself and what you are doing to notice what Jesus is doing. Give Jesus a chance to act before barging in asking WWJD?” A bit of reflection revealed that no one really has a clue what Jesus would do in any given situation anyway, and to ask that question, at least for me, is an exercise in futility and/or arrogance.  Read the entire article

Thoughts from Henri Nouwen

This last week, in preparation for our 18th annual Celtic retreat, I have been rereading Henri Nowen‘s The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. It has profoundly impacted me as I have read about the seven months that he spent in a Trappist monastery.  I have read it in conjunction with another compelling book Cloister Talks by Jon Sweeney which I intend to write a review of tomorrow.

Here are a couple of passages I found particularly convicting.  First this passage when early in his sabbatical Nouwen is grappling with how to make the works of his hands into a prayer and reinterpret everything in the light of what it means to live fully to the glory of God.

…living for the glory of God would make everything different.  Even living for each other would then be living for the glory of God.  It is God’s glory that becomes visible in a loving community.  … When we indeed participate in the life of God we will always discover more of God’s mystery in each other.  John Eudes described heaven as the ongoing discovery of God’s mystery by living in the most intimate presence of God and each other.  The Christian life on earth is simply the beginning of this heavenly existence.  (p29)

My main problem is that I have not really made prayer my priority. … much of what I am doing is motivated by many other concerns: getting back in shape, learning some manual skills, knowing more about birds and trees, getting to know interesting people… and picking up many ideas and experiences for future teaching.  But if prayer were my only concern, all these other laudable things could be received as free gifts.  Now, however, I am obsessed by these desires which are false, not in themselves but by their being in the wrong place in the heirarchy. (p42)

As I read this section I realized how much of what I do is with mixed motives.  It is easy to say that I want to live to the glory of God and that everything I do is done to please God, yet underneath I am aware that so much of what I do is really done to please myself.  I grapple with the same concerns that Nouwen does – the desire to be noticed and thought well of, the desire to be fulfilled in what I do, and even the desire to be comfortable.  If I am honest I realize how easily these things can move my focus away from God and onto myself.

Even prayer can easily become self focused as I ask God for things that would make my own life easier.  Healing for those I love that sometimes make my life difficult, financial provision in the midst of recession, my need for an administrative assistant, even my prayer for God to end poverty and bring justice in the world can be because I want to live in a world that is more comfortable.

The other section I found extremely compelling is this on the monastic rhythm of life.  It is easy for us to see the monastic rhythm as a monotonous repetitive rhythm but listen to the way that Nouwen describes it

One of the things a monastery like this does for you is give you a new rhythm, a sacred rhythm… It seems as if I am being slowly lifted up from the gray dull, somewhat monotonous, secular time cycle into a very colourful rich sequence of events in which solemnity and playfulness, joy and grief, seriousness and lightness take each other’s place off and on…

You see and feel that the monastic day, week and year are meant to be time-bound anticipations of a heavenly existence.  Already you are invited to participate in the intimate life of the Holy trinity, Father ,Son and Spirit, and be joyful because of those who came so close to God in their historical existence that they have a special place in the heavenly kingdom.  So contemplation is indeed a beginning of what is to be fulfilled in the resurrection.

As you know I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the rhythms of God’s kingdom will look like and am more convinced than ever that the frenetic pace of our secular world is nothing like what God intends.  We are meant to be counter cultural people with counter cultural rhythms and I think that the monastic rhythm of prayer, study work and rest is much more like the rhythm of God’s kingdom than the way most of us live.

Out of my contemplation of these passages has come another prayer

God enter the emptiness of our hearts

Restore us, renew us, refresh us

Come into the dry and thirsty places of our lives

Fill us, transform us, dwell within us

Reveal your love in the empty spaces of our souls

Convert our loneliness to solitude

Turn our busyness into obedience

Replace our self centred idols with faithfulness

Open within us a place where you can dwell

Love through us, live through us, glorify yourself