The church’s growing interest in a return to spiritual practices is a revitalization of the inward, focused disciplines that provide preparation and experience, examination and worship. Traditional spiritual practices – such as silence, lectio divina, centering prayer, fasting and practicing the presence of God – each find their origins in the earliest Christian communities. During the era of church history that spanned the birth of the New Testament church until about the middle of the 8th century, believers were preoccupied with the mystery of Christ and adequately uplifting his role as savior. This theological emphasis manifested itself in spiritual practices that provided tools for both imitating Christ and holding him as the very goal of the spiritual life.
Some recent integrations of spiritual practice, while still centered on Christian doctrine, expand the historical understanding and definition of spiritual practice. Spiritual seekers now less frequently use the ancient practices to examine the mystery of Christ, but instead employ them to ground their ordinary lives in that very mystery. By cultivating countercultural disciplines such as sitting in silence, praying a simple, repeated prayer and fasting from food for the sake of the spirit, Christians are reclaiming spiritual space in their most earthly routines.
But even beyond a new motivation for the ancient practices, some Christians re-imagine physical practices as life-demanding activities seen through spiritual eyes. Minister Janice Jean Springer wrote of her experience with Parkinson’s disease, “Instead of fighting Parkinson’s so I can have time for my spiritual practice, it has become my spiritual practice. Parkinson’s is the hermitage where I slow down, pay attention and concentrate on what is needful in the moment.”
Here are some resources for group or individual study to illuminate the options for spiritual practice.
“Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church”
by Robin Maas and Gabriel O’Donnell
A comprehensive guide to the historical and theological backgrounds of the ancient practices along with practical guides to their implementation, this volume is not light, but can be adapted for Christian education in the church.
“In the Midst of Chaos”
by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore
Miller-McLemore reclaims the loud and often messy world of young children that brims with spirituality and joy. This book is a part of the “Practices of Faith” series, edited by Dorothy C. Bass, which contains a variety of volumes on different practices.
by Jana Reiss
Reiss provides a tongue-in-cheek, grace-filled look at spiritual discipline, while fully educating readers on the details and history of 12 historic practices.
“The Good and Beautiful God”
by James Bryan Smith
Smith leads individuals or groups through an exploration of nine spiritual practices, concluding each chapter with a “soul training” exercise to better learn and apply the practice.
A return to the spiritual practices speaks to the timeless desire for Christ to reshape our lives. Regardless of modern innovation, we remain a people who need consistent reminders of the mystery of God with us, wherever we might find ourselves.
NINA SIMONE is in her final year studying Christian education at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and an Outlook intern.