CREDO: Guide to Spiritual Practice

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- Renée Miller

Do Eastern religious practices have a place in Christians' lives?

All spiritual practice in the West and the East is based on the desire to dip one's foot into the water of holiness and there is much we can teach and learn from one another about doing just that. ...

A Process for Beginning a Spiritual Practice

Written By Renée Miller

Renee MillerPreparation is a necessary part of spiritual practice. Sometimes, we may feel like simply jumping into the practice without preparation, but preparation is important for three reasons. 

First, it helps us make an internal shift from the thought patterns and activities that we have been engaged in before beginning the practice. In other words, it helps us transition from what we’ve been doing to what we are going to do. 

Second, it gives us a way of naming an intention for the practice. That is, we offer to God what we hope to bring of ourselves to the practice. 

Finally, it helps us place our souls into a waiting and receptive state. This helps us acknowledge that we are in God's presence and affirms that we are open to that presence. The preparation phase of spiritual practice need not be long or arduous, but it does need to be intentional. 

This is not to say that God is not always present with us, or that we are not always ready to pray. If, however, we take a few moments to center ourselves on what it is we are about to do, we will find that our soul is more ready to be shaped by what will occur during the time of prayer.

The following preparation process is a general and simple way to ready ourselves for practice. It may need to be modified or adapted to fit a particular practice, but the pattern lends itself to such personal adaptation. There are only five short steps, and each step may be lengthened or shortened as needed.

• Quiet yourself
This is more than a state of mind. It is a change in posture – from standing to sitting, or sitting to kneeling, for example. It is a physical way to mark the change from one activity to another. If you were going out jogging, it would be the act of getting up off the couch, putting on your running shoes, and going out the door.

• Breathe attentively
To assist you body settle into the mindset of practice, it is good to take a few deep breaths, or count your breaths for a few moments. As your breathing slows, your heart rate will slow. In that quieted state, the soul gently opens to the presence of God.

• Pray
This is a time to center yourself in God’s presence. Sometimes the prayer may be extemporaneous. Sometimes it may be a familiar mantra such as The Jesus Prayer. Sometimes it may be a chant or a piece of music. Sometimes it may be the Lord’s Prayer or a verse of a hymn that is recited. Sometimes it may be nothing more than a silent acknowledgment of being in God's presence.

• Make an intention
This is an opportunity to take a few moments to give yourself, your time, and your presence to God and offer to God your intention for the time that you will be engaged in the practice. This helps focus the practice and is a touchstone for you to return to throughout the practice.

At the end of the practice, it is helpful to reverse the process with a few changes. Just as there needs to be an internal shift when beginning practice, there needs to be another internal shift as you transition back into the regular round of responsibilities and activities of your day. Again, a simple process will suffice.

• Offer gratitude to God
Spend a few moments thanking God for the time that you have spent together and for the lessons or insights that have been received. This may take the form of a prayer, or a smile, or the singing of a hymn. It is a way to let God know that you don't take the time for granted.

• Breathe attentively
As you did at the beginning of the practice, take a few deep breaths or count your breaths for some time. This is a way of becoming aware again of your own body, the noises and sounds around you, the internal movement back into daily activity.

• Gather together a nosegay
St. Francis de Sales suggested that a nosegay be taken away from periods of prayer so that when difficulty or stress arose during the day, the nosegay from prayer could be taken out and the scent inhaled. In other words, gather up a few simple points that you want to carry away from the practice. Return to these points throughout the day to keep you focused on God.

• Create a record
If you like to journal and have the time to journal, it is good to write down what occurred during the practice—your feelings, your hopes, the intention you offered, the points of struggle, the insights or learnings received. Even if writing is not something you are naturally drawn to, it is good to jot down in a small notebook two or three notes or phrases about the time spent in prayer. This becomes a spiritual log, of sorts. It helps you see, over time, the tenderness of God, the struggles of your soul, the questions and hopes that are lodged within you, and the grace that is always coming to you from the heart of heaven.

A CREDO Resource. Used with Permission from CREDO.
Copyright © 2010 by CREDO Institute, Inc.  All rights reserved.