Last week in this column I wrote about a spiritual practice I refer to as “Receive, Release” and shared how I use it in my own life on a daily basis. I invited others to share their own spiritual practices with me and I was delighted to receive so many responses. As I reflected on the responses, I realized they fell into two categories. The first group of responses focused primarily on private and personal spiritual practices, while the second group focused primarily on action-oriented or “other- directed” practices. This week I would like to reflect a little on each of these types of spiritual practices.
Private, personal spiritual practices are perhaps the first thing we think of when we think about spiritual practices. These practices are undertaken to strengthen one’s soul and one’s spirituality, similar to exercises one might do on a regular basis to strengthen one’s physical wellness. The “Receive, Release” practice I described last week is one example of a private, personal practice, as are all forms of prayer and meditation. Many of the responses I received last week were examples of this kind of spiritual practice, and included practices such as keeping a gratitude journal by listing what one is thankful for each day, participating in a form of centering prayer or meditation using a repetitive phrase, going on a retreat, worshipping, singing, painting, writing, and doing spiritual reading.
The second type of spiritual practices that readers shared with me this past week were practices that focus more on actions, on things that people do for others. A few readers said that they think of spiritual practices as how they practice and express their spirituality in their everyday lives and in the wider world. Some of the actions that people shared from this category included, “treating others with respect and kindness,” “being patient with my children,” “serving meals at a local feeding program,” “serving at my church,” “caring for my aging parents,” and “working on a Habitat for Humanity house”. For these people, the living out of one’s spirituality in one’s life is what is most important and is a spiritual practice unto itself.
Clearly when it comes to spiritual practices it is not an “either/or,” but rather a “both/and” situation. Spirituality is relational, by definition. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, his answer defined three essential relationships. “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Tending to and strengthening these three relationships–your relationship with the Divine, your relationship with your neighbor, and your relationship with yourself–defines the essence of all spiritual practices.
A spiritual practice can be both private/personal and action-oriented, and something that strengthens the three relationships I just discussed of God, neighbor, and self. For example, if I do the “Receive, Release” practice and focus on receiving patience from God, I am first strengthening my relationship with God as I ask God’s help in being more patient. This is good in and of itself, but becomes an even deeper spiritual practice when I then practice through specific actions extending that patience to both myself and others. In this way working to develop patience can be approached through both types of spiritual practices.
I am grateful for all of you who responded to my reflection on “Receive, Release.” Your responses have helped me to expand my thinking to a more integrated expression of spiritual practice that brings together both being and doing.