As the new year arrives, it's a natural time to start thinking of practices that will help us improve our lives. Our first inclination is to start with how we can improve our bodies, so we make resolutions regarding our diets and good intentions to exercise. We also realize that we need to nurture our minds, so we observe the practice of reading a new book or taking a class. But, it's much harder to identify ways to attend to our spirituality.
First, it is important to begin with understanding what spirituality is to you. I believe spirituality is our desire to find a closer connection to God. The process of developing our spirituality means first agreeing that we won't know everything. This is the nature of faith: opening ourselves to questions we may never fully answer.
The spirit is something we can't see, and yet it's something we believe in. Everybody has a spirit. When one dies, we look at the corporeal body, and we know what has left it is the spirit. It's not something we can see until it is gone. It is the spirit's absence, then, that defines its presence.
Putting our spirituality to work in concrete ways that we can practice can be done. Here are my top five suggestions on how to be more Spiritual in the new year:
Prayer is the first step toward developing your spirituality and practicing your faith. Be courageous in asking for what your heart longs for, and be patient enough to listen for the answer. Christians understand that when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven," that Jesus was teaching the prayer that summarizes all human need. Say it to God as often as you can. Pray by yourself, and offer these petitions and questions to God. And then wait. Listen. Understand that God will hear your prayers. Becoming more spiritual means becoming okay with the waiting, finding ways to listen, understanding that listening requires patience, and accepting that sometimes the answer to our prayers is "no," or "not yet."
We can practice our spirituality by the discipline of showing up. Presence is the way in which we indicate our priority to give our attention to something or someone.
For Christians, our dominant practice of spirituality typically means church-going for an hour a week on Sunday mornings. This is a beautiful practice, and it's a way to engage the mind, body, and spirit all at once in a communal setting. This is a way to gather with other people, who, instead of asking, "How are you?" ask, "How is it with your soul?" When joys and concerns are prayed in church, you'll hear what never gets said in a casual conversation: "I'm worried about my job." "I'm concerned for my mother's health." "My marriage is struggling, and we need your support." There is something about the practice of church-going, even in an ancient and ritualized form that connects us to one another as spiritual beings, and to God as the giver of all spirit.
Reading scripture is an opportunity for us to listen attentively to people who have shared their own experience of faith and how God engages the world. Scripture is meant to tell a true story of how God engages us. When my church gives Bibles to children, my wisdom to them is this: This is a story about how much God loves you. God would not stay distant, but God chose to come to the world in the most humble of ways, so that we might not experience anything that God hasn't experienced, too. So, for us to read the stories in the Bible is also to read about how God decided to become present with us, through the person of Jesus.
Be generous with your time and talents.
The gift-giving season of Christmas reminds us of the powerful experience of how it feels to be generous. What if you continued this practice in the new year in other ways? Think of the gifts that you have to give – not just your money – but your talents. The world is longing for our gifts to be shared.
Take stock of the things you're good at doing, the things that bring you joy. Find reasons to do them more, not only for your own well-being, but because they might be a blessing to others. You never know how your gifts might be a blessing to others; don't hesitate to share them with the world.
Find ways to serve others.
Our faith tells us that the most important commandments are: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Loving your neighbor can take on many forms, but it begins with seeing others as they are – as people with the same hopes for their lives as you.
If you've ever taken time to volunteer in a way that directly connects you with someone in need, then you know how powerful it is to offer yourself in service to others. This is a humbling experience, and many will say that they went in expecting to bless others, and left feeling blessed themselves.
You can talk to your local church, or research the needs of your particular community.
My favorite joke of late is: "How do you know if someone does Cross Fit? They'll tell you."
Just like advocates for Cross Fit or Whole 30, who have taken a radical and high-commitment approach to caring for their bodies, be a spokesperson for your practice. Tell others about your choice to strengthen what is invisible to most. You will begin to have conversations and interactions that will help you in your journey to becoming more spiritual.
Imagine telling someone that you're committing yourself in the next year to asking the question: "Who is God, and how am I to know God?"
Faith and Spirituality are mystical, wonderful things. They also invite more questions than they answer. Being more spiritual means being okay with questions, doubt, and curiosity. For Christians to engage our faith, it means we're willing to come together as people who are interested in doing this work together, as people who are willing to listen and to respond to God.
May these practices bring you closer to God in the new year, that your mind, body, and spirit will be renewed for all of the hard work life can bring.
Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow is a native of Knoxville, TN, serving at First United Methodist Church of Los Angeles. Mandy holds a black belt in Taekwondo, makes music whenever possible, and watches a lot of baseball with her three children. Find more of her work at Reverend Mama.
[Posted December 23, 2017]