When snow swirls around my face as I shovel my car out of the driveway I think longingly of a summer hike through tall trees with water sparkling ahead. When the debris of driving splatters the windows of my car, I know it’s time to run through a car wash, or at least take an extra minute or two to clean them the next time I buy gas.
Sometimes my life feels cold; sometimes it gathers debris and loses its shine. Tangles and drudgery of routines drag my eyes down so I miss the beauty of sun, moon and stars. Continual interactions with others make me crave solitude. The world takes on a grey wash that mutes even the most intense colours. I need a reset. I need to spend time with God, the one who formed me and knew me before I was born, the one in whose light I see light, the one in whom I live and move and have my being.
A reading of the New Testament validates this need. Jesus, whose days were crammed with people and circumstances and demands of all kinds, often went away alone to pray. Paul had a long break between his Damascus road experience and his missionary journeys. John had an enforced time of solitude as a prisoner on Patmos and that’s where he was given the Revelation.
How do we, in twenty-first century Canada, find time to seriously be with God?
When Gail Adams, a life coach and Christian retreat leader, uses lip gloss she also takes a deep breath or two and speaks to God. Waiting, whether for a bus, an appointment, a red light to turn green or a kettle to boil, provides another space for touching base with God. A Celtic custom is to put a stone in your pocket to remind you about God when you touch it.
Devotees within the Eastern Orthodox tradition repeat the Jesus prayer, silently or aloud, over and over again throughout the day. This can be as simple as, “Lord, have mercy,” or other variations of prayers we read in the New Testament (Luke 17:13, Luke 18:14, Luke 18:38). With many repetitions the words become a prayer of the heart and a means of praying without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).
Gardening is a good prayer activity. Vacuuming or washing the car may be less enjoyable but can provide the same opportunity. In David Hansen’s book The Long Wandering Prayer, he states that except for his morning devotional time, which he strictly keeps, most of his praying happens during physical activity such as walking or playing sports. How kind of God to use the synergy of body, mind and spirit to quicken us to his Spirit.
A way to spend heart time with God is to cultivate traditional devotional practices that include silence. For this you will need a place away from others, preferably always the same place so that your spirit recognizes this as the spot where you meet God — like sweethearts with a special meeting place. Donald Goertz, professor at Tyndale Seminary, recalls that all through University others sat on his rocking chair, but the only time he sat there was when he was spending time with God. Some people light a candle or place an icon or sacred picture nearby. In the Celtic tradition, people begin and end with, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” which is like greeting a friend by name.
Lectio Divina is an ancient Christian practice in which you read a short passage of Scripture, preferably aloud, several times. Look for a phrase or word that attracts your attention. Spend time considering why God would draw that word or phrase to your attention and speak with him about the meaning it might have for you in your present circumstances. You may wish to write your thoughts in a journal. Then take time to listen to what God has to say to you on the subject. Set a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes. Sit quietly. Be relaxed and comfortable but alert. You may want to count your breathing on each inhalation for about 10 breaths to help you be still. Some people repeat a sacred word, perhaps “Jesus” or “Maranatha” (“Come, Lord Jesus”). You will likely have many thoughts, often unrelated to your work with God. Don’t stress over this; acknowledge each thought, let it pass and return to God. Some days you may find, at the end of this time, that you have a new perspective on your earlier thoughts. Some days you may not. But think past your own intention and be pleased that you have honoured God by being there.
Another way to read Scripture is to visualize what you are reading. Place yourself in the scene. Identify the sounds, smells, textures as well as people and actions. See what God will say to you as you participate in his Word.
Set aside a time to go for a long walk, visit a museum, art gallery or library. Look at materials from God’s perspective. Sense his enjoyment in your presence and his great love for you.
Make a date monthly
Take several hours of a day to be with God. You may be able to visit a local retreat centre or a monastery. You may want to spend time in a beautiful church that is not familiar to you, hearing God speak through stained glass windows or unfamiliar hymns or liturgy. Perhaps you will attend a concert. Enjoy a meal in silence, according to the monastic tradition.
Plan your resources of time and money so that once a year you can spend some days away with God. You might book time at a retreat centre or monastery or a bed and breakfast away from home. Maybe a friend is going away for a few days and would let you house sit. A Christian camp or retreat may be suitable although you have to be careful that you don’t get carried away by “people talk” and miss out on divine conversation. Wherever you go, remember that this is God time, not tourist time.
Read and write, draw, take photographs, walk, muse, ponder, meditate, pray. Listen to God, your spirit touching the Holy Spirit, becoming permeated by his presence, cleansed and filled so that you return home fresh and clean and new inside.
*These headings are taken from The Mystic Path of Meditation: Beginning a Christ-Centred Journey by David Cole, New York, Anamchara Books, 2013.
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