My task for this evening is to make a list of all the things that I currently do that nurture my relationship with God. Then I’m to reflect on what that list says about the shape of my spiritual life.
Fortunately, the assignment asks me to look beyond those things commonly associated with the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, scripture study, etc.. Another way of asking the question is, “what nourishes my soul?”
As a teenager, I took up the task of reading the Bible through each year. I would read every night before I went to bed. By the mid-90s I had read the Bible through some 14 times. Unfortunately the rest of my spiritual life was a complete wreck and the reading became meaningless to me; I read only out of force of habit. As part of the spiritual formation program at Perkins I learned some new ways of reading scripture, none of which really quite clicked for me. Several months ago I turned back to the daily devotional program that allowed me to read the Bible through. However, I have found that my experience is significantly improved, mainly because my year of Old Testament studies has dramatically improved my understanding of what is really going on. It is amazing how much more meaningful Bible study is when you can understand the whole story. And like any other relationship, my relationship with God is nurtured through better understanding of his word.
My fellowship at church is another way I nurture my relationship with God. I believe that each of us longs for a direct experience of God’s presence, but that each of us encounters that experience differently. In a church setting, some may experience God through the preaching, some through the music, some through ministry, and some through fellowship. For me, I experience God best through the relationships with the other members of the church. As Father Theodore points out, we are to see other people as Christ incarnate. We are all made in the image of God – imago Dei. The kindness and love with which I am treated by my friends at church is a direct reminder to me of God’s nurturing presence.
Certainly my academic life at Perkins has had a dramatic impact on my relationship to God. One friend of mine remarked that school seemed to tremendously energize me. All that I have learned has deepened my appreciation for God, the many ways God has manifested himself to us, and the many ways we can experience God. I have never had so much fun in school in my life and I am so grateful for the experience. God has been with me every step of the way.
My prayer life is not where I want it to be, so I can’t honestly say that I’ve allowed that to nurture my relationship with God. However, as Richard Foster points out in his book on prayer, the desire to pray is a gift from God. So maybe I’m on my way.
However, if you view fasting as a form of prayer (someone wrote that fasting is praying with your whole body), then maybe I'm doing okay. I discovered the fast last November and have been amazed by its power. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to not have to worry about food, it reminds me that all I have is a gift from God, it reminds me that my body and my soul are connected. And it certainly has created some interesting conversations with God. I would highly recommend it as a spiritual practice.
Anyone who knows me well knows that one way I nourish my soul is through playing soccer. In a world where we are so disconnected from our bodies, except to worry about what everyone else thinks about them, soccer is a place where my heart, body, soul, and mind all work together in a connected whole. I am probably my most natural (but imperfect) self out on the field – combative, organized, supportive, critical, skillful, strategic, loyal, honorable, foul-mouthed, competitive, stubborn, smart, fierce, and tough. I can hardly think of a time where I walked off the field after a game or practice and did not feel completely alive and even at peace. The sheer physicality of the game makes room in my body for God. That’s probably not the typical answer you’d get about where someone finds God, but it works for me.
Additionally, I find God wherever I notice beauty. Aesthetics matter. And whether it is in the simple beauty of nature noticed on a morning walk with my dog or at an art museum where artists represent the reality they see, I sense the sacred in beauty. One of God’s characteristics is his role as Creator. His good creation makes manifest his existence in all that we see. And perhaps we as humans are most like God when we are creators ourselves – whether it is art, poetry, music, landscapes, children and anything else where we leave a part of our soul behind. Admiring God’s creation and the results of our creative impulse reminds me of the goodness of God and that he made me to be good.
There are, of course, other places where my relationship with God is nourished. But it seems that the real task, especially as revealed by monasticism, is to find the sacred in everything. There is an inherent tension in Christianity between being of the world and apart from the world. One solution is to find the sacred in everything. Soccer can only be sacred, can only nourish my soul, if I choose to be aware of it. School at one point destroyed my soul, but now it nourishes it. There are, of course, things that are vulgar and destructive that we are generally prohibited from doing. However, the course of our daily life gives us almost limitless opportunities to find God in everything we do. And as we do that, our relationship with God can only increase.