Friday, 15 February 2013

Devos, Quiet Times, Prayer and the Baggage they Carry

I'm going to be quite honest here. I have a fairly negative gut reaction to the word "devos." The same goes for "quiet times" with God. Less so for prayer, but I recognize that for many people that word is similarly laden. For myself, and I know for many other people, these words (and others) carry a lot of negative baggage. Perhaps there have been times when these practices were thrust upon us. Perhaps we have been taught, explicitly or implicitly, that the only way to be in relationship with God is through these pious personal practices that are always best done at 6am. Or perhaps we have simply engaged in them routinely and have found them to be empty. From my experience, this all simply leads to a lot of guilt instead of a dynamic and intimate relationship with the Divine. 

In my own life I have at various points found different ways of engaging with God to be life-giving. At other times the same practices are simply draining. My life in relationship with God is a life that is continually in flux, continually growing and changing and so requires different forms of nourishment. Prayer is not always easy, but sometimes I think we force ourselves to engage in various practices because we think we should, even when everything within us is pulling us in a different direction. Our bodies and souls might be crying out for movement, yet we persist in forcing ourselves to pray in absolute stillness. Or perhaps we are in agony and have no words but we force ourselves to pray verbal prayers every day. Or perhaps we are desperate for spontaneity and we force ourselves to maintain practices that are highly structured.

Joyce Rupp in her book Prayer talks a bit about the purpose of prayer.
"Prayer" is not only about entering into a relationship with God; it is also about being changed. Healthy prayer strengthens our bond with the Creator and it also transforms us. Every encounter with God provides the opportunity for us to grow spiritually. Prayer makes a difference in our life because it nudges and persuades us to develop Christlike qualities in our attitude and actions. Through prayer we become more loving, gracious, compassionate, and justice-oriented human beings. When this happens, we are altered in a positive way and the world we touch is also changed for the better (20).

 Thinking about what prayer produces in me helps me to evaluate whether the practices I am engaging in (or not) are actually healthy. If the practices are just making me irritable, or create disdain for others, or leave me feeling less Christlike and more guilt-filled, then perhaps I need to re-evaluate the ways in which I am trying to connect with the Divine. For me, a broadening of language used for these practices helps me to imagine a relationship with God that is more life-giving and creative. In The Wisdom of the Enneagram the authors instruct that "the important thing is to set aside some time each day to re-establish a deeper connection with our True Nature" (347). Thinking in this way helps me to release some of the baggage that I've attached to some of the more traditional descriptors mentioned above. It forces me to pay attention to where and who I actually am and what practices will help re-connect me with my Creator and the person that God has created me to be.

And I know that these practices will change because I will change. I know that there is not just one way that this can happen because each of us has different personalities, circumstances and areas of growth. Whether I am praying the hours, meditating in silence, walking in my community, chopping vegetables, kneading bread, gazing at a sunset, reading scripture, or whatever, I trust that God is present and will meet me, if I am open to the encounter.  I trust that God will meet you as well.

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