[music of the soul series]
Shasta is our 115-pound Alaskan Malamute. Although he is a powerful dog and was quite lively in his youth, his life these days is pretty simple. Nap inside, poop outside, nap outside, repeat. About the only thing more regular that this cycle is the three times a day he scratches and barks at the back door, waiting for his favorite: Eukenuba adult large breed dog food. Yum. 7am, noon, 5pm…like clockwork.
In the natural world everything operates on predictable repeating rhythms. Night follows day. Spring follows winter (hallelujah). The moon and tides cycle through an artful choreography of precision. Ebb and flow. Wax and wane.
The soul is no different; it was made to operate on a cycle too…except that we usually get stuck in one mode of the cycle: “go.” Always on. And this is a bigger deal than we know!
The stress of running continuously has produced a litany of decidedly first-world pathologies... from ulcers to suicide to divorce to homicide. Not that stress is the sole factor in these tragedies, but it’s a key player. And little wonder: we are hardwired for rhythms of renewal. Performance and refueling. Work and rest. Inhale and exhale. Try going exhale-only and see how long you can keep that up!
Let’s revisit the idea of Sabbath briefly. Not only is this vital wisdom for us physically and emotionally, but it is also a spiritual guardrail against something far more insidious—our innate Savior complex, our compulsive gluttony for more, faster, better. To pause one day out of seven is to embrace a profound humility and security. It is well with our souls. For a day at least, being trumps doing. That's the idea.
Not unlike “stopping,” the act of “pausing” is an intentional choice to cease activity on a frequent recurring basis.
- Sleep. If this seems an unlikely spiritual practice, think again. Americans average 6.8 hours of sleep a night as of 2013 compared to 7.9 hours in 1942. By every measure this is an act of physical and spiritual abuse that mutes the music of the soul. Unconvinced? Try 8+ hours/night for a month and see how it impacts your spiritual life.
- Silence. Just like Sabbath and sleep, silence is a glorious remedy for our otherwise unchecked egocentricity. To stem the flow of words from our mouths is to rein in the habit of acting upon others…and invite others to act upon us. And to invite the Other to act. To risk listening…even to our own hearts. To encounter our being and approach our humanity. Try 60 minutes of intentional silence.
- Centering Prayer. Deserving of far more literary real estate, this practice is a natural extension of silence. Closed eyes, comfortable chair, quiet setting, fully relaxed, deep breaths. Now the tricky part: turn off the brain chatter and just be present to the Holy. Try 20 minutes.
- Personal Retreat. I dare you to experiment with a rhythm of personal retreats; you just might get hooked. My personal preference: 1 day/month, 1 weekend/quarter, and 1 week/year. But what do you actually do in that setting? Divide your time into 3 equal parts: Refresh by doing as little as possible, Reflect by looking back at the spiritual meaning of recent events, and Refocus by looking ahead at God’s invitation to you in terms of time, focus, relationships, etc. Try 3 hours in a beautiful location.
Life is a series of rhythms, expanding and contracting, rising and falling. Take some time today to consider how “pausing” can effectively complement your “playing” in the purposes of God for your spiritual vitality. Pretty soon you’ll find your soul scratching and barking for its next meal!
How have you experienced these practices?