He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me
(Psalm 18:19, NIV 1984).

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to rearrange the furniture in some rooms in our home. We wanted more balance in the shapes and heights of chests and tables and chairs. But mostly we did the work to open up space in the rooms. Around the same time, we went through some closets and decided on better uses of the shelves, moving books and games and supplies to be more accessible, putting similar items together.

It occurred to me when we were finished that Lent is a time for the same sort of discipline in our spiritual lives. We open space in our hearts for the grace of God, removing the clutter, rearranging our priorities, looking at how the various aspects of our daily routine fit with the purposes of God for us. And we go into those hidden parts of ourselves—the “closets”—and examine what’s there. Then we bring those secret needs and fears out into the open in an act of bold vulnerability, either so they can be healed or their energy channeled. And by the same token, we may discover within ourselves hidden treasures, emotional resources we didn’t know we had, like someone who finds a long-forgotten photo or card tucked away in a drawer or inside a book on a shelf.

As Lent continues, why not do some actual physical rearrangement of your home or office, knowing that environment quite often has a profound effect on attiude and emotions? And while you’re at it, how about creating some space for grace (James Forbes’ phrase) in your life?

Blessings!

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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I have never been able, in any substantial way, to incorporate the traditional spiritual disciplines into my journey with Jesus. My experiences with fasting, for example, have been few and far between, and sometimes laughable. On a national day of prayer and fasting when I was a teenager, my dad and I learned that liquids were allowed, so we went and each bought the biggest peach milkshake available at a local place called “The Arctic Bear.” After going without food for 24 hours in college, my friends and I pigged out at the university cafeteria. Only during Lent one year in the early part of this century have I seriously fasted, devoting lunchtime each Friday to prayer in my congregation’s chapel.

Meditation and silence are beyond me. Walking the labyrinth, as you know from other posts, is a favorite, but I have to settle for using a finger labyrinth, since the closest path is way over in Oxford, MS at our presbytery camp. Hardly a trip I can make very often.

I love to write, whether sermons or these posts or back in the day, song lyrics. But as far as I recall, writing (other than journaling) is not considered a spiritual discipline.

That’s why I was thrilled to read this observation by Stephanie Paulsell in a recent article in The Christian Century: “It is a spiritual discipline to find the right word to set down next to another word in a way that reaches across boundaries and distances. Haunting every word is the presence of the word God spoke to reach out to us. In a culture in which words are flung out not as lifelines but as invective, it is an act of resistance to measure our words against the reconciling work of the Word that gives life and hope” (“Deep Messages,” June 15, 2010: 37; emphasis mine).

Paulsell goes on to note that “language cannot do all the work of love.” But it was nevertheless heartening to learn that, though I have failed at the classic disciplines, I do in fact practice a spiritual discipline as I set down my thoughts here or share them from the pulpit every Sunday.

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve thought of what I do as sacramental in a way, namely that I seek to find in everyday events and things clues to God’s way with us, conveyances of the grace of God. Reading Paulsell’s article has given new energy for that endeavor, fresh confirmation that I’m on the right track.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

 

“And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear…’” (Mark 4:24).

 

While looking for bargains in the clearance section of a big box store, I found a great little book, Wine for Dummies (Pocket Edition). In fifty-five 4” x 6” pages, the authors gave me an introduction to winemaking, grape varieties, and techniques like how to properly open a bottle and how to taste wine. Regarding the last, they offered two fundamental rules: slow down and pay attention.

 

When I read that, I thought “What great advice for life in general and spiritual growth in particular!” How often have I been in too much of a hurry to notice small details that make a text come alive or add unique interest to a landscape? When did you last take the time to savor a meal or a quiet evening with a loved one? Yes, sometimes we have to move quickly and cannot linger. But that makes it all the more imperative that we take the book’s advice: slow down and pay attention.

 

One particular spiritual discipline that teaches us the patience and the attentiveness that is necessary to deepen our walk with our Lord is the ancient art of lectio divina (“spiritual reading”). In case you’re not familiar with it, the discipline leads the seeker through four steps as he or she reflects on a selected passage:

 

¦ Read the passage slowly, pausing between phrases and sentences. Read the passage again, this time aloud or whispered to yourself, so that you can truly hear the words. Allow the words to linger in your mind; let their sound and meaning sink in. If a word or phrase seems especially significant to you, stay with it, turning it over in your mind and heart.

 

¦ Meditate. Once you have selected certain words and phrases which seem to speak to you, explore their significance for your life. Consider how God might be trying to catch your attention with these words or phrases. Try putting yourself into the passage, perhaps as some character. Reflect on what God might be saying to you in this passage of Scripture.

 

¦ Pray. Let your prayer emerge from your encounter with the text. Consider how the words you have read move you to pray for yourself, for others, and for the world. Express to God as fully as you can what is in your heart.

 

¦ Contemplate. Now the work is done.  Take time to rest in the presence of God. Release all your thoughts and feelings to God. Enjoy the moment.  This is the “Amen” of spiritual reading. So be it!

 

To aid in the selection of texts, I suggest using a daily lectionary (list of readings) like the one available at http://www.pcusa.org/devotions/lectionary/index.htm or employing the ancient method of lectio continua (“reading in sequence”), in which the seeker simply moves through a book of the Bible, like Psalms or one of the gospels.

 

May God bless you and me as we slow down and pay attention!

 

© 2009 Tom Cheatham