Maybe it’s the coffee talking, but I so often find myself trying to move at hyper speed: think faster, work faster, multitask, can I load paper with my left hand while my right hand is digging through a folder? Sure, sometimes that is prompted by the bright spark of learning to do something new or better– the satisfaction of nailing a complex math problem or a difficult dance step or section of music. More often it is driven by the simmering anxiety of striving to somehow “catch up” to a shadowy figure out in front of me, an expectation of how much I should have accomplished by now in my day/week/month/life. It keeps my gaze looking out towards what isn’t here yet, my mood one of lacking satisfaction. Chronic thirst and creeping fatigue sneak into my mindset, eroding my joy.
Enter contemplative spiritual disciplines! (superhero theme song plays here) That’s a fancy way of saying “rituals for reconnecting”. When my focus is on what I don’t have, I am disconnected from what is all around me, even right in front of me. I forget what I already have and search for more. I need a way to change lenses and see what is real. And I have found one! It’s deceptively simple, mobile, free, requires no technology, is neither immoral, illegal, nor fattening. We can even try it out right now:
Fun, right? And you thought contemplative spiritual disciplines had to be somber, silent, hard, lead by burlap-robed monks. Nope. Anything that helps us to slow down, notice what is real, and reconnect with ourselves and God can fit that category. Gratitude is one of my favorites. It helps me pause and sink into the enjoyment of something right here that I already have. Choosing to notice what is lovely about what’s in front of me brings my gaze from scavenging high on the horizon down to an intimate closeness. Here are the cinnamon veins on an almond, unique on each one, elegant. The stipple of the design on a mug with much greater detail than I had noticed. The smoothness of my laptop’s keys and the subtle warmth emanating were lost in the rush until I pause now and am oddly comforted by it. Standing perfectly still to watch a hummingbird 3 feet away drink and finally land, fold its wings in, and have a second long drink makes my heart overflow with appreciation. God is in those moments, a sacred subtle drawing me back into home with myself and having everything I need.
Try it. Yes, right now as you read this. Pick up something close by and examine it in as much detail as you can. You will certainly be surprised by something, and if you allow it, delighted by the surprise. Close your eyes, hold it close in your hand or up to your cheek and appreciate the textures of it. Isn’t that intriguing? Notice where your focus is now, and if it is even a little more restful than it was before.
I love crafting these rituals, these practices of reconnecting to what is real and finding gratitude again. First, because I need them. They are the perfect remedy to frenetic fractured living. I also love helping others who seek that same peaceful relief and renewal. It’s one way to describe what I do as part of the ReNew team: support spiritual leaders in staying deeply connected with God and with their own souls. So often the whitewater of ministry demands pulls them out, away, back and forth, running hard to keep up– which is not unlike the battle that teachers, parents, nurses, and many other caregivers press into every day. We all crave feeling filled rather than famished. Pausing to soak in the simple gifts of the present, what is already right here, is waiting for us every moment.