Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned. Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting. Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole. Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system. Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off. Maybe you split coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house. None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right. After all, life happens.
Several days ago we talked about how practice makes perfect. The same is true when it comes to basic living. We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and goofs that really build strength. We seldom practice success; it is its own reward. What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way. By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn. We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life. We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges. Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes. And the process starts all over again. Life happens,
As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make. The designation for this series on prayer is Advent because it falls at the end of the nonspiritual calendar year and the beginning of the Christian spiritual calendar. Advent is a time of learning. For the nonspiritual among us it is a time of reflection. Television and radio programs are already having “End of the Year in Review’ programs, reflecting on what was and looking ahead to what will be. For those celebrating Advent, it is a time to prepare with a wee bit of reflection thrown in. It is a time to reflect on one’s spirituality, the good and the bad, and how to improve. Life is not about standing still.
I recently took a class (a wonderful class) on spiritual practices. I freely admit I signed up for it because of this series on prayer. I thought it would be a great reference and the timeliness of the class offering made it a perfect fit. I was certain such a class had to include praying. I was wrong. Life happens.
The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings. It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do. Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray I heard about washing the dishes. Was this an “Oops!” moment?
Trying to define prayer is both very easy and intrinsically complex. The word spiritual is equally difficult to define. If you remember, after presenting you with all the complex definitions of prayer, I summarized it down to one word – conversation. I am certain each of us defines “spiritual” in our own way and we could go through a host of definitions. To many people, it is synonymous with being religious but for others, it is a distinct and different approach to life than being religious. For me, a spiritual life is a connected life. I define spiritual as just that – connected.
The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying. What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment. Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.” What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand. It is great advice…in the moment. Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake. That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket. Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.
Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life. We all have a soul, a spirit within us. We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people. Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat.
For many people, prayer is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game. It can also be a time of asking for help or understanding. Life can be very confusing and confounding. Prayer is one way many people seek to find solace for their spirit or soul.
Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places. Bah humbug! True spirituality is something that is felt and lived with very little talking involved. For some, spirituality is a term they use to avoid in-depth retrospection. For others, it is a curse to be avoided and for still some, it is a way to avoid the unpleasant truths about ourselves. Not all spirituality can be good or have positive outcomes. Adolf Hitler and ISIS are two prime examples of such as were Charles Manson and Jim Jones.
We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves. In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things. We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas. Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do. Can these things possible be spiritual? Are they a part of our prayer life?
Who are you? What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”? In Paris several weeks ago, the fabric of many lives was ripped apart as people went about doing rather mundane tasks. Some were celebrating the end of the week at a concert; others were dining or watching a soccer game. In a matter of moments a destructive spirituality tore hundreds of lives apart. The same thing happened a little over a week ago in California as employees attended a mandatory team training and holiday luncheon. How quickly their lives were torn; how quickly we felt their pain and the fear it created in our own lives.
None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks. Life happens. The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected. Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive. Life happens and so, we need to live it. It is scary and exhilarating. It needs reflection and preparation. It demands we are present in the moment. Life happens.