A Rhythm of Life
Instruction in understanding and knowledge I have written in this book…Happy are those who concern themselves with these things, and those who lay them to heart will become wise. For if they put them into practice, they will be equal to anything, for the fear (light) of the Lord is their path. Sirach 50:27a, 28-29
Integrating contemplative practices into one’s daily routine is the foundation for establishing a contemplative rhythm of life. The purpose is not to avoid performing our daily tasks or to add to the stresses of our days. Such a rhythm will not rid us of the challenges of aging, abuse, sickness, or suffering. This rhythm of life will not necessarily make a person more popular or successful, at least not in the ways the world defines popularity and success. The purpose of establishing a contemplative rhythm of life is to surround the activities of the day with regular practices that remind us that God works in and through us in every minute detail of our days. The practices do not bring God nearer to us, as God is always near. Rather, contemplative practices help us remember, acknowledge, and draw upon God’s constant presence, allowing us to carry out our daily activities from a more centered, trusting, and grounded perspective.
One excellent example of a rhythm of life practice is that of devout Muslims, who pray five times every day: (1) before sunrise, (2) early afternoon, (3) late afternoon, (4) after sunset, and (5) before going to bed at night. The practice is a habitual reminder of God’s sovereign presence. When we forget that God is present, we fall into all sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy activities – worry, stress, gossip, fear, and complaining, to name a few. One of Jesus’ final instructions to us, given during the Last Supper (Luke 22:19), was to “do this in remembrance of me.” The this he refers to is our routine, daily activities – everything is this. We are to remember Christ’s presence with us in whatever we do. Establishing and maintaining a contemplative rhythm of life is an effective way to follow that instruction.
The philosopher, Socrates, said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While I am not as fatalistic, I believe the underlying sentiment is valid – that we benefit from time spent examining our life on a regular basis. Journaling is a contemplative practice designed to accomplish that – to reflect on our days, thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and hopes. What did I notice today that caught my attention? What was annoying and why? Where did I find beauty? In what ways did I notice God active in my life? In what direction do I feel God nudging me? These types of self-reflective questions are beneficial to consider as a part of our rhythm of life. The answers guide us forward on our spiritual journey, even as the answers change. The answers to such questions are never adequately captured in words, but the effort inspires growth.
We establish a contemplative rhythm of life through habitual practice, keeping to as regular a routine as possible. Not unlike sunrise and sunset bookending the day and night, or the seasons marking the phases of a year, our rhythm of life clothes the activities of our daily routines with a contemplative circadian rhythm. As an example, here is my contemplative practice:
- Upon waking, I spend 60 to 90 minutes in prayer, study, and journaling. This always includes Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, and meditative reading.
- In the evening, I spend 30 to 60 minutes in reflective study – reading or listening to the challenging thoughts of others.
These two activities bookend my days. Throughout the day, I intersperse other contemplative activities as I remember and am able, such as Welcoming Prayer, Meditative Walking, writing, and studying. My current practice pushes me, and although I am inconsistently faithful to it, persistence is important. It is necessary to find a practice that assists us spiritually, but that also allows for the completion of our daily tasks.
It can be frustrating to establish a rhythm of life that we practice for many years and notice only the subtlest of overt changes. Contemplation, however, is a way of life and not a stop along the way, like a blanket that covers us through the night. It does not assure more restful sleep or calmer dreams, but it is a constant, comforting, and dependable presence. A contemplative life is not a life without problems, but it is truer to the life from which we were created – the life that was never born and will never die, which is our eternal life as children of God.
This is the 13th in the series of Life Notes titled A Contemplative Life.
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