Friday, October 17, 2008

Spiritual Exercises II

Here's another installment of the series on spiritual fitness I published in our unit's semi-monthly newsletter:

In the last issue of this paper I suggested that the Army expects Soldiers to be physically fit and to be spiritually fit as well, in order to thrive -- and not just survive -- in the midst of a war zone. I proposed that engaging in simple spiritual exercises can do for our spirits what physical exercise can do for our bodies. Something as ordinary as breathing can become a spiritual exercise, as was detailed in that article. This week, I want to present another easy and accessible action which can improve our spiritual fitness: spiritual reading.

The practice of reading has long fed the human spirit. Just as breathing meditation can be identified with many Eastern spiritual traditions, "lectio divina" (Latin for "divine reading" or "holy reading") shines as a hallmark of Western spirituality. Like the breathing meditation mentioned last week, this spiritual exercise is simple, easy, and need not occupy a lot of time in the schedules of busy military personnel.

There are lots of writings (the Latin word 'scriptura' comes to mind) which can serve as the basis for spiritual reading. An easy and readily available one would be the Holy Scriptures from the Jewish and Christian traditions. However, given one's background and preferences, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, or your own favorite spiritual text can serve as the basis for this spiritual exercise.

A key to making this practice become a true spiritual exercise is to set a particular time each day to be devoted to this action. By being faithful to the time set aside each day -- I suggest starting out very modestly, say, five minutes if you've never tried this before -- you'll develop a habit of doing it. As with physical exercise, repetition and discipline are crucial to the effectiveness of spiritual exercise. This habit of spiritual reading, when coupled with the simple breathing meditation from the last issue of this publication, can yield wonderful results in terms of stress reduction and a growing intimacy with the Divine.

One suggestion for approaching a period of 'divine reading' might be to see it as a four-fold action: 1) Read a short passage from your text, slowly. 2) Read it again, pausing on a word or phrase that attracts your attention. Breathe. 3) Offer a prayer of thanksgiving or petition, based on what you've read, and how it's affected you. 4) Rest for a moment in the love of God who has brought you to this time and place.

If you've not attempted this sort of spiritual exercise before, it's helpful if you can find a place free from distractions. After a while, with practice, even those distractions lose their power to divert you from your primary spiritual aim. It's much better to start out slowly and work into and up to more time, if this practice feeds your soul, than to adopt an unrealistic expectation ("I'm going to do one hour of spiritual reading each morning.") and become disillusioned with the practice and yourself because you're not able to follow through on your resolution.

"And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God." (Nehemiah 8: 17b-18)

Easy does it, but do it, is an appropriate spiritual maxim in this case!

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tim: It is life affirming to see that you never stop coaching: I will try the spiritual exercises -- I think the incremental approach is a great way to build up atrophied spiritual muscles.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

God bless you,

Mike Anderson

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