Sometimes the spiritual life can feel so mysterious, so confusing, so…spiritual. What should I pray? When should I pray? How should I pray? There are plenty of books written about it by people much wiser than I am. But the amount of information available can be overwhelming and the last thing I want is for my spiritual life to become yet one more thing I have to do “well” and have to get “right”. Right now, I am trying to keep things simple.
What helps me remember my connection to my Creator? In this season of life there are two things that are helping to make my spiritual life a little more real and knowable. These are very basic rituals, so basic that I hesitate to even call them rituals. But I like doing them because they involve my body and not just my mind, and they make what is normally invisible a little more visible.
First, I’ve been praying on my knees. Not every time, but a lot of the time. Sinking low reminds me that I am not the all-powerful person I often act like I am. I am actually very much in need. I can’t do it alone, though many times I’ve tried to (and failed). I continue to mess up, hurt the people I love, act carelessly and selfishly. Day after day I am confronted with my pride and lust and my general lack of concern for others.
Do I want to be better? Of course, but it’s not my sheer determination that is going to change me, I need God to work on my heart. So I plant my knees on my Ikea rug, try to ignore the sudden urge to vacuum now that I’m confronted with a close-up view of all the crumbs I hadn’t noticed before, and I pray.
Kneeling doesn’t make the prayer more spiritual and it doesn’t make me a better Christian, but it does help remind me how desperately my soul needs a caretaker. What do I pray here? Sometimes it’s just mumbling the words please help me. If I can get my act together I’ll say the words of a prayer I love, it could be the Lord’s Prayer or The Peace Prayer of St. Francis, which is a favourite of mine. Then I get up, stretch out the stiffness that reminds me I’m not far from forty, and try to bring that humility and grace with me into the rest of the day.
The other habit I’ve been finding useful is lighting a candle. It’s not just the pretty aesthetic I’m after here, there’s something in the flickering light that reminds me I’m not, in fact, alone, as I am often prone to believe. It’s like the little flame is dancing to the song I need to hear: I am here, and God is here. And acknowledging that truth is sometimes the most important thought I can have all day.
Whether I am trying to put some words down on a page, or dwelling on a problem I need to solve, or thinking about the mistakes I keep making that I want to stop making, I think Okay, it’s not just me working. He is the conductor and I am the one being conducted. The very real presence of the candle reminds me of God’s very real presence with me. So even when I am awash with self-doubt and my mind is crowded with worries, the glow of light reminds me that He can handle it, no matter how inadequate I feel.
I’m realizing that the act of kneeling and lighting a candle are things that force me to slow down, in mind and body, which is a hard thing to do these days. Even if all we do is strike the match and bend down, we’re honouring this timeless wisdom: “Be still in the presence of the Lord.” (Psalm 37:7, NLT) And in that beautiful stillness, God has space to move.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him – Psalm 37:7a (NIV)