Updated: Jan 22
The start of the new year allures many of our imaginations with new possibilities. Excellent books have been written about the power of intention, spiritual disciplines, ordered life, habits of effective people, the rule of life, and the list goes on. I know that for some of us this creates anxiety and pressure rather than a sense of excitement and freedom. If you belong to the first group of people, give yourself space. For those of you who like to reflect and set new goals and intentions for the year ahead, here is another lens through which you can explore some of your desires and the kinds of spiritual habits you might feel drawn to nurture this year, and in the years to come.
Nature of Spirituality Spirituality is both a natural, inherent part of all humans, and also developed through nurturing, or impeded due to neglect. In her book "Children's Spirituality: What It Is And Why It Matters" Rebecca Nye writes the following when she talks about spiritual development of children,
“The long-term view invites us to notice habits that might be developing much more slowly, shaping the child’s lifelong spiritual attitude. This could be children’s inclination to wonder, to think reflectively or to value thinking for themselves — all active rather than passive spiritual habits.”
I am intrigued by her language of active spiritual habits. For a long time, I only associated words such as "development", "growth", "practices", "exercises", and "disciplines" to one's spiritual deepening. In contrast, I mostly associated the word “habit” with negative behaviors. For example, I don’t think I ever said, “I have a nice habit of noticing the beauty around me.” But after reading Nye's book I became curious about reimagining habits in the context of nurturing my and other’s life with God.
Since I am a firm believer in the theology of childhood (“... unless you change and become like little children" Matt. 18:3), I compiled a list of ten active spiritual habits that are all natural expressions of children’s inherent spirituality. My list is by no means all-encompassing, neither are the habits listed here in any order of priority. The list is simply a resource. It is also a guide for me when I design my tactile prayer tools and workshops. While there are a hundred other habits that I could include, this list shows you what kinds of things you can expect my resources to reflect, and aim to foster in the ones who engage them.
Here is an introduction to the habits and a few ideas how to nurture each habit.
"When we give thanks, we are telling the truth about ourselves, if only in part. In our appreciation, we admit that something matters so much to us that we can’t let it slip by without recognition. So giving thanks is deeply personal and revelatory." — Jennifer Willhoite from CobbleWorks. (Read the full post here.)
Spend time in nature. Immersing ourselves in something beautiful and beyond ourselves helps to gain perspective and evoke gratitude.
Start the day by reflecting on things that you are and have versus the things you lack and wish to become.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
"Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It's a way of living in the Presence." ― Richard Rohr
Try doing something new. Or practice doing a familiar task as if it's your first time doing it, slowly and curiously, really taking in the experience. Try especially activities that engage multiple senses and allow you to create something.
Take a slow walk and engage in the Prayer of Simple Regard (an example prayer guide can be found here.)
Prepare food with in season and local ingredients. Wear season appropriate clothing and minimize the use of heating and air conditioning.
Read: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
"Ignorance is bliss — except in self-awareness. What you don't know about yourself can hurt you and your relationships — and maybe even how you make your way in the world. It can also keep you in the shallows with God." — Ian Morgan Cron, The Road Back to You
Practice listening to your own body. Start by deep breathing and then "scan" through your body. What do you become aware of?
Explore the Enneagram as a self-awareness and growth tool.
Read: The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner
"The natural world is filled with opportunities for prayer. All we need to do is open our senses to the wonder that surrounds us. However we respond to that wonder — with awe, delight, fear, or gratitude — we are in prayer because we are responding to God's call to relationship." — Jane E. Vennard, Praying with Body and Soul
Take a slow walk outside, allowing yourself to stop often, smell, feel, see, hear and perhaps even taste your surroundings.
Tell and retell stories of your life with God at the center of them. Cultivate a sense of curiosity and wonder about the ways God works in your life and the world at large.
Observe a young child and how she/he expresses and experiences wonder.
The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God by Chiristine Aroney-Sine
"Today we often discount the direct knowing that emerges as an inner sense or voice in favor of the measurable observation or logical that the science and reason value. Essentially, adult society has grown a cataract on the eye of contemplation — we have made it cloudy with mistrust. But the direct sight of contemplation is alive and well in most children; they are natural contemplatives." — Tobin Hart, The Secret Spiritual World of Children
Start the practice of (art) journaling. You can find inspiration and prompts here.
Find a spiritual companion who can support your reflective posture. Spiritual direction is a great resource for many (both children and adults) to engage and cultivate the habit of reflection.
Create a rhythm that allows you to regularly block a part of the day or a whole day in order to be still and reflect.
Read: Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence
“Engaging the arts prayerfully helps us to develop ways of deeply listening to what is stirring within us.”― Christine Valters Paintner
If you have a tendency to see making time to create as a luxury, reimagine it as an act of worship and start scheduling time for creating, whatever that may look like for you.
Go somewhere that feeds your creativity. Attend a meet-up for entrepreneurs, go to a poetry reading, visit a craft shop, eat out at a new restaurant, take a stroll through an urban farm...
Create in a community. To create requires discipline and a community support is often needed. Many places offer creative workshops for all levels and interests. We host monthly creative prayer retreats in Denver.
The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner
“When your affection is kindled, the world of your intellect takes on a new tenderness and compassion. ... You look and see and understand differently. Initially, this can be disruptive and awkward, but it gradually refines your sensibility and transforms your way of being in the world. Most fundamentalism, greed, violence, and oppression can be traced back to the separation of idea and affection.” ― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara
Reflect the Gospel stories and experiences of your own life in the light of God's affection. How has he moved with affection towards his people, and you?
Consider who could be your Affection Teacher. Affection Teacher is someone who helps your body to remember how to feel the emotion of affection, and feel it. It could be a baby, a doll, a soft toy, a pet, or an image of someone who arouses the felt-experience of tender affection in you. There is a collection of Felt-Peace dolls (aka Affection Teachers) listed on my Etsy shop.
The Little Bird Found Herself by Edwin M. McMahon (Picture Book)
"Without an imagination, the soul would have no way of communicating with us, no way to pull our attention to its needs, no way to tell us how deeply we are connected to God." – Jane E. Vennard, Praying with Body and Soul
Draw or journal on the following: What would it look like for you to use your imagination for the good of yourself, your family, and the world around you, instead of imagining the negative that translates to worry and anxiety? What kinds of dreams and hopes are stirred within? What do they show you about your soul's desires?
Read a Bible passage with the use of your imagination. Allow your imagination lead you to prayer. Further resource for imaginative prayer can be found here.
Read: Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene H. Peterson
"The human face carries mystery and is the exposure point of the mystery of the individual life. It is where the private, the inner world of a person protrudes into the anonymous world. While the rest of the body is covered, the face is naked. The vulnerability of this nakedness issues a profound invitation for understanding and compassion.” - John O'Donohue, Anam Cara
What is an image of self-compassion for you? How will you practice self-compassion today?
Notice when a sense of compassion is stirred in you. How might God invite you to use this powerful experience?
Look at someone who you struggle to extend compassion to into eyes (if not in person, find a picture of them, or if that is you, find a mirror!). Ask God to help you to see the person through his eyes. What happens inside you?
Read: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (Picture Book)
"Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you’ll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth." Deuteronomy 11:18-21 The Message by Eugene H. Peterson
Gather a memory box or wall collage where you collect meaningful memories to you and your family.
Make a symbol, display, embroidery, or painting of a promise, invitation or intention. Place it in a visible place that you can often see.
Create a collage, painting or mandala that represents your life's journey. Note any significance events, people, experiences and places. Consider how God has been present in different seasons of your life. A guided art reflection can be found here.
The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich
I posted series of images and stories around the 10 habits at the end of last year on my Instagram account. You can find them if you search the hashtag #10ActiveSpiritualHabits. I would love for you to add to the resource by sharing about your own ways of engaging in any of the above, or other active spiritual habits by using the hashtag above.
Is there a habit on the list that surprises you?
Which habit are you most drawn to?
What habits would you like to add to the list?
Could one of the habits listed above, or another one that you are curious about become a point of exploration and hold a deeper invitation for you?
How could one or two of the habits enrich the way you engage in your current spiritual life?