Having a period of time for a daily devotional is a personal goal that I achieve most days. This is a period that I carefully and thoughtfully keep as sacred. It is a mean of spiritual renewal for me.
As I recommend spiritual discipline, several questions arise.
First: What does it mean to “have devotions?” Then, what are the components of this discipline? Lastly, what is the value of this exercise on regulated activity? There are benefits to be derived from this self-enforced practice.
I describe here the basic seven-step pattern I use in devotion. These seven steps enable me to be strengthened spiritually.
I begin this time in meditation by quieting myself, by taking a few deep breaths, and through an act of will and act of discipline focus only on relaxation at this junction. This requires obstructing all other thoughts from consciousness, which is easier said than done. When uninvited thoughts that detour the mind come (and they surely will), dismiss them. Again, easier said than done. The desired state of relocation may be achieved through the use of a mantra, or reciting a piece of literature such as the prayer of St. Francis, which reads:
Lord, may me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith.
Where there is despair, let me sow hope.
Where there is darkness, let me sow light.
And where there is sadness, let me sow joy.
The maximum mood and atmosphere for meditation is also accomplished by listening to music or even signing a verse of a meaningful song. It doesn’t have to be a hymn. Another method cited by others, but which I haven’t tried, is to light a candle and concentrate on the flame for a few minutes. Creating an inner and outer environment for devotion/meditation increases the worth and advantages of this exercise. For me, this is the first step for achieving beneficial devotions.
My preparations for meditation include a 20-minute warm-up by way of walking our dog, Cassie at 5:30 a.m. While strolling around the neighborhood with her I silently think of individuals and organizations and send a positive thought to each of them. This time is followed by personal devotions at home.
My devotional time has second basic element: reading. For myself, I find that my power of concentration is most efficient in the morning. Therefore, reading is easier and my meditation is the maximum of what I read.
I frequently ask myself after such readings “what does this say to me” or “what understanding am I receiving at this moment” to live a full life. When it come to the activity I am tempted to rush through it just to be done and get on to the next step. I believe that this is my compulsion, which can be a positive or a negative. There are times when I reread a narrative to gain and apply its meanings and messages to my life. Reading is an enabler. It empowers my mind. It is a positive stimulus for mental capacity.
Since this step in one’s devotional life is a crucial step in the process, it is natural to ask “what do I read?”
The most recommended route to follow in this step is the Bible; it continues to be a source of education. As an accompaniment, I read the daily meditation from The Upper Room, an internationally used magazine published by the Methodist Church. The Upper Room is my helper in maximizing this precious time with its suggested scripture readings and prayer focus suggestions. For instance, today the prayer focus was for India. I would never have thought of this continent if not for The Upper Room.
Now, let me be honest and frank with you about such reading material. There is plenty of excellent material that stimulates spiritual development and maturity. Personally, I spend more time reading such relevant books than the Bible in my devotionals.
Recently I read and permitted the controversial The End of Faith by Sam Harris to be part of my devotionals. I’ve read God Is Not Great by C. Hitchins, which is an atheistic view of religion. I am discovering that these nontraditional books on religion are providing me with mental stimulation and challenging me to examine my faith. The author of the latter received the following endorsements:
Political and literary journalist extraordinaire… – LA Times
One of the most prolific, as well as brilliant, journalists of our time…– London Observer
I find this writing challenging and mentally stimulating. Devotional time for me is also minutes for spiritual exploration through books and articles other than the Bible.
The next step in the Meditation process is a challenge for me, and comes at the end of my reading time: silence. Entering into phase three, my mind is receptive to many ideas that rise to the surface from my subconscious. Concentrating, keeping my mind quiet, is difficult since I am by nature a thinker and a doer.
A friend suggested the value of this reflection is to wait and see what words, feelings, and images rise to the consciousness. It is a moment to experience a revelation on how to apply the steps already taken. Often this phase suggests ideas for being a better person or for doing something for others. This reflection is fertile ground for positive thoughts and being led by the spirit. This is the moment for finding direction for the day’s activities, to prioritize events, to list items to be accomplished in the next 12 hours.
This is a sacred time for the body and soul. This period give enthusiasm for the day and is a time of renewal. Here I consider how words or images received in my mind connect with my life. This is the opportunity for prayer in which gratitude is the opening theme. Whenever I walk Cassie in the morning, I begin with each step to express my gratitude. Often it is as simple as saying “Lord, I am thankful for a good night of sleep” or “I’m thankful that Cassie, who is now 15 in human years, is well enough and motivated for this brief activity which is healthy for both of us.”
I discover this practice makes me receptive to and stimulates my inner spiritual resources. This is more time to listen and to make deeper contact with my spiritual resources.
Next, create a mental image of significant people in your life and pronounce a blessing on them. Hope for them that God is their companion and that they will have a successful day.
During this time of meditation the names of individuals will come to your mind and brain. This is the spirit’s movement, which stirs us to action.
It is a step in spiritual growth when we also record our thoughts and feelings in a journal as an aid for remembering what God has been saying to us. Keeping a journal is also valuable for putting thoughts and actions in writing; the discipline of writing out our objective is helpful in reaching those goals.
I started this discipline by recording daily events and feelings for myself. After years of this practice, I am now writing what I consider to be significant events. I no longer require myself to do a daily schedule of recording.
At the end of each quarter, I return to these narratives for review and for the contents of my three-month log for the grandchildren.
This is a significant time to ask how does what I’ve read affect me and challenge me to be a better person.
I encourage you to have quiet time, times or moments that I refer to as “devotions.” This pattern, developed and finely honed in years of practice, is a way to do it with meaning.