Rev. Sandy Johnson
Going Deeper: Tools for the Dive
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Several weeks ago, I shared with all of you, that I had begun practicing yoga. As much as I wanted to be great at yoga right off the bat, I have had to start where I was, as a beginner, and follow the guidance of my instructor; watching and listening as she called out the various movements. At first I was awkward and frustrated when I couldn’t keep up with her down-dog, child’s pose and plank. But just four weeks into my new practice, I can already see improvement. I am able to keep up, able to listen to the instructor’s voice and follow the instructions she gives me, even with my eyes closed. A little practice, just four weeks, has been transformative.
When I began, I knew that there were some tools that I would need, things that would help my practice be more successful. Remember I told you I had a bought a yoga mat and DVD maybe six years ago? Well, the yoga mat was perfect for my new regime. I got some yoga pants, a couple pairs of leggings, yoga shirts, a towel to wipe my sweaty brow, and a strap to help with some of the poses. Then I bought a handy dandy carrying case – something to bring my tools back and forth to the studio each day.
Having the right tools are vital to a successful practice. If I came to yoga dressed in cleats, baseball pants and jersey with a mitt in my hand, you might wonder if I’d lost my mind. If I wanted to dive deeper into my relationship with God but came unprepared for the task before me, I wouldn’t get very far, would I? This morning it is my prayer that we would discuss the tools that we must learn about and use, if we are truly going to dive deeper.
Our scripture this morning highlights one of the greatest tools we have, to go deeper with God. Each of us, humbled and alone, spending time with the Divine. Jesus is our ultimate model of Christian practices and repeatedly, scripture says, Jesus left his disciples to pray. He left the crowds and he left his family and went off by himself to pray. Before major events like when Jesus began his ministry, before he went to be baptized by John; before he chose his twelve disciples, after he fed the 5000 and finally before he was betrayed, we know from scripture that Jesus withdrew and spent time alone with God, praying and listening for guidance and direction.
Mark 6:46 says that after Jesus had put his disciples into the boat and sent them across the Galilee onto Bethsaida, “he departed to the mountain to pray.” In Mark 14:32, after he and the disciples arrived in Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, he said, “sit here until I have prayed.” Luke 4:42 says that “he departed to a lonely place,” and Luke 5:16 says, “But he himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”
We can’t always get away to the wilderness to pray, can we? When we can it’s especially nice, but most of us have responsibilities that require us to be close to home. So, what do we do? How do we set aside time and discover the place to spend time with God? I suggest that we create a sacred space, somewhere in your home, where you can meet God each day. Some folks I know have a room devoted to this, some just a stool next to a comfortable chair. It is a place that we create, with the anticipation that we will spend time with God, in prayer and studying scripture, feeding our relationship and diving deeper.
Can you imagine a room or place in your house where you could set up this space? Someplace quiet, secluded, someplace that is welcoming and inviting. Once we have space created or identified, staying connected with God requires us to make it a priority, setting aside quality time to spend with God. I had mentioned last week or the week before, that I had found myself spending more time with CNN than I did with my bible, some days in fact, CNN got all of my time and the bible got none. I had to change my priorities. It was up to me to do something different. SO, instead of turning on my iPad in the morning and going straight to CNN, I have made the decision to start with my bible. I begin each morning now with a daily reading, provided from my bible app. That was a simple fix, a slight adjustment to my day but already I’m seeing lasting effects.
Connecting with God and then staying connected is the most valuable of our spiritual practices that will help us to go deeper in our relationship. Without this basic relationship with God, the open communication that is available to all of us, we are left on our own, struggling to find our path.
What are some other tools, things that we can use to dig deeper, dive into a new and fresh relationship with God? After prayer, I would recommend studying the bible. Whether you do this alone or with a group is up to you. Sometimes meeting with others pushes the accountability a bit and it forces us to be better than we are. Studying the bible is as foundational as prayer, spending time reading the bible is another opportunity for God to speak to us, to provide answers for life’s challenges and give us language to express our gratitude for God’s love and grace.
Setting up spiritual disciplines requires regular practice. If I practiced Yoga once a month, or every six months, I wouldn’t develop or grow in my practice, would I? These past four weeks I have gone to the studio at least twice and more often three times each week to learn more, to practice more and to experience the full benefit of yoga. The same is true with our spiritual practices. Selecting a daily devotion can add another layer to our spiritual disciplines. I have asked Jeri Brown to share a devotion she has been using.
Thank you Jeri! I have brought samples of these types of daily devotions and you are welcome to look at them as you leave worship today.
Another tool that I want to share with you this morning is worship. That seems pretty obvious, right? You are all here this morning, coming together for corporate worship. This time spent together helps all of us to reconnect and refocus on God. I always feel better after Sunday morning worship, anyone else? I can remember times when I was a lay person when I hesitated to go, maybe I was sleepy or just feeling lazy. But then I would force myself to go. I was always glad I did. It energized me and helped me get ready for the week ahead.
Sunday worship isn’t the only worship that we can engage in. Worship happens also when we are driving in our car and are listening to podcasts, to Christian radio, Christian music or other uplifting programs. Our church also offer a mid-week worship service which is quite different from our Sunday morning style. Wednesday night worship is more contemplative styles of worship led by me, Fr. Jim with the Episcopal Church, along with Francyl Gawryn who is newly ordained, just this morning, at Grace Community Church.
On the first Wednesday of each month Pastor Francyl leads a centering prayer worship service. The third Wednesday of each month I lead a taize style worship. Taize is an ecumenical type of worship which originated in the small village of Taize, France. It was created by a monk who brought together peaceful, contemplative practices which is enjoyed by people all over the world. The focus in Taize is repetitive, easy to sing worship songs, prayer and scripture. The tone is peaceful, subdued and worshipful.
On the second and fourth Wednesdays Fr. Jim and I share a more traditional style of worship but occasionally I share a Lectio Divina – another more contemplative style of worship, where we dig deeper into one scripture for the evening. Choosing to go deeper may mean that you begin to add Wednesday worship into your schedule. We can also go deeper with God through worship by singing, kneeling to pray, opening our hands and raising our arms in worship, using our whole bodies to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit.
The last tool that I want to share this morning, pushing us to dive deeper is spiritual retreats like the Walk to Emmaus. This weekend retreat is an excellent way to learn, grow and expand our faith and relationship with God. It is a short course on Christianity that provides an opportunity to recommit ourselves, to realign ourselves to whatever God is calling us to do. There is an application process and certainly if a retreat sounds like something you’d be interested in I invite you to speak with one of folks in our church who have attended Emmaus (raise your hands). The next set of walks are in October – I say set because the men and women go on different weekends.
I have mentioned several times these past few weeks about creating your own “Going Deeper Tool Kit.” This kit requires first a sincere faith and desire to expand, to take your spiritual life to a new level, to dive deeper! With that decision, I encourage you to pull the tools together you need – your bible, a devotional, a bible study book, maybe a sand garden or rocks to stack. Things that can help to quiet your mind and focus on God. My tool kit includes prayer beads, a hand cross that I hold when I’m praying. My kit includes a journal to capture my thoughts. Having a candle that you can light, where you can invite in the spirit of God to join you in the sacred space, is always a good idea.
Now, sometimes after practicing something new, you realize that maybe you need newer or more advanced tools. After practicing yoga for four weeks, I realized that I needed better tools. The mat I was using is quite inexpensive ($20.00 at target) and my hands slip repeatedly doing my “down dog” position. The more I practiced this new skill, I realized that I needed to step up my game, to continue to improve I would have to add to my toolkit. The same will happen as you dive deeper with your spiritual practices. As you develop proficiency in one area, you may need advanced resources, a more advanced bible study class, a more challenging small group, or simply to add to your weekly worship experience.
I want to empower all of us here to take some time this week, to set aside an hour to sit with God and ask God what he wishes for you this year. Ask God to help you to discern a path for you to take in diving deeper and then get ready, because God will answer and honor that prayer and the things we will experience together this next year will be truly transformative.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we long to know you better, to understand your call on our lives and to be in a more transformative relationship with you. Guide our path this week, speak to our hearts as we delve deeper in our spiritual practices. We ask this all in Jesus name. Amen.