Rhythms of Life

At the moment at Revive we are focusing on the ways we encounter God. We started by looking at different styles of spirituality, and we’ll be looking at different techniques or tools for prayer. We’re already putting some of that into practice with our monthly prayer meetings, and the hope is that we will start putting it into practice in our private spiritual lives too.

As I confessed on Sunday, I’m no expert when it comes to maintaining a good rhythm of prayer and spirituality and rest, so this will in no way be a guide to how to do it. What is will be is a few suggestions drawn from the wisdom of the gathered community, and a few encouragements.

For many of us, the rhythm of our lives is dictated by work and family and a host of small practicalities and necessities, and that means it is really easy for other important things like prayer and spirituality and rest to get squeezed out.

That’s why we need to stop every now and then, to look around us and draw breath, and to think about where prayer and spirituality and rest fit in, and where they don’t and where they might.

God who is love and creator and redeemer wants to spend time with us, and it is through prayer and the myriad other ways we express our spirituality that we make time to spend with God. Without that time we can know about God but we cannot know God, and so it has to be worth the effort.

There is a third beat in the triplet though, and when we talked about our rhythms on Sunday night, at least one group found that they didn’t talk about rest at all, so it’s worth emphasising just how important it is.

After the pattern of the days and seasons, the first rhythm God created was that of the Sabbath day. Before Israel was given festivals and sacrifices and fasts, it was given a day off. Rest is sacred and it is modelled by God and it should be part of the rhythm of our lives, for our own health and sanity, and also because it is often in those quiet spaces that we find we have made space for God.

As I said when I talked about Sabbath before, rest will look different for all of us, but I think there should always be an intentionality about it. Collapsing on the sofa for an hour because you are so exhausted that you can’t do anything else might be necessary from time to time, but it’s not the kind of rest I’m talking about and it shouldn’t be the only downtime you get.

I think there also needs to be some discipline about it, as dreary as that word sounds. A number of people shared on Sunday night that they have a tendency to spend rather longer than they should on their phones. I too often do the same thing, flicking through websites I have no real interest in because I can’t keep my mind quiet, instead of focusing on something more worthwhile, but even if that time isn’t work it still doesn’t feel like rest.

Rest should be time that is set aside and valued and enjoyed. The same should probably be said for prayer and spirituality too.

Let’s begin with something solid. One rhythm which Christians have used for centuries is the pattern of the daily office, which is morning and evening prayer, sometimes with midday prayer and compline.

The sense of praying in community, either because we are sharing the office with others or because we know others throughout history and around the world have used and are using the same words, can be really encouraging. And it’s possible to learn chunks of the prayers, so that we can keep that rhythm even when other things change around us, which can be a great source of comfort.

It’s something I would definitely recommend exploring, and if you want to try it out you can find the daily prayer of the Northumbria community on their website. My parents and I did for Lent a few years ago, and while none of us have managed to keep it up since, it was a really valuable experience, and it did encourage my parents to start each day be studying the Bible together, a pattern they still try to maintain.

So that’s a personal recommendation, but we have different styles of spirituality and different things that bring us closer to God, so now it’s time to look a little wider.

On Sunday night we shared some of the things we find helpful in our own spiritual lives, because it is good for us to inspire and support one another.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m starting to get slightly tired of lots of words, and I’m the sort of person who will happily read the cereal box over breakfast, so here is a slightly more creative attempt at capturing our ideas.

nine styles.jpg

[It will need a little more work as I suspect there will be a fair amount of squinting involved in trying to read it at the moment, but I hope you will accept this work in progress for the time being.

Until then, here are the suggestions:

SENSORY do something physical that reminds you that you are an embodied soul; appreciate art; go for a walk in the beauty of creation; be present and aware of sensations

RATIONAL read with a critical mind; discussions and book clubs; NOOMA dvds

SCRIPTURE DRIVEN read the bible; use study guides and reading plans; lectio divina and imaginative contemplation; pray for the Spirit to guide

DOCTRINAL wrestle with and distill core beliefs; talk to others about what they believe; reflect on the ancient creeds; understand doctrines as ‘healing truths’

ASCETIC quiet days and retreats; learning to rely on God not things; fasting from food, technology, mental activity

SHARING random acts of kindness such as 40 Acts for Lent; volunteering for example with Junk Food Project or refugees; asking ‘what is beautiful about this person?’

ENTHUSIASTIC go to worship events such as city wide gathering at St Matthias; ask for prayer; be open

MYSTICAL candle prayers; simple repetitive activities which leave mind open to God; meditation

SACRAMENTAL using things others have created or creating things to use in worship; Transcendence worship events; celebrating communion; anointings and washings; using liturgy]

Of course all of these things should be approached with an openness to and desire for God. In other words they should be suffused by the prayer of St Richard of Chichester.

May I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

We started this blog by thinking about a rhythm of life, and the hope is that we will build some of these things into our lives. The idea of rhythm and discipline may seem more natural and more important to ascetic types, but it is good for all of us to be intentional about our spirituality, and there are many ways of creating a rhythm.

You might want to set aside short chunks of time throughout the week, or one larger chunk on a weekend when you have more breathing space. You might like the idea of the daily office but decide to scrap the traditional liturgies and do something of your own invention. The possibilities are endless.

The point isn’t finding the one rhythm that will win us spiritual brownie points and impress the people around us, but finding a rhythm that will both challenge and sustain us, whether that rhythm sounds like a military band or free form jazz.

I want to encourage you to take some time to start thinking about what your rhythm might sound like, and find some way of recording and sharing it so that there is a sense of commitment and accountability.  They sound like horribly strict words, but they are really about encouraging us to do something that we know will be good for us, and they should be applied with love and grace.

If it helps you to see all of this as part of a bigger pattern, when I started college I was given a framework for a Rule of Life which encouraged me to set a pattern for the spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual and financial aspects of my life. I’m not suggesting we all need to do this, and I will be very honest and say that this level of structure doesn’t work for me as much as I would like it to but it might work for you, or at least trigger some thoughts.

rule of life

And while we’re thinking about bigger patterns, it is good for us to build rhythms of life as individuals and as families. but also as a community, so I would encourage you to think about where Revive fits in, and how you might build prayer for Revive into your rhythm, especially during this season of prayer.


Published by leighannegreenwood

Baptist minister in training with Revive Leeds. Blogging on behalf of Revive and (coming soon) for myself at Covenant Project.

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