Spiritual Disciplines: A Reading List for Beginners

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What are spiritual disciplines?  Why would I want to implement some?  Where do I get information on all this?  Read on, and I’ll explain in this journey I’m starting out on!

Word of the Year

Instead of doing New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve enjoyed picking a “Word of the Year” to focus my energies, gently reminding myself of the positive path I want to remain on for the upcoming year.

It turns out, this is a fairly old practice.  Daniel Wolpert, in Creating a Life With God briefly discussed St. Benedict’s life, around the year 500:

“In Benedict’s time, the great masters felt that when a disciple came to them with a problem, the solution was not a lengthy piece of advice but rather a “word”.  God had something particular to say to the disciple, and it was up to the master to listen with enough clarity to know and then speak the word needed for that person to be healed.”

I had no plans for a Word of the Year myself this year.  However, though books I have received, my word has become abundantly clear.

Spiritual Disciplines

OK, honestly the word is “discipline” but it’s taking the form of spiritual disciplines.

This isn’t something I would have stumbled upon myself.

I do discipline about as well as cats come when you call them.  Not well at all.

But it seems that God has other plans for me!

Contemplative Practices

At the end of last year, I was reading Thomas Merton’s The New Seeds of Contemplation.  It rocked my socks off, and I was recommending it to everyone I know.  For anyone interested in hearing the still, small voice of God (or gaining some awareness of it), this is the book for you.  Interested in seeing God in the people around you?  Yep, this is a good book.  Do you want to see signs of the presence of God in your everyday circumstances?  You got it–this is your book!

However, this isn’t a how-to manual.  This is just Merton explaining his experiences to the best of his ability.  As Merton noted time and again, many of these contemplative experiences aren’t something that is easily communicated with words.

But he did his best.

And his best was very good.

The Sacred Year

For Christmas, my brother gave me The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski.  He had recently read it, and while he was reading it, he knew it’s the kind of book that’s right up my alley.

He was right.

Yankoski had fallen into a spiritual slump, and was at the point of wondering if Christianity was a farce.  He was challenged to begin a series of spiritual disciplines.  These forced him to get away from just “talking the talk” and going through the motions, but created space in his life to slow down, look inside himself, around his surroundings, and get closer to God.

He breaks his year-long journey up into 3 sections: simplicity, relationship with God, and community.  In those categories, he narrates his journey through a number of spiritual disclipines and how they changed his habits and ways of looking at, and relating to, the world.

After reading The New Seeds of Contemplation, I guessed it would be a long time before I would find another book that spoke profoundly to my life.  It turned out, I was wrong!  The Sacred Year is excellent, and a bit more relatable than The New Seeds of Contemplation.

Creating a Life With God

Now that I’m passing The Sacred Year around my social circle, I was loaned Creating a Life With God by Daniel Wolpert.  I hadn’t even gotten through the introduction, when I became convinced that Michael Yankoski referenced this book in The Sacred Year.

These books touch on the same themes of spiritual disciplines in order to facilitate a contemplative prayer life.  However, while The Sacred Year is a narrative of one man’s experiences, Creating a Life With God is more of a how-do guide.

In it, he explains twelve different ways to pray.  Without knowing it, this is a book that I’ve been looking for for a long time!  After all, when St. Paul tells us to “pray continually”, I’m at a bit of a loss.  When I pray, I think of all the people and concerns that have been brought to my attention.  I address them to God, and then . . . well, that’s where I’m at a bit of a loss.

Contemplative Prayer

This is why I’ve been attracted to the idea of contemplative prayer.  Sure, I can dump all my concerns at God’s feet.  That’s great.

But then I can also sit back and listen to God, too.

Much like the Mary and Martha story, I want to be like Mary and sit at Jesus’s feet.

Given his reaction to Martha’s complaints, that may be what he wants from us, too.

Without seeking them out, these books have been thrown on my lap in the last few weeks.  Given the similar themes, I think God’s trying to tell me something.

So I’ll do my best to listen.

What are books that you’ve read that have helped you deepen your prayer life?  What are regular spiritual disciplines that you practice that help you anchor your heart toward God and his will?  Comment below!

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