God calls us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23). This means that words and acts of our own choosing do not constitute acceptable worship, and do not bring us closer to God, unless God Himself is guiding us. Our innate moral sense tells us that this is as it should be, or else the unrepentant might win divine favor, with hearts still in unhealed bondage to error, merely by mouthing the right formula. Frail and ignorant as we are, we’re prone to indulge ourselves in things not good for us, assign ourselves vain penances that hope but fail to erase shame and guilt, and pray to false gods with the wrong part of our soul. It’s wisest to put ourselves in the hands of the heavenly Physician who knows what prayer, practice or correction best suits the state of our heart. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul counseled us (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but also “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) This paradox, that we ought to be in worship constantly, but don’t know how to do it without God’s guidance (which may change course from moment to moment, and be different for different worshippers) is the very basis of Friends’ waiting worship and their historical rejection of other denominations’ customary “forms without life.”
On this same principle, only God can tell us how often we should set aside time to give ourselves over to a spiritual activity He’s chosen for us. It’s one thing to float through each day’s activities in a mild, pious haze, “praying without ceasing” in a general sort of way, smiling to ourselves over how nicely we’ve lived up to the Yearly Meeting’s Advices and Queries. It is another to bring our will and attention to a sharp point at regular intervals, and put all of ourselves at the disposal of the Divine as we understand It. This bringing to a point may be a small, split-second thing, as when recovering alcoholics wake in the morning and resolve to spend the next twenty-four hours sober. It may involve short verbal utterances like “increase our faith” or “heal me, Lord” or “there is no god but God.” It might be purely nonverbal, like a sending of blessings in the six directions, or prostration, or a few minutes’ exercise in bare mindfulness. It may be a fixing of intention to speak and think about God, and our covenant with Him, “as we walk by the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7), or to call repeatedly on His name (Psalm 91:15). But I could not guess what God would call you to do. My own daily practice, given to me at my request, is to say the Lord’s Prayer every morning, slowly and thoughtfully. For others, it may be something shorter – or longer. And, under God’s ongoing guidance, one’s daily assignment may change or expand over time.
Is God calling you to a daily spiritual practice? Ask Him – or “Her,” or “It,” if those pronouns strike you as more fitting for the One who created you; and God will answer you.
Did you formerly have a daily practice that you fell away from and never went back to? Is that because the Holy Spirit did not support your continuing with it, or because you let yourself be discouraged? Do you discern that God wishes you to resume it? Might you need the support of a group of friends?
Committees of Ministry and Worship, or Ministry and Counsel, may wish to consider whether they are called to encourage the adoption of daily spiritual practices, and the shared discussion of daily-practice experiences and problems, among members of their meetings.
I’m passionate about this. I long wished for a daily practice that I knew was right for me and that I could keep to. I’d tried other things, but they’d fallen away from me. Eventually I read an extraordinarily good book, Turning Suffering Inside Out: A Zen Approach to Living with Physical and Emotional Pain (Shambhala, 2002), by Darlene Cohen, a Zen priest, which she ends by suggesting to the reader that one be one’s own Zen master, so to speak, and pose a koan for oneself. The koan I posed was: why can’t I keep to one daily practice? And within days I knew that my daily practice was simply to say the Lord’s Prayer. I knew it was a calling, not a whim, the day I omitted it and soon felt the Lord’s gentle rebuke.
Daily practice makes me rich. I see spiritual poverty all around me, and I want my friends and neighbors to be rich, too. And this costs nothing.