Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Walking with Dog

So, for this class I’m taking on youth ministry, I’m supposed to blog about my spiritual practices. No problem. I’ve got the blog. I like to write about spirituality and discipleship. I’m really into sharing the journey of this life in Christ.

So why am I a month into the semester and writing my first blog post? It’s that spiritual practices thing. I know -- and those of you who know me know -- that a disciplined rule of life isn’t really my thing. I’ve always been more of a “controlled chaos” person than an organizational maven. The basis of this assignment is to accustom us to talking about our daily spiritual practices so we can teach them to youth. Makes sense to me, except....

My favorite spiritual practice is walking the dog.

No, that’s not a typo. It would sound a lot better if it were “walking with God.” But honestly, my daily time of contemplation and reflection is when I take Emma the pooch for her morning constitutional. And I’m not reciting Morning Prayer while I do it, either. I’m just wandering along, nodding at the people (and other dogs) we pass, noticing what Emma stops to sniff at, thinking about how it’s getting lighter earlier. Sometimes I do think about religious things... but quite often I just hang out with the dog. God’s welcome, but mostly He just hangs out with the dog, too. If Emma has noticed God along for the walk, she hasn’t said anything.

I often feel guilty about this. As spiritual practices go, walking the dog doesn’t appear in any list I’ve ever seen. I know that that as a spiritual leader, I’m supposed to practice what is preached -- the importance of daily attentive listening to God. But here’s the thing: God and I go way back. He got me into this crazy juggling act of school and church and family. And I’ll say this for him -- he’s stuck with me while I juggled it. He always seems willing to come along for the ride. The times my spiritual life has been most satisfying has been when I’m looking for God where I currently am (usually between point A & B), rather than forcing myself to wait in one place for God to come by.

So I walk the dog. And I do dishes. And I read the newspaper. And I look around and see if God is with me, and mostly, God is. Those are the times when I am most conscious that God is present.

I do need formal worship, too, to feed me spiritually. But I’m an extrovert, a raging loves-people extrovert, so I am fully fed by helping to lead worship two services on Sunday and one on Thursday night. It pours energy and joy for God’s work into me. I’m perfectly happy getting my spiritual sustenance from the church where I am working. For silence, well, I have walking the dog.

I can teach other forms of prayer. I have a pretty good collection of kinetic prayers I use when I feel the need to connect with God in a different way because there are too many distractions getting in the way. I do and have taught drawing prayer, and next week I’ll be teaching rosary making and prayer at Trinity Church, Stoughton. (Come by Thursday night, March 18, 6 p.m. for soup supper and rosaries if you’ve a mind.) I like labyrinths, and am contemplating buying a small one when I have income again. These are forms of prayer I find very useful, particularly when I feel the need to slow down and listen for God’s voice. But it’s not like I can say, “well, on Wednesdays I pray the rosary” or “I do drawing prayer three times a week.” I might... or I might not do it for a month. Just depends on where I am at the moment.

All of which works for me, which, as my spiritual director tells me, is the point. But I don’t think I would suggest anyone else follow my routine -- who knows whether God hangs out with other dogs? Emma just looks inscrutable when I ask her. Telling other people to go out and get a dog to enhance their prayer life seems like a really bad idea. So this will be my last blog post about my daily prayer life, and remember: don’t do what I do, unless, of course, you discover God hanging out with your dog, too.

In the next couple of weeks, maybe I’ll share some of those more traditional prayer practices. Or maybe something in one of these books I’m reading will inspire me. (Already mulling the question of the discerning church and youth...more to come on that, I think.) But if you’re coming here thinking you’ll learn how to get in contact with God through the use of regular spiritual practices of the sort you can talk about in Sunday School without embarrassment, I’m afraid you’ll likely be disappointed.

God and I will be out walking the dog.