So you want to spend the weeks prior to Easter exploring spiritual disciplines but aren’t sure where to start? In his book The Sacred Way, writer and theologian Tony Jones offers an easily accessible approach to spiritual practices developed by Christians across the centuries.
The book was the product of a dilemma he faced, said Jones, theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch, a Christian congregation in Minneapolis.
“For years I’d been told that to be a Christian meant I had to do three things: (1) read the Bible, (2) pray and (3) go to church,” he wrote. “But I had come to the realization that there must be something more. And indeed there is. There is a long tradition of searching among the followers of Jesus — it’s a quest, really, for ways to connect with God …. The quest is to know Jesus better, to follow him more closely, to become — in some mysterious way — wrapped into his presence.”
Among the topics he explores:
- The Jesus Prayer. The words of this simple prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” – are a “continuous, uninterrupted call on the holy name of Jesus Christ with the lips, mind and heart” and a “plea for his blessing in all undertakings, in all places, at all times, even in sleep.”
- The Divine Office. A fixed set of prayer times throughout the day, the Divine Office is a “continuous cascade of prayer” which, unlike prayers which are “rightly petitionary or intercessory or valedictory,” are exclusively an offering to God, says Phyllis Tickle, one of many writers on spirituality whom Jones quotes in his book.
- Centering prayer. Unlike the Jesus Prayer, which uses a repetitive phrase, centering prayer uses a single word like “love” to keep one’s mind focused on God for an extended period of time.
- Labyrinths. A labyrinth is a pattern laid on the ground for walking, with a circuitous route to the center. “Unlike a maze, there are no wrong turns; the path in is the same as the path out.” The labyrinth is a metaphor for the Christian life and is intended to create a visible expression of one’s spiritual journey.
- Pilgrimage. Far from random wandering, pilgrimages aim to enrich spiritual life by separation from the familiar. “Mental and spiritual preparation and intention are necessary for a pilgrimage to be a pilgrimage.” They are different from mission trips, as significant as those may be. “Mission trips, though they shape us inwardly, are primarily about serving others; pilgrimages are an outward expression of an inward journey.”
- Sabbath. An intentional break from regular schedule, Sabbath is “yet another spiritual practice that at first blush seems to be about giving things up … but in the end becomes a gift that is beyond price.
- Stations of the Cross. “The 14 stations trace Jesus’ path from Pilate’s house to Golgotha to his tomb, mixing some events that we find in Scripture with some that come to us via the traditions of the church.” Stopping and reflecting at each station can symbolize “taking up Jesus’ cross and following him.”
- Icons. Probably the least familiar to – and most discomfiting for – evangelicals, icons are an aid to bring people into the presence of God. “One would be hard-pressed to argue against the fact that we live in an image-saturated world. While Christianity is faith based on the written word of Scripture, we must take seriously our image-based lives. One way to do this is to incorporate icons into our lives.
(The Sacred Way, by Tony Jones, was published in 2005 by Youth Specialties, an imprint of Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Mich.)