They Call It Discipline For A Reason

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January 23, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire


I first heard this poem, “Prayer” by Marie Howe on the Writer’s Almanac radio show on NPR, recited by the mellifluous voice of Garrison Keillor. You too can hear the brief clip at:

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

“Prayer” by Marie Howe, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

I make it a point to listen to the poetry on Writer’s Almanac every day, because it so often wakens my mind and spirit to the beauty of creation, the beauty of humanity, the beauty of the ordinary, or the beauty of our emotions; even if they are sometimes very painful. You might say that I’ve made the daily Writer’s Almanac poetry part of my own spiritual discipline, adding it to my daily Bible reading, prayer time, and devotional reading. Throughout Christian history, spiritual disciplines of all kinds have emerged and evolved. Some Christians chant, meditate, and pray in solitude. Some use physical practices like stretching or yoga-esque motions to focus their prayers and meditation. Some walk or trace labyrinths. Some even sew, knit or crochet! There are about as many spiritual disciplines as there are Christians, because we all experience our relationship with God in our own way. There is certainly a communal aspect to our faith, because the Holy Spirit gathers us into the Body of Christ to share our faith together, to worship together and give help and comfort to one another; but today I’m focusing on our individual spiritual disciplines.

The reason this poem, “Prayer” sticks with me, is the honest way Marie Howe describes the difficulty of spiritual discipline. It can be so hard to find and make the time to cultivate our relationship with God when we are bombarded with the demands, responsibilities, stress, and temptations of life. It’s much easier to turn on the TV and veg out, than to find a quiet place to read a chapter out of the Bible and jot down some notes for reflection. It may seem like there’s not enough time in the morning when you would rather sleep an extra fifteen minutes and then rush through the routine of showering, dressing, and grabbing a Pop-Tart for the road. The evenings can be crazy too, especially when there are sports practices for the kids or dance, band, or any of the myriad offerings that engulf the modern youth. If you’re an active and involved member of your church or community there are always meetings, events, and activities that are often worthwhile and important, yet still demand your time. Then if you’re like me, you just want to drop onto the couch when you finally slow down to watch a movie, catch the news, or read a book to escape for half an hour. Believe me, as a pastor with a wife and a two-year-old I understand and encourage you to make family time a priority as well.

But the truth is, no matter how much is going on in your life, you can always make the time in your schedule to set aside ten or fifteen minutes (or more) to speak to your Heavenly Father who is “as close as your own breath,” as Marie Howe writes. “Why do I flee from you?” she asks. Why do we place so much importance upon the little fleeting things of life like the beauty products, the luggage, the clothes and ignore the eternal relationship we have with the God of Heaven and Earth? I suspect there are many reasons, not the least of which is guilt over our sin, our failures, and our regrets. Yet spending the time in prayer or whatever other spiritual discipline you chose will soon make its benefits felt in your life. When your spiritual life takes priority, so many things that felt so important and overwhelming begin to melt away and life begins to feel lighter, cleaner, and brighter.

Dear Heavenly Father, I want to experience the freedom that comes from knowing you better. Help me make time for our relationship, set aside the less important things a little longer and instead be filled with your Holy Word and Spirit to live in the joy and the peace of your presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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