From the get go, we’ve built Christ’s Pieces around a conviction:
Christian practices matter.
As we’ve explored in Open Book, working through James Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, it’s not enough to be informed and have all your beliefs in order. Plenty of people believe right in the cognitive sense, but their lives are functionally unredeemed. Instead, we need to train, to discipline, to form our bodies. Only then will we be transformed. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 3 about “putting off” the old and “putting on” the resurrected life may come to mind.
What, then, are Christian practices?
Toying with dozens of definitions, here’s how we’ve characterised it for Christ’s Pieces.
Christian practices are
… rich and repetitive actions we do,
over time and often together,
which engage our senses and imagination,
reminding us of God’s presence
and aiming us at His Kingdom
So, how might you get creative, and take an active role partnering with God’s animating Spirit toward Christ-like transformation?
Read on! Here’s our ever expanding bank of practices with which we’ve experimented at Christ’s Pieces …
Reflection: Our inner ‘whirings’ are a symptom of our brokeness (us turning in on ourselves). Centering prayer is a way of increasing our capacity for ‘contemplation’, or ‘listening to God’.
Action: 1. Sit in an upright, attentive posture in a way that allows for an erect spine and open heart. Place hands in your lap. 2. Gently close your eyes and bring to mind a ‘sacred word’ or image to represent God (choose a name for God or a characteristic for God like, Love, Peace, etc) 3. Silently, with eyes closed, recall your sacred word/image to begin your prayer. As you notice your thoughts, gently return to your sacred word. Do this however many times you notice your thoughts wandering. 4. When your prayer period is over, transition slowly from your prayer practice to your active life.
Reflection: The purpose of pilgrimage is to set apart a period of time to prayerfully devote one’s whole self to God. Through the act of rising early and walking for hours on end, one devotes body, mind and soul to God for purification. The act of walking provides a singular focus for pursuing God. So it can be made to and from anywhere. It is deliberate travel, for spiritual growth. It is a refuge from the noise of the outside world. It’s a journey, a time for prayer, quiet, travelling lightly, for surrendering to the unknown. It is the practice of embracing the here and now, today, this moment.
Action: plan a week long ‘pilgrimage’ in an area of historical significance or simply a dedicated Saturday on a trail in your local area. Be sure to turn off your phone, leave the world behind and pray as you go.
Reflection: Jesus said when you fast and pray – he expected that we would! In the process of ‘going without’ we teach our body and appetites patience and put God in first place to the flesh. We promote self control over anything that might control us.
Action: ‘Go without’ a chosen pleasure for a defined period of time (a day, week or month). This could be routine eg. ‘ lunch on Wednesdays’ or occassional. Examples could include technology, food/fluids, entertainment, sleep, purchasing/money, work, social media.
Lectio Divina ‘Divine Reading’
Reflection: This prayerful method of engaging the scriptures has been practiced by Christians in homes and monastries for centuries.
Action: 1. Read (slowly, perhaps multiple times); 2. Meditate (what is this saying to me/what stands out); 3. Pray (talk to God about it); 4. Contemplation (sit with God, relax, ask him if he wants to reveal something to you); 5. Action (what should I do in response to this today)
Rule of Life
Reflection: If we want God to remain at the centre of our lives, we need sacred rhythms and rules to anchor us. We must intentionally commune with Him through the everyday rhythms of work, rest and play. A ‘Rule of life’ helps us be more focused and intentional in this pursuit. http://traverse.org.au/base/everyday-theology/ – module 3, pp 28-34
Action: set aside 2-3 hours to prayerfully write your ‘rule of life’. It should reflect your particular circumstances, heart and story.
Reflection: The white feather can symbolise cowardice (as in the case of British society during WWI) or courage/superior skill and strength (as in the case of the US military). We are a strange paradox of weakness and victory in Christ.
Action: Carry the feather on you this fortnight; repeat 2 Cor 12:9 to yourself (… “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me); and watch/pray for opportunities to courageously act on Christ’s behalf for peace, reconciliation and flourishing.
Hope Remembered and Carried forward
Action: Write down a song, a story and a scripture that have inspired your walk with God in the past. Each day spend 5 minutes reflecting on these ‘signs of hope’ given to you and conclude with the prayer “God, give me courage to live another day for you”
Reflection: See Maki Horanai’s “Song of the Harp” (https://theartstack.com/artist/maki-horanai/song-harp) as a symbolic image of moving forward amidst the swamp of life, carrying a song of hope and the source of life. Maki’s work can be purchased from her studio at Mt Tamborine (contact details can be found at http://makihoranai.com/). Also, some passages of hope… Josh 10:25, Ps 3:2-6, Ps 147:11, Mark 4:30-34, Jn 16:33, Rom 5:2-7, Rom 8:17, Col 1:15-20, 1 Cor 15:54-58, 2 Cor 4 & 1 Peter 1:3-6.
Action: Trace the Japanese symbol for Silence. Pray “God, speak to us in the silence”
Reflection: Sometimes God is silent, at times, when we are most desperate for him to speak. Remember the persecuted Christians such as the Japanese in the 16th century. Pray that God would work something good in you through the times of silence in your own life.
Action: During your daily bathing ritual, use a pumice stone to remove callouses from your feet. Ask God to bring to mind the name of someone who you are tempted to despise or protect yourself from. Plan to take steps toward them in love (listen to them, help them, pray for them, attend to them).
Reflection: we protect ourselves from the difficult, the needy, the awkward, the risky. A pumice stone removes callouses to make the feet sensitive once again. Use the stone to remind yourself daily to be vulnerable and sensitive to the most difficult, even though it may involve risk (word of caution: of course, there are many situations where vulnerability can be abused and we may need to seek counsel when we are unclear about this boundary).
Crushed flowers: prayer for the persecuted
Action: Crush a flower in your hand and smell the aroma released. Begin and end your prayer time with “Our pain is not wasted; our hope is in Christ”. Use a guide such as Voice of the Martyr’s global report at https://vom.com.au/countries/
Reflection: “this path is narrow; its difficult to walk here”(p80, Silence, Shusaku Endo). Just as the two men sang “we’re on our way to Paradise” as they endured the pounding of the waves during Japanese water torture, there is no one answer to suffering, trauma and betrayals. We have to be comfortable with ambiguity and see through the pain.
The Golden Rule and ‘Reverse Evangelism’
Action: Ask someone, who is not a Christian, about their beliefs. Listen attentively with love and respect, not as an opportunity to evangelise. Ask how they perceive Christianity. Listen, empathise, don’t defend. Thank them for their honesty. (‘Reverse Evangelism’ , The Evangelism Project, Peter Rollins, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDd4G22zrOI )
Reflection (Using the gold leaf to remind you of God’s glory in all of humanity – valuable yet fragile): It is important to anthropologise ourselves as a starting point for loving and respectful relationships. Take some time this week to consider your own ‘tribal’ boundaries eg. family, nationality, your church family, the ethos of the place you grew up in or the school you attended. How do these “loyalties” play into your perception and judgments about others? Imagine your attitude as a physical ‘posture’ toward the world and the many and varied people who you meet on a daily basis. Picture the position of your head, body and limbs. Be honest. In light of how your neighbour has experienced Christianity, imagine how you might change your posture toward ‘the other’. Sketch it.
Daily Needs Prayer Tool:
Action: in prayer, pour water into a cup until it overflows onto a dry sponge.
Reflection: We are called to overflow all that we receive from God. What do you plead God for in the mornings? Patience? Wisdom? Solutions to problems? The whole world is thirsty for these things. As you fill the cup, pray for your needs but don’t stop at yourself; continue to pour as the cup overflows, pray for those same things for colleagues, family and friends who can all be blessed to be a force for good in the world today!
Action: Form a clay vessel with air-dry clay
Reflection: as you mould and pinch and smooth, consider how God has formed you and will continue to form you.
Optional: Paint the inside metallic, representing God’s kingdom. You could even use the pot as your cup in the cup and sponge prayer practice.
Action: Plant a seedling; daily pray the Lord’s Prayer with your seedling. Finish with “Lord, help us to cultivate a love for your kingdom’s coming”
Reflection: Consider how God cultivates/grows the earth and how you might participate with him in this. Place your seedling in a prominent place as a reminder of your mission in the world – to serve his vision for all things.
Action: release helium balloon (or reflect on similar image) as a prayer tool.
Reflection: What would the Lord have me relinquish in my work today? eg. power, resources, time, worries or frustations.
Children’s Bible stories
Action: Daily reflection using children’s bible eg. the Jesus Storybook Bible
Reflection: A good children’s bible is a wonderfully simple paraphrase of the truths that may have become too complex and heavily laden in our minds.
Night sky listening
Action: Spend 5 minutes nightly, prayerfully admiring the night sky
Reflection: In an attitude of humility and readiness to listen, ask God “what should I be seeing and hearing around me at the moment (ie. in my current workplace/context)?”
Activity: plaiting hair or cotton
Reflection: pray for unity and strength in your family and in your relationship with God. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecc 4:12)
Activity: anoint yourself with oil during your morning time spent with God
Reflection: Just as the Jewish people leave spice on the tips of their tongues at the conclusion of the Sabbath to allow the ‘aroma’ of this special time to linger, anointing oil can help remind you of God’s presence as you continue throughout your day.
Activity: place a square of hessian in your wallet to remind you of the principle of simplicity in your consuming
Reflection: Consider your purchases carefully as you remember the inspirational life of Saint Francis of Assisi (and many other giants of the faith who have chosen lifestyles of simplicity in order to more faithfully follow Christ). Remember our responsibilty in caring for the cosmos and our fellow human beings.
Activity: Bake bread at home
Reflection: consider our food, the earth and the work that goes into cultivating and processing the food that we eat. Contemplate the role that God has given us in ‘arranging’ the natural world. Consider how food is a daily reminder of our dependence and the truth that no matter how capable or well resourced we are, we are not self sufficient.
Sign of the Cross
Activity: Mark yourself with the sign of the cross before crossing the threshold of your home to enter your day.
Reflection: A very old practice used to demonstrate and remind yourself that you belong to Christ; bought at a price. Bonhoffer used the sign of the cross throughout his time in prison. Though there are several variations, one example is to use the thumb to mark a small cross on the forehead, lips, heart and shoulders. You may wish to add a prayer such as: “Lord, I am yours, be glorified in what I think, in what I see, in what I say, in what I desire, in what I do, and in where I go today”.
Activity: record 5 things you are grateful for at bedtime nightly or do verbally with family over dinner. Prompts to get you started: opportunities, nature, food and drink, places, our bodies, dreams and hopes, memories, art, animals, people, happy and challenging experiences.
Reflection: Studies show increased happiness, sleep, decreased depression and anxiety and improved blood pressure are associated with performing this task regularly and scripture instructs us to give thanks (1 Thess 5:18, Ps 92:1-2).
Placing a Stone in Water
Action: place a stone in water and position somewhere visible throughout the day.
Reflection: borrowed from monastic traditions, this practice is a symbolic reminder of our commitment to Christ through baptism and daily commitment to live for Him. It also reminds us of Rev 2:17 which makes reference to God giving us a new name, written on a stone.
Action: make red jelly (in heart shape mould for added effect!)
Reflection: Pray Ezekiel 36:26 for yourself, that you will remain open, vulnerability and sensitive to those who are hurting. That you will become more like Christ in sacrificial love for others.
Ez 36:26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”
Action: apply ‘pop art’ effect to a photo of yourself. Display or use as bookmark
Reflection: there is light and shade in all of us. Ask yourself: what are my blocks, jealousies, prejudices, hatreds and ways of comparing myself with others? Consider Jesus own teaching about forgiveness (Matt 18:21-35).
Action: use earplugs during your designated prayer time.
Reflection: with earplugs in, pray for your needs and those of your known friends and family. Then, remove the earplugs and ask God to help you hear ‘the voices from the margins’ before praying for those with whom you have no immediate contact or natural compassion for. Finish by reading ‘the beattitudes’.
Action: silent thanksgiving while eating the evening meal or breakfast
Reflection: consider the ‘sources of nourishment’ in your life eg. relationships, beauty, nature, music, rest, interests.
Action: with your index finger in the palm of your opposite hand trace the letters to spell out a message of gratitude such as “Life is Gift”
Reflection: Ann Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, used this technique to ‘unlock’ communication for her student. Anne’s service was a gift of enormous proportions to Helen. Consider how God has nourished and enabled you through others and give thanks.
Action: whenever giving a hug as a greeting, remember God’s ‘open arms’ posture to you.
Reflection: Consider the components of a hug and how they parallel having an open heart.
Washing & Drying the Dishes
Action: sing the hallelujah chorus while washing the dishes (you may want to post the words nearby)
Reflection: give thanks for the everyday ordinariness of serving Christ in the mundane. “when you did it for the least of these, you did it for me” Matt 25:40
Drawing the anchor
Action: practice drawing the anchor icon daily as an act of meditation during a break or quiet time.
Reflection: consider the early Christians and the persecution they faced from the Roman empire. Consider how our faith is the same, whilst faced with the ‘empire’ of Global Consumerism.
Action: Hold and reflect upon your piece of bleached coral as you confess the ways that you have bought into the cares of the world, removing the power of the cross from your life. Contrast the image of the thriving reef and remind yourself of Jesus’ path to true flourishing – justice and sacrificial faithfulness. Over the course of one week, read Matthew 5, 6 and 7 for a reminder of how Jesus instructed us to live.
Reflection: Consider how God’s idea of fruitfulness, thriving, shalom is like a reef. Rising sea temperatures and pollution bleach and kill the coral. How has our culture’s image of ‘the good life’ similarly ‘bleached’ the vibrancy of our faith.
Lives well lived
Action: Daily reading of portion of ‘letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)
Reflection: “only the non-ideological, embracing, forgiving and shalom-filled life of a dynamic Christian community formed by the story of Jesus will prove the gospel to be true and render the idolatrous alternatives fundamentally implausible” Colossians Remixed p114
Preaching to Creation
Action: Sing with, pray with or preach to a living thing around your home or on your way to work each day eg. a pet, tree, insect, bird.
“God wrote, “I love you” – he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror – to show us what he is like, to help us know him, to make our hearts sing. The way a kitten chases her tail. The way red poppies grow wild. The way a dolphin swims.” (The Jesus Storybook Bible p12).
In Psalm 19 we read of the heavens singing and the mountains shouting.
In a friend’s dog, Lil, we see a faithful companion ever-present in painful times.
In Francis of Assisi we see precedence for preaching to creation in his famous sermon to the birds.
The gospel is good news to all of creation. In declaring (singing, praying/lament or preaching) the story of God to creation, we remind ourselves of the story in all of its detail and grandeur!
Turning to face the Sun/Son
Action: Whenever advertising catches your attention, look to the heavens and remind yourself “Enough”. Keep a sunflower in a prominent place to remind you of your practice.
Reflection: Just as a sunflower always turns to face the sun; we must constantly look to ‘the Son’ to remind ourselves that competing frames of reference, like consumerism, should have no power over us, the people of the cross. The narrative of Christ says “Enough”: “Enough” stuff; you are “Enough” in that you image Christ; and God is more than “Enough”. In Ephesians 5:5b “a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world.” Our contentment is a sign of the kingdom when we direct our addictions/our affections toward God and we are ‘FOUND IN HIM’
Action: Ask God for someone in your daily work to whom you should be actively listening; preferably someone without a voice. Listen. Include. Pray. OR next time you have friends for dinner, invite someone who is often excluded.
Reflection: ‘Table Benediction’ by Darryl Johnson, http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/table-benediction
Action: Download an ‘ethical shopping’ app to help you make informed decisions about the impact of your purchases on the environment and people living in relative poverty OR simply avoid products from high risk processing zones (China, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka)
Reflection: “Who pays the price? the human cost of electronics” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns-kJ5Podjw
Action: lighting of the advent candles and reflections leading into Christmas with 5 minutes of silence and stillness.
Reflection: An ethic of suffering. “Nature trembled and said with astonishment: What new mystery is this? The judge is judged and remains silent; the invisible one is seen and does not hide himself; the incomprehensible one is comprehended and does not resist; the unmeasurable one is measured and does not struggle; the one beyond suffering suffers and does not avenge himself; the immortal one dies and does not refuse death. What new mystery is this?” (Second-century bishop Melito of Sardis).