I have a clear routine for my devotional time. Each day, roughly at the same time of day, I sit in a chair on my patio. I set a timer for fifteen minutes. I give thanks for roughly five minutes. I then pay attention to my senses for the next ten minutes. When my timer goes off I make an entry in my “oblog” (observation log).
I even have a routine for my oblog. I record the weather: time, temperature cloud cover, wind direction and speed. I record general observations; particularly, noting anything new. I write about beast sightings, meaning disruptive thoughts that interrupt me observing. I list questions. And lastly, I drop down a few initial thoughts on what I might write about.
These routines are great. They help me be consistent. They help me focus my attention. They are quite strategic. So, they help me make the most of my time. But, (and this is a big but) any routine can become a trap. The more we do anything, the easier it becomes to just go through the motions. The routine which once was a rich vibrant ends to a means, can become a lifeless end in itself, if you allow it to.
So how do you avoid this? Every once in a while you need to mix up your routine. I happened to do this today, not so much by design as necessity. Someone was coming by my house to drop something off, right in the middle of my sit time. To watch for them I simple moved my sit to the swing on our front porch. This small change, reinvigorated my awareness.
I was astounded at the number of birds I was hearing, but not seeing in my back yard. This lead to a whole series of thoughts and questions I have about the environmental needs for different sizes of bird species. Overall, I felt a reinvigoration of my awareness. I was once again an explorer in my own backyard, well actually now my front yard.
I was reminded by this experience that every spiritual discipline requires a dance between routine and adaptation to keep our awareness and engagement fresh. I have noticed this about worship too. We have an established order of worship in my church, but every once in while I will put something fresh or different into the mix. I might do a first-person monologue for the sermon. Or, perhaps slip in an unexpected piece of special music on my guitar or banjo. Whenever I do this, you can tell the change in routine sparks a certain degree of fresh engagement.
Whenever you practice a spiritual discipline, I would encourage you to not get too legalistically tied to the form. Have a norm for certain. Having patterns for how you keep a discipline offers clear benefits. But, I would equally encourage you to mix up your practice periodically by changing one variable. Mixing it up will safe guard you against legalism, boredom, and inattentiveness.
Question: How can you freshen up an already existing spiritual routine? For example, perhaps, for worship you could sit in a different place, take notes, come ten minutes early and pray silently to prepare yourself, or may be take notes as you listen.
A Collect for Engagement: Holy God, whose attentiveness never grows weary, reveal to us new ways we can engage in old habits, so that we are fully engaged in our commitments to you and your glory, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.