"There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again."
A Quiet Word
Devotion is a quiet word, and quiet words often get lost in our clamorous, high-strung, information-clogged world. The quiet rebel called "devotion" grounds us in stillness against the easy addiction to the latest tweet from the President or the fear that if we stop, unplug, and rest — even for ten minutes — something dreadful might happen and we won't know about it.
As a spiritual practice, then, devotion asks of us: "a moment please?" It takes us aside for a quiet season of prayer or meditation or Lectio Divina or some other form of private worship. Like a librarian, devotion stands over us with an index finger to her lips. "Quiet," she says. "Be still. Look deeply into the text of your life and discover your truest love."
What is Your Truest Love?
What is your truest love? What is most sacred to you? That very question is worth "devoting" time to each day.
If you believe in God, what kind of God do you believe in?
When I was young and knew only of a moody and remote God-in-the-sky, I found it hard to get up early for a "quiet time" with such a deity, except for fear that something would happen to me if I didn’t. Once I came to know a God who is present, a God whose very definition is love, I began to find myself in love with, and utterly devoted to, a sense of God — that is, God in the world. I eagerly made a date each morning with this God who is everywhere, in a kiss as much as a prayer, in the soil and the wind and the silent shoes of one recently passed. In joy and grief, God is there. Sometimes I think of devotion as simply a daily vow to look for God in all things — to be devoted to beauty wherever I find it.
Reconnecting to the Great Mystery
Once I attended a silent retreat at a monastery, in which the silence was punctuated by the Liturgy of the Hours sung seven times day by the monks. I was deeply moved by the monks’ devotion, singing, and discipline. Their love for God and one another emanated from their very voices, and inspired my own sense of devotion.
Each faith has its own rituals and traditions, but many of us feel the need to carve out our own personal devotional style. Our souls hunger for well-worn grooves of comforting ritual to ground us in our daily lives and reconnect us to the Great Mystery beyond ourselves.
Meditation, prayer, pondering sacred text — I believe in all these practices, for they each flow like distinct tributaries toward that great wideness of divine love. But there are other tributaries, too, unique to each soul, like praying with music. (In a time of deep grief, I have found there is nothing more prayerful and healing than listening to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.) Devotion can be a daily nature walk or the the ritual of a morning cup of coffee on the deck in autumn, paying attention to golden maple leaves falling gently onto the welcoming wet earth. There are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
These days, I rise before dawn, feed the cats, and fix a cup of tea. Then I sit down at the kitchen table with a book of poetry. Usually, my chunky yellow tabby cat, Alfie, feels compelled to sprawl out on top of the book. I nudge him over just enough to read and savor the words. Right now, Alfie and I are reading A Year with Rilke. Then I close the book of poetry and begin Part II of my devotional time: journaling.
Journaling Down to Where It Hurts
Journaling is a spiritual practice that reaches beneath the surface of our lives, awakening the deeper, unconscious conflicts that influence us more than we like to think. Once, I overcame years of intractable low-back pain by dogged morning journaling. My back pain turned out to be caused by buried anger, the kind that could only be reached, in my case, by journaling — that is, journaling down to where it hurts. I have been devoted to this morning practice ever since.
I like to write in a stream-of-consciousness style as much as possible, which allows insights to emerge. But I also practice gently structured forms of journaling. In “B is for Being Present,” I spoke of having two journals, a gripe journal and a gratitude journal. One without the other touches only half of the soul. We need our full selves engaged in the process. Even expressing anger can be a prayer if we offer it to God as a door to transformation and healing.
In dark times, journaling can feel almost salvific, like a floating piece of wreckage in the ocean, something to keep us alive until help comes. Steeping myself in Etty Hillesum’s poignant and deeply spiritual journals from WWII taught me that daily journaling can be much more than a therapeutic exercise: it can also be a form of prayer and transformation in times of terror and uncertainty. And now, as shadows of terrorism and fascism begin to darken our own world, her diaries become more and more relevant to our time. I turn often in my own devotions to Hillesum’s honest, mystical, and luminous diary entries to remind me that journaling as a form of prayer can salvage discarded pieces of goodness and beauty on a besieged and broken landscape.
A Thousand Ways
There are a thousand ways to pray, to worship, to love — to kneel and kiss the ground. For me, the devotional life is more than a daily routine, but one of continuous form of prayer and attentiveness to the beauty and tragedy of life. I offer my prayers and personal worship to a God deeply intertwined with the world, a God who is with us in our suffering and our joys — a God who needs us.
And so, as we seek to find our way home, we need to explore prayers and practices and forms of devotion that lure us not upward toward another world, but deeper into our own world — that is, to be more mindful of the earth as God’s own body. To be devoted to God, then, is to be devoted to the earth — to trees and rivers and bees. Perhaps our greatest devotional practice is simply to stop and kneel: to see, touch, and yes, kiss the ground.