Ancient Christian Practices
by Barbara Sutton
My day job—and evening and weekend work!—focuses on three things: ministering across differences, planning for an uncertain future, and fostering spiritual growth.
In my observation, too often the key stakeholders in bridge building for a thriving mission find themselves on the front lines of change without receiving as much as they give. By nature of their positions, they’re the ones pouring out to others and giving of themselves for the community. And they need time to pause and reflect.
Pause to Recognize the Divine Spark
At the recent Pastoral Visit with Bishop Neary, he celebrated the Eucharist. During his homily, he asked us to pause and look into the eyes of the person sitting beside us and say, “I see Christ in you.” It felt relatively easy, since I was sitting between Joe Towalski and Kristi Bivens, people I appreciate. And yet I was prompted to wonder . . . how do I pause long enough to recognize the divine spark in everyone?
Self-awareness is the bridge to healing our relationships, whether at work, home or in our community. And self-awareness requires reflection. Self-awareness help us re-write the stories that form as a result of broken bridges, or bridges not crossed.
Pause to Notice Patterns
In our headlong rush to love and follow Jesus and to love and serve those we are called to minister to and with, we might not notice the unhealthy patterns that don’t include time to pause and recollect ourselves.
Pause to Follow the Fruit of the Spirit
Pausing for intentional reflection brings the patterns of our ministry to light, to see what is unhealthy, and deepens our awareness to where we are bearing fruit—the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
“Carve out a day every week, or an hour a day, or a moment each hour, and abide in the loving silence of the Friend. Feel the frenetic concerns of life fall way.” + Saint John of the Cross +
How to Pause and Reflect
Pondering becomes a prayer when reflection arises in a mind that is open to God.
Recall a broken bridge moment. Reflect…
What am I bringing to the interaction?
Consider a sacred gaze:
PONDER the situation, hold it lightly and give it space. Turn it over and consider it from various angles. Ruminate on it a bit.
What is it about my background that moves me to “see” or interpret the way I do?
Am I seeing/observing or interpreting and judging?
How do I identify and repair differences and cultural ruptures?
How do I navigate differences and conflicts?
How do I put myself in the shoes of another?
How do I begin again, always?
Commit to act on one thing that came up from your reflection time.
You could choose to lean into an area of further learning. You might seek out a spiritual director, a therapist, or a doctor. You might discover your strengths and charisms as way to nurture your vocation and meet the deepest needs of your ministry and the world. You might reach out to a coach for guidance. Do a retreat. Take time away, maybe a walk, to be with the Lord and step onto the path of wisdom. You might want to worship or fold your hands and say “thank you” to someone.
Thriving is Resiliency
Ancient spiritual practices should send us back into the world so that we can continue our work with greater compassion and understanding towards those we serve. Here are research results for practicing resiliency—including prayer practices, paying attention, mindfulness, showing up for friendship and community, appreciation, and balanced workload.
The workplace can be a bumpy ride. Even in the Church. Other people can be disappointing, uncaring, or hostile—and sometimes even worse. Understandably, we have reactions to all these things. What to do? There are two options. One is to do nothing, and just be triggered, hijacked, flooded, or frozen. I’ve been there, more times than I want to admit. The other option is to practice with your thoughts and feelings, desires and actions. This means stepping back from them, rather than being swept away by them, and gradually nudging them in a better direction. This chart depicts the impact of positive practices for mindfulness, resilience, and good health lower on reducing anxiety, burnout symptoms, and stress.