EXPLORING SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
Everyone is unique when it comes to devotional preferences
By Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri | Presbyterians Today
I’ve been on an intentional spiritual formation journey for most of my adult life. As a young person, I struggled to find a prayer routine that felt right for me — body and spirit. I followed the more traditional ways to nurture spirituality: worship services, prayer groups and Bible studies. I even tried to establish a personal devotion routine. For guidance, I looked into the practices of the most spiritual people I knew — my abuela, Jovina, and my abuelo, Edgar. My grandparents’ prayer routine included reading the Bible following a book of devotions and kneeling beside their bed to pray silently. I was convinced that, with some modifications, this would work for me. It did not. My attempt to follow this routine ended up with knee pain, wandering thoughts, climbing into bed and falling asleep, prayer unfinished. I woke the next day feeling frustrated with “my lack of commitment” to a life of prayer.
I continued, though, pursuing some version of this model in the following years, still feeling that something was missing. Years later, I realized the spiritual practices that fit the needs of my grandparents would not necessarily fit my “very Vilmarie” ones.
In the early 2000s, I attended a denominational conference for Committees on Preparation for Ministry. There, I heard the term “spiritual disciplines” for the first time. We participated in different spiritual practices specifically in the context of vocational discernment. Engaging in lectio divina — where you take a Scripture passage and read and reflect on it several times — and walking the labyrinth for the first time was eye-opening. An awareness of spiritual possibilities awoke.
I firmly believe that when one seeks to cultivate a deeper, closer relationship with God, the Holy Spirit will make way, bringing forth opportunities to continue this exploration. I had such an experience while attending a CREDO conference, when I heard these words by Dom John Chapman: “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” I realized then that an effective spiritual routine had to resonate with who I am. Such a routine is based on personality, ways of learning and processing information, and when/how a person might feel most connected to God, self and others. Brian C. Taylor said it best: “Engage in practices that enliven you, not the ones you think you should do.”
I also learned that this journey was best traveled with the guidance of a trained spiritual director. I am grateful for the presence of the Rev. Diane Shoaf in my life. Together we have worked on exploring practices that deepen, broaden and strengthen my relationship with God. These days I feel closer to God through art and movement, and my preferred spiritual practice is called “Praying in Color,” a practice developed by Sybil MacBeth that involves praying while doodling and coloring. While sitting still, quietly reading the Bible and praying would be fine at times, the spirit of this extreme extrovert, music and color enthusiast needed to explore other areas and develop an inventory of spiritual practices that responded to particular spiritual needs.
John Calvin said, “Prayer itself is properly an effusion and manifestation of internal feeling before [God] who is the searcher of hearts.” May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us as we find those spiritual practices that evoke a wholehearted expression of faith, without restraint, before the presence of God.
Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri is an educator and a Presbyterian ruling elder. A member of First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami, she has most recently served as co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018).
Put into Practice
- Don’t force practices that don’t feel right for you.
- There are many spiritual practices to make your own. Like Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, you might find spiritual wellness at the other side of a colored pencil.
- Seek the guidance of a certified spiritual director to explore a routine that responds to your needs. Consult your mid council leaders or Spiritual Directors International at sdiworld.org for a certified spiritual director in your area.
- Be mindful that preferences and needs are bound to change throughout your life.
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