Like most people, I’ve always had this tugging sensation that there is something more significant, broader, deeper, more expansive and timeless about life than just the day-to-day tasks of doing the dishes, mowing the lawn and walking to the grocery store. Some people call it God; others call it the universe; still others refer to it using a variety of mystery-based descriptive words. All these descriptions are inadequate, but they are our best attempts at illustrating an ultimate reality beyond the day-to-day. Somehow, I never found a way to connect, understand or nourish a relationship with that ultimate sacred reality. For the sake of ease, I’m calling that God.
I tried devotional books, explored meditation, downloaded prayer guides, and even dabbled with various apps. All these and many other tools werefine; some worked for a while, and a fewI still practice. But somethingwas still missing. All these tools seemed to relegate God or the quest for God to a spirituality that was separate from my dailylife.
For almost six decades, I have struggled with and felt guilty about not being spiritual enough. As a pastor, I spoke with many people who longed for a spiritual practice. It was my job to advise them, coach them, and nourish their spirituality. I made suggestions, asked questions, and even preached sermons. I felt adrift. This all reminds me of the adage I heard years ago, “We teach best what we most need tolearn.”
Then in 2017, while attending a talk by the author Rob Bell, I heard something that made me realize there is a different path.DuringaQ&AsessionbeforeRob’sspeechinBoston,
Massachusetts, a young college student asked him what kind of spiritual practices he uses. After a long pause, he said, “You mean like, surfing.”There was laughter in the audience of earnest seekers who had come to hear from this former pastor and now quasi-guru.While many laughed, I realized he was serious.IalsorealizedthatIhavemanyspiritualpracticesthat
don’tfallintothetraditionalcategories.Iswim,cycle,andhike. I also read, write, and speak. My mind exploded with all the things I do in life that are indeed very much spiritual. This led me to a reexamination of spirituality – what it is, the times we relegate it to the corners of our life, and other times when it becomes all about all oflife.
Six months later, I felt called to write it all down. The idea wassimple:aseriesofconcisechaptersondifferentaspectsof
ordinaryeverydaylife.Eachchapterwouldincludeastoryfrommy experience along with some theological reflections and some encouragement. Inspiration abounded. I jotted notes and recalled aspects ofmy life as well as readings and teachings I learned through theyears.
Then one morning, in the middle of winter,He showed up and brought it all to a crashing halt. He is that voice inside my head,
the nagging voice of self-doubt. The voicethat whispers, “and whoareyoutothinkyoucanwriteabook?”Thatvoicecantake 100 compliments and throw them out the door with just a few words. I’m notsure he is a he, butI call him “him.” I’ve finally given him a name: Earnst. As in earnest, as in you’ve got to earn every single thing in life, including grace. Earnst is a jerk andirritantinmymindandmysoul.Hetendstoshowupwhen things are going well. He is the ultimate party pooper.He can beconniving.Someofmywomenfriendstellmethattheyhave a similar voice; perhaps they call her Earnestine. I don’t know her, but I know my Earnst. When he showed upin the early stages of writing this book, it almostcollapsed.
Earnst was able to tap into every single one of my insecurities. He began by attacking my life-long struggles with grammar, syntax, and spelling. He kept bringingup the memory of Mrs. McKinley, my 7th-grade teacher, who posted all our essays on the classroom bulletin board. Mine was rightthere in the center coveredinredinkfromhercorrectionsandthebigfatredC-.
Earnstknowsthatmemorywell.Heneverletsmeforgetit. I nearly bagged this wholeproject.
But it wouldn’t go away. New topics and chapter titles kept bursting forth in my dreams, in my ruminations and readings. It was as if something inside me was pushing it all forward.
Then the calendar flipped to a new year. 2019.I would turn 60 this year. I realized that I could no longer double that number and foresee my life continuing. When I turned 30, I could envisiondoublingitto60.Thatwastrueat40,andevenat50I couldimaginedoublingitto100,oratleast,well,closeenough. But,notnow.Nowit’sreal.Timeisnolongermyfriend.I’vegot thingsI’vealwayswantedtodo,buthaveputthemoffbecause, well, I had time. So despiteEarnst and his ever-present voice, I wasgoing to get this bookwritten.
But I realized I couldn’t doit alone.I needed help. I gotacoach
…kindofawritingcoach.Garyhasapracticeofworkingwith people who want to write. We met online monthly for video chats. He became my cheerleader and encourager. One day early on he asked me a question.It waskind of off-hand: “Jim, do you knowanyone else that has ordinary experiences of God?” I said something in response and let it go. A fewdays later, as Earnst wasworking his magic on me while I sat at the keyboard, that question returned. I decided to ask otherpeople.
What began as a few conversations then shifted to an email question sent tomy email list. It was a brief email to people whohadsubscribed,askingiftheyhadanystoriesofeveryday spirituality. Unfortunately, a few days before this email, there had been a spam email that appeared to come from me. That spam told people I was stranded in Nigeria and needediTunes
gift cards. Okay, that’s not exactly it, butyou get the idea. You’ve seen those con games played. Because of that spam, many people received my legitimate email asking for stories about everyday spirituality with a degree of suspicion. Geez, I thought, Earnst is even working his magic on theinternet. I thought no one wouldrespond.
But that’s not what happened. Slowly people began sending me their stories. Some were brief, and others were long and elaborate. Some people shared deeply personal experiences of loss and heartache, in which they’d seen God present. A few wrote to me of strange, bizarre tales that could only be explained by some divine presence.Sadly, several told me
they’d been holding on to these stories for a lifetime out of fear.Earnst had been keeping them down as well.
responses overpowered Earnst. He could nolonger hold me back. Why? Because it wasn’t just me, it was us. The book becameacollectiveeffort.Icouldn’tincludeeverystory,not evenamajorityofthem.Buteverystory,everycontribution iswovenintothespiritofthisbook.Overtlyorcovertly,your accountis in thesepages.
This is a book about everyday life. In living an everyday ordinary, seemingly routine life, we are living out a spirituality. Not the kind of spirituality that’s set apart. Not the kind where yougo off to a retreat center for silence and good food and walks in nature. I’ve got nothing against that, and in fact, I enjoy those retreats myself. But I need a spirituality that is real for me on Mondays at 6 a.m. when the alarm goes off, and Thursday during dinner with my kids, and Fridays between the grocery store and the gym. This is a book that connects the stuff we do every day, every week or every so often withGod.
I’ve learned so much from writing this book, and from all who helped make it possible. Earnst is a little disappointed,but he’ll live. He always finds a way to make a comeback. But, at least
for now, the giftis out in the world. The journey of writing this bookhasbeenanexperienceoftheverysubjectitself.Everyday Inowseelifeasanadventure–aspiritualjourney.
I invite you to talk to me about what is written here. I’vecreatedseveralresourcestofacilitatethatconversation,and youcanfindthematthewebsitebelow.Anybookinour21st
Century North American context has to be an introduction to a dialogue.Let’skeepthechannelsofcommunicationopenaswe allseektorediscoverhoweverydayspiritualitycomestolife.
James Hazelwood Summer 2019 www.jameshazelwood.net
Let Us Pray…
Thesethreewords,whichoftensoundlike“lettucepray,”make up my least favorite phrase. Why? Because it suggests that we are praying only when we define it as such, and assume some posesuchaseyesclosed,headbowedandhandsfolded,oreyes closed, arms outstretched, hands opened. Then we add words. In many religious traditions, we have written prayers – pages andpagesofthem,andevenwholebooksofprayers.
This is not prayer, folks; this is reading out loud.
Don’t get me wrong; some of these written prayers are beautiful, eloquent and profound. I’ve got some favorites, especially this one from the Lutheran Book of Worship:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannotseetheending,bypathsasyetuntrodden,throughperils unknown.Giveusfaithtogooutwithgoodcourage,notknowing
wherewego,butonlythatyourhandisleadingusandyourlove supporting us, through Jesus Christ ourLord.
One of my favorite anecdotes on this subject involves the Inaugural Prayer Service for the Inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. One of the pastors selected to deliver a prayerwasaskedbyaClintonadministrationstaffertosupply
an advance copy of his prayer. The minister responded: “I ain’t prayed it yet.”
Okay. I’ve been a bit harsh here on the written forms of prayer. Manypeoplehavefoundsignificantmeaninginwrittenprayers, and that should not be discounted. My intent here at the outset is to jolt you out of some standardized thinking about the spirituallife.Initsplace,Iamgoingtosuggestthatwebroadenour definition of the spiritual life to include everyday, day-in- and-day-out aspects of life. In short,I’m saying that what you andIdoregularlyisspiritual,andourtaskistoclaimitassuch. Let’sstart with something we do every day,every moment of everyday.
Breathe in Breathe out
Takeinoxygen,andthenexpelitfromyourlungs.Thisprocess isfoundationaltoalloflife.It’sthewayyourbodyusesoxygen to break down food into energy. It’s also essential for speech, laughter, sobbing, singing and other expressions of emotion andcommunication.Thefactis,whenyoubreathe,youlive.
Let’s turn it into an elementary mathematical calculation. I’m thinkin’ spiritual algebra.
Breathing = Living
Many ancient languages and religious origin stories have connections between breath and life and spirit. The first human is brought to life by breathing. God breathes life into earthen mud as a way of birthing Adam. Let’s not get hung up on viewing this story as a literal event; it’s more potent than that. It’s a narrative ancient people used to tell a more profound truth, namely, that the spiritual realm and the materialrealmarevoidifseparated,butwhenyoubringthem together, lifehappens.
The Hebrew people had a word for this breath: ruach (pronouncedrU'ah.).It’sanancientwordthatappearshundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible, and is often used interchangeably for breath, spirit, wind, and sometimes mind. The ruach imparts the divine image to humanity and animates the creature with the dynamic of life. You and I are connected to God in ruach. If you are looking for a scripture passage to summarize this point, I’llreferyoutoJob33:4:“ThespiritofGodhasmademe,andthe breath of the Almighty gives melife.”
Conversely, when we end our time on earth, it’s not unusual to hear it said that someone has “breathed their last breath.” Years ago I stood with a family at the bedside of their grandfather
as he breathed his last breath. We stood in silence until hisdaughtersaidtome,“Didyouseethat?”Ihad.Wehad
witnessed not only his last breath, but also the departure of his spirit.
How many other religious traditions include this understanding of breath as life? We see it in the practice of yoga; it’s also central to all forms of meditation, from Christian to Buddhist toZoroastrian.IjustlikethatwordZoroastrian;it’sfun
to say,and it’s the kind of word you can use to impress or confuse people at a dinner party. (“Hey, did you know that
Freddie Mercury, the late singer of the band Queen, was a Zoroastrian?”) And in case you’re curious, the Zoroastrian religiondatesbacktoPersiaintheyear1500BCE.Itisanearly monotheistic religion that likely influenced the developmentof Judaism. Among its primary contributions to Western thought wasadualismofgoodandevil,withhumanbeingsfacingdaily choices that have both personal and cosmic significance. Yes, there’s a whole lot more that you can look up; I couldn’t just leaveyouhangingtherewiththatFreddieMercuryreference.
Athletes attend to their breath as they measure their aerobic capacity. Singers control their breathing to produce the tones that bring us joy. You and I commonly use expressions such as “the performance took my breath away.” When we are particularlymovedbyaspeechoragame,weoftenusethe
word inspired, which brings together both the spiritual and the physical. ‘To inspire’ is an old expression that was originally used in describing a quality of a divine or supernatural being, to ‘impart a truth or idea to someone.’
The Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr has pointed out that the ancient Hebrew word for God, Yahweh, means “I am” or “I exist.”It’snotactuallyaname;it’sadescription.Accordingto Rohr,thephrasingofYahwehisbestpronouncedbybreathing in “Yah” and breathing out “Weh.”1 To speak the word is to breathe the word. To utter the sounds is to participate in the actofbeing.TostatethatGodexistsistoexperienceexistence itself.LestIloseyouinthismagical,mysticalride,hereisthe bottomline:
cannot not do it. Try not being spiritual for a few seconds; hold your breath. That’s right. Stop breathing. Take a moment to act in defiance of God, of all that is sacred and holy and life-giving in this world. Are you still withholding your breath?
To breathe is to live.
To breathe is to be in the presence of the Living and Holy Sacred One.
To breathe is to continue this long, slow and steady journey we call life.
To breathe is to practice everyday spirituality.
Let go of all that guilt and shame about not reading enough devotional books, or not thinking profound thoughts, or not exercisingaregularmorningritual.Thoseareallfineandwell andgoodifyouchoosethemasexpressions.Butforthosewho wonder…
am I doing enough to be a spiritual person? am I doing enough to be a Christian?
am I doing enough to help my kids see the value of faith?
am I doing enough to have God love me, like me or at least tolerate me?
am I doingenoughto (fill in theblank)?
If you are breathing, you are praying.
Areyoulookingforaneverydayspirituality?Areyoutryingto figure out how you can be more spiritual, as if it’s a competition? Take a breath. Go ahead, do it. In fact,you
Youaredoingenoughbecauseyouarebreathing.Becauseyou are breathing, you are expressing a deep connection to the holy,thesacred,thedivine.Becauseyouarebreathing,youare
praying. Because you are breathing you have experienced the coming together of the spiritual and the material.
So breathe, relax, and enjoy a life of everyday spirituality.