Years ago, during the Q and A after I’d made a presentation to a group of Catholic priests, one of them asked what I meant by “my devotional time.” Catholics pray the Rosary and walk through the Stations of the Cross, none of which are an ordinary part of my life.
Three important confessions:
- I feel as if I am one of the worst pray-ers in the world;
- I have what my mom called “ants in my pants.” I’m sure my 21st century diagnosis would be Attention Deficit Disorder;
- Listening (to people or to God) is not something I do well naturally.
Southern Baptists, during my childhood, encouraged families to participate in Daily Bible Readings. They published suggested texts. My family, off and on, read these. Not always, but sometimes. Later, when I was involved with Young Life as a teenager and young adult, I learned the evangelical terminology of Quiet Time.
Whatever it’s called, I began the habit/ritual/routine of a morning devotional time with my morning coffee. I suppose thousands of volumes with short daily readings have been published, but I was always a Bible guy. Why read what someone else says about the Bible when I had access to the Holy Scriptures? So, almost every day for over fifty years, I’ve read about three or four chapters of the Bible. I jump around from the Old to the New Testament, from long dull passages to shorter brighter texts. I marked each “book” with the date I finished it. It takes me about a year and a half to read through the entire Bible. Then, I usually read a different kind of devotional literature for about a month (The Journals of John Wesley, Pilgrim’s Progress, etc.). Then I pick up a different translation of the Bible and begin again. My first favorite was The New Testament in Modern English, translated by J. B. Phillips. I also read the Catholic Bible, called the Jerusalem Bible, which included the Apocrypha. Somewhere after midlife, I began to make sure I read more of the New Testament and especially the Gospels.
Typically, my devotional period was in the morning, but I could also do my reading during the lunch hour or catch up in the evening. It might last five minutes or fifty minutes, depending on my schedule.
For a few seasons of my life, maybe for six months or a year at a time, I kept a journal as part of my devotional meditation.
For me, as a pastor, it was important that my reading was not for the purpose of sermon preparation, but for my own spiritual health. My quiet time was about the health of my spirit, about my relationship with God. So, at least once a day, I was a listener/reader instead of a talker or a preacher. At least once a day, I was focused on Something/Someone bigger than I was, transcendent, spiritual, hopeful. I learned about faith, love, justice. I was quiet and still.
During my retirement, I’ve given myself permission to read other holy texts, works by Lao Tzu, Rumi, Confucius, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I’m pretty sure everyone can benefit from a regimen of quiet, disciplined listening to something other than Self. Sit down, turn of the radio and television, and read. Or pray. Or listen. A year from now, you’ll be glad you did.