If you grew up in a religious household, you came to adulthood with certain ideas about what it means to be devoted. A devoted person prays regularly, or goes to Mass/church regularly, or does good works in the community, or fasts during Lent, and so on.
Any Christian group will have its accepted modes of devotion. A Baptist might show devotion by praying aloud and extemporaneously during worship, while a Catholic prays the rosary or a novena in private. A Pentecostal speaks in tongues and raises her hands; a monk chants the Psalms.
What many Christians discover is that devotion takes different forms as they grow spiritually and as the faith community goes through change. For instance, many Protestants now practice disciplines that once were known mainly in Catholic, or even monastery, circles—such as praying the Divine Hours or doing contemplative prayer. More and more Catholics practice devotion through Bible study now, whereas a few decades ago it was rare for a Catholic layperson to read the Bible.
At one point in my life I had abandoned former devotional practices such as personal prayer and Bible study. All of it had become old and suffocating, weighted with a lot of emotional baggage and self-imposed anxiety. Honestly, I was worn out from trying to be devoted. Then one day I walked into a worship service that used liturgy, and as I prayed along with the others—pronouncing these prayers that were ancient and well-used—I felt such relief. I didn’t have to make up “good” prayers anymore; I could pray what millions of Christians had prayed before me and would pray after me. In fact, I didn’t have to pray at all. If I was in too much pain or confusion to pray, I could simply be there with all those other Christians, and their prayers would carry me during that difficult time.
When it comes to devotion, it’s important to remember that the universal church is much broader and deeper than any one faith community. We need to listen to, and learn from, one another. Those of us who are wary of organized religion can’t afford to let our hesitance keep us out of church, because that’s where our spiritual family is. And within that spiritual family is an ageless and profound memory of faith experience. Because of the church, I can learn how to pray from someone who lived centuries ago, because the faith community has held on to her story and her wisdom. Because of the church, I can be held in love and truth when my whole life is falling apart.
Be sure to read Paula Huston’s story about devotion—chapter 5 of The Holy Way.
Describe the way your devotional life has changed through the years. Choose some new element to add to your spiritual life this week, and journal about how it goes.
I invite you to post your comments and questions and I will respond throughout the week. If you want to read more from The Holy Way and By Way of Grace please take advantage of the special discount for readers of this blog during the month of July (details on my blog at the right).