Spiritual Exercises to Strengthen Our Faith (3/5)

Spiritual Exercises (4-6)

But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.  For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. [1 Timothy 4:6-16 (NKJV)].

4. , Fasting and Abstinence

Our approach to the Divine Reality must be with a pure heart. Fasting provides a traditional method for such purification. Thus, ritual states of purity demanded by religious ceremonies and sacraments often includes fasting.

To abstain from food does not fully describe fasting, a spiritual exercise practiced in every major civilization and religion. Fasting enhances the solemnity and sacredness of our thoughts and encourages an attitude of piety and God-consciousness.

Through the purifying burning fire of tapas [exercises of discipline; fasting] all the sense organs of the body are perfected (kayendriya-siddhir) by the destruction (ksayat) of all impurities (asuddhi).  [Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, II 43].

Prayer carries us half way to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace, and alms-giving procures us admission. [‘Umar Ibn ‘Abdu’l-‘Aziz].

Fasting kills the desire of the self and the appetite of greed, and from it comes purity of the heart, purification of the limbs, cultivation of the inner and the outer being, thankfulness for blessings, charity to the poor, increase of humble supplication, humility, weeping and most of the ways of seeking refuge in God … It contains benefits which cannot be counted. It is enough that we mention some of them to the person who understands and is given success in making use of fasting, if God wills. [Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq, The Lantern of the Path, Fasting].

Be empty of stomach and cry out, in neediness, like the reed flute! Be empty of stomach and tell secrets like the reed pen! [Jalauddin Rumi, Divan: Ghazal 1739].

. . . . fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life].

5. Pilgrimage to Sacred Space

Every faith has specific destinations considered sacred. They may be natural locations, buildings or cities, where purification and spiritual healing takes place, or simply places that help us avoid many of the worldly stressors we encounter daily.

Sacred space provides an environment that facilitates intimacy with the Divine Presence, a place that inspires spiritual concentration and stimulates our most intense consciousness of God.

Sacred space elicits profound emotions from those who enter it. A lingering fragrance of holiness hovers over it, evoking reverence and awe. In our journey through material reality, we spiritually refuel at such station for the heart, then continue.

Sacred space includes:

  • Ashrams/Retreats
  • Monasteries
  • Shrines/Sanctuaries
  • Houses of Worship/Meditation
  • Pilgrimage Sites

Jesus invited us; “Go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place” (Matt. 6:6). Jesus makes it clear that not only time but also space belongs to the discipline of prayer. The ideal place is a special room in your house set aside for prayer . . . And the more you pray in such a place, the more the place will be filled with the energy of prayer. [Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit by Henri J. M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, Rebecca J. Laird, p. 25].

To encounter the sacred is to be alive at the deepest center of human existence.  Sacred places are the truest definitions of the earth; they stand for the earth immediately and forever; they are its flags and shields.  If you would know the earth for what it really is, learn it through its sacred places. [ N. Scott Momaday].

You must have a room or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what is in the papers that morning … a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred space and use it, something eventually will happen. [Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 115].

A sacred space is a temenos, a Greek word meaning an enclosure that makes it possible to enter into a relationship with a greater reality. Entering into sacred space, one crosses a threshold and moves from chronos, human time and space, into kairos, eternal time. [Susan Elizabeth Hale, Sacred Space, Sacred Sound, p. xiii].

We  don’t think about pilgrimage in this country. We don’t think about meditation.  The idea of taking a six-week walk is totally foreign to most Americans. But  it’s probably exactly what we need. [Emilio Estevez].

6. Reading the Book of Nature

Springs and mountains, seasides and forests, deserts and gardens have long histories of sparking spiritual awareness. Thoughts of God are always available to us, however, keeping our mind focused on the Divine is facilitated by certain sights, sounds and environments.

The Creator’s wisdom and beauty are presented to us in nature as symbols, warnings and signs.  God calls us to look at the universe and observe creation to see signs of His majesty and greatness.

The natural world instructs us through God’s creative and nourishing process, if we contemplate nature for spiritual purposes. The natural world is only a material creation. However, it can be seen as a Divine gift deriving sanctity from our appreciation of God’s power and majesty.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. [Roman 1:20].

You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things. [Basil the Great, Homily I, p. 55.6].

Keep  close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a  mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit  clean … in God’s pure air. [John  Muir].

Since the Qur’an expounds and interprets the universe as the word of the Almighty, it contains allusions to certain sciences exploring natural phenomena. For this reason, from very early on scholars have studied the verses alluding to scientific truths, along with those on faith, worship, and morality, and have expressed different considerations on their meanings and implications. [Fethullah Gülen].

Moreover, rest assured brethren, that he who wrote the Bible, the second and clearest revelation of his divine mind, wrote also the first book, the book of nature … There is no quarrel between nature and revelation, fools only think so: to wise men the one illustrates and establishes the other. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lessons From Nature].

Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they Trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth;- (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise. [Quran 2:164].


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