The spiritual life requires practice. “I’m spiritual, not religious,” is a toothless assertion that often describes a knee-jerk rejection of religion, and with a possible inclination toward happy thoughts.
But like any quality, whether it’s fitness, healthy eating or intellectual growth, the quality doesn’t improve without practice. For everyone, good habits wax and wane.
Below, I have listed 10 New Year’s resolutions for nurturing spiritual growth and inner peace in every day life.
1) I Will Not Murder
Pope Francis recently cautioned, “Gossip always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip.” Gossip is to speak ill of someone who is not present.
Proverbs 18:8 warns, “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”
St. James taught in James 3:8 that the tongue is full of restless evil and deadly poison. I will refrain from spreading poison.
2) Thank-You Notes
The antidote to the poison of gossip is gratitude. Thank-you notes we write keep us from living in a state of entitlement and indifference. Notes we receive prevent us from moving through the world unacknowledged. Each note is a tiny reprieve from isolation and loneliness.
“This is a weird tradition no one else practices,” my teenage daughter said last night, when faced with five thank-you notes to write.
I argue that this dying tradition is sacred. A thank-you note acknowledges and affirms kindness. A handwritten note in the mail is a token of humanity. With a few scribbles on paper, we affirm one another’s existence, one another’s efforts to be kind.
In 2016, thank-you notes will fly like blessings from my mailbox.
In “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” the title character is enslaved in a Stalinist labor camp. He is treated like an animal. His dignity is stripped. Still, he removes his cap and bows his head before every meager meal — a lump of oatmeal, a bowl of boiled grass, a watery soup.
Ivan Denisovich says grace as an act of defiance, a bold display of humanity and gratitude in unbearable circumstances. I will take a few seconds before meals to thankfully acknowledge my abundance.
4) Forest Medicine
Embrace the Japanese practice shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” I will take my forest medicine, choosing the woods over shopping, television, decorating my house, or working on the weekends.
Give more to the homeless on the street, to UNICEF, to Liberty in North Korea. I will give time to my children when I would rather hide in my room and read. I will treat friends to coffee. I will invite friends and neighbors to dinner. I will invite near strangers to dinner.
If money is tight, I will make soup and serve it unapologetically on a table attentively set.
6) Natural Beauty
I’ll sow seeds in spring, fertilize trees I’ve neglected, plant flowers. I’ll put plants in my house, or water and trim the ones already here.
Instead of spending money and wasting resources on purchased decorations each season, I will find what nature offers — a bouquet of wildflowers, a branch from a fir tree, a bundle of sticks and pine cones.
Rumi, the Sufi mystic from the 13th century, wrote, “Silence is the language of God. All else is a poor translation.” I will allow silence in the car, in the kitchen while I cook. I will turn off electronics during conversations.
Mother Teresa said, “Silence need never be corrected.” When I am angry at my husband or tempted to political wrangling on social media, I will embrace silence over self-righteous anger, silence over self-will, silence over indignation.
8) Spiritual Reading
Poet Wendell Berry wrote, “We cannot know the whole truth, which belongs to God alone, but our task nevertheless is to seek to know what is true.”
I will read more from St. Isaac of Syria, G.K. Chesterton, Wendell Berry and the Tao of Parenting. I will unearth my copy of “Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness.” I will open a spiritual book in the morning before I check social media.
2015 was spiritually and religiously destabilizing for me. I wrote about it in Not a Very Merry Christmas Post.
There is healing prayer at the little Episcopal church in my town. I will try to open myself to it. A deacon has invited me to lunch. I will meet with her.
When painful memories flash uninvited, I will retreat and sit mindfully with the pain.
Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, pray for those who hurt you.” I will pray for the judgmental and the severe, for those who hurt me and who hurt others.
I will pray for Syrian refugees and citizens suffering in North Korea, but also for ISIS and Al-Qaeda and Kim Jong-un. I will pray for presidential candidates, even the ones who make me squirm.
Which of these intentions are part of your current spiritual practice? Are there any you plan to try or add? Let me know in the comments below.
Edited by Jody Smith