I used to think that some of us are born spiritual giants while the majority of us are not. I used to think that spiritual depth was a talent that you either had or you didn’t.
I used to think the same thing about talents like drawing. But after six months of mindfulness and daily practice, I realized that my inability to draw was less about my innate talent than my lack of attentiveness.
Later in my life, I’ve realized the same thing about spiritual depth. The people I respect the most have had remarkably similar daily practices. And the good news for us common folk: These spiritual practices are ones that any of us can do.
Let’s look at the daily faith practices of Martin Luther. Because Martin Luther came out of a monastic tradition, we can assume that he prayed several times a day. Many of us in our time-starved culture can’t even find time to pray once a day.
Or maybe you protest, “But I prayed once today already. What else am I supposed to say?”
Here’s where the monastic tradition can help us. Monastics pray at fixed hours, with set words. If we joined a monastery today, for example, we would pray our way through the Psalms once a month (maybe two times a month, depending on the tradition). In that monastery, we’d use several different prayer books, along with other books, which we might find confusing.
Happily, a variety of modern writers have taken these prayer books and created new liturgies of the hours. I particularly like Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours” series and “The Little Book of Hours: Praying with the Community of Jesus,” which is more compact.
You might see this as too much effort, or maybe you work in a tightly monitored office and can’t haul your prayer book around with you. You could still find ways to work more prayer into your day.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer periodically. Most of us have that prayer memorized. Or if that’s too complicated, try the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or say “Maranatha,” which means “Come, Lord.”
Why pray throughout the day? Simply put, praying periodically throughout the day reorients us and corrects our worldly trajectories. Whether we supply the words or use the words of others, the main point is that we remember that we have a higher priority than all those priorities the world pushes on us. We are called to be different people. Prayer reminds us of that calling.
We are also called to be people of the Book, and Martin Luther would have spent time each day reading Scripture — that’s in addition to the Scripture that he would have heard/read/spoken during his fixed hour prayer and daily services.
However, we live in a world that gives us much to read but not much of any substance. Luther would admonish us to turn away from the Internet and return to the Bible.
You might find yourself overwhelmed by the vastness of the Bible. Start on a smaller scale. Take the bulletin home with you and read Sunday’s lessons (maybe just one of the readings) throughout the week. Let the language sink into your bones. Listen for God speaking through the Scripture.
If you do nothing else, adopt Martin Luther’s habit of splashing water on your face each morning and/or evening and saying, “I am baptized.” Or say it in Latin: “Baptismo sum.”
Maybe Luther didn’t really do this. I know the common bathing habits of pre-industrial Europe, so I have my doubts about this story. But even if Luther didn’t really do it, I find it in keeping with his spirit. This daily ritual reminds us that we are worthy, and we are saved. You might think that spiritual giants attend to these daily faith practices because they are spiritual giants, but I would argue a different point.
I would argue that people become spiritual giants because they adopt these practices. It won’t happen all at once. But it’s like any course we steer in life: A little change of trajectory puts us in a radically different location in a month or a year or a decade.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative-writing classes for the last 20 years.