Last year, Crystal and I worked through a couple of books together, along with some other readings. We have always enjoyed reading out loud to each other, and highly recommend this practice to any couple!
As part of a project, we tried something new. We selected a book and invited another couple to join us. We set up a private group for the four of us on Facebook. We all committed to reading 1-2 chapters a week. We all made comments on each chapter, utilizing questions from the "Journeying Together" study guide at the end of the book.
The book was Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton. Instead of telling you how great the book and the group reading was, I have decided to let the participants do so.
The following quotes are excerpts from the group discussion on each chapter. I have only included my personal comments from the introduction. The couple's names are not included. They are referred to as "Husband" and "Wife."
Jared: I like Barton's language. I have studied spiritual disciplines over the years. I think the language of "disciplines" puts too much emphasis on work, when really these are ways to participate in the grace of God.
Barton calls these spiritual practices "rhythms." "This language draws on the imagery of the natural rhythms of the created order: The ebb and flow of the ocean waves and tides, which come and go steadily but are full of infinite variety and creativity" (p. 15).
She is saying something I haven't heard often. That is, as you practice these rhythms, don't be rigid. Allow yourself time to respond. Don't get frustrated if you respond to one idea more than another. That's natural. Pay attention to the ways God might move your soul.
1) Longing for More: An Invitation to Spiritual Transformation
Crystal: One quote that stood out to me from Chapter 1 is, "the experience of longing and desire . . . reminds me that I am alive in ways that I want to be alive" (p. 19). I love the Scripture about Christ having come to give us life and THAT more abundantly. I want more abundant life. I want to be alive in ways I have never experienced. I want to express joy in the midst of trial, peace in the midst of chaos, grace in the midst of turmoil. I want the LIFE of Christ to flow in me so readily I respond and do greater things than He (like He said we would).
2) Solitude: Creating Space for God
Wife: Oh, solitude. I would love to intentionally become more quiet and create a "sacred space." My quiet moments are few and far between. It was nice to just sit and think about the rhythm of my life and how nice the rhythm of quietness is. I do not spend as much time as I should (or want to) doing this or even meditating of His word in general. This chapter opened up my eyes to the importance of just being . . . and finding the right rhythm . . . but I need to spend time alone reflecting on things and just be in His presence. I need to learn to rest in God. I bet that feels worlds better than simply a good night's sleep.
3) Scripture: Encountering God Through Lectio Divina
Crystal: The words that stood out to me in Mark were, "So Jesus stood still . . ." (Mark 10.49). We know the song, "Reach out and touch the Lord as He passes by," but here He stood still. He stopped. Bartimaeus didn't have to chase him down. He called out and Jesus stopped, stopped what He was doing, stopped where He was going and "stood still." With as small as we are in this universe, it is comforting to know the Creator will stand still to listen to us, to hear our cry, and ultimately to answer. Lord Jesus, stand still for me.
4) Prayer: Deepening Our Intimacy with God
Wife: I loved the concrete information on how to find your "breath prayer" (p. 76). I plan on doing this, to create my few-syllables-long prayer that will be my go-to breath prayer when I am waiting or need to feel close with Him.
5) Honoring the Body: Flesh-and-Blood Spirituality
Husband: I never thought about exercise and eating right as being pleasing to God. I will be more conscious now. Instead of eating two double cheese burgers, large fry, and a dollar sweet tea; I will just eat one double cheese burger, large fry, and a dollar sweet tea. All jokes aside, I will start looking for new ways to take care my body like getting more sleep and exercising on a regular basis.
6) Self-Examination: Bringing My Whole Self Before God
Crystal: The quote, "confession does not ultimately lead us to shame or obsession, but rather to a sense of cleansing and release," is a freeing statement (p. 105). When I examine my self/actions and find I need to extend forgiveness or ask for forgiveness, I tend to go the route of shame. This statement reminds me that God's love is unconditional. He is always forgiving, and He desires to cleanse and release me, not condemn me. He frees me. He does not scrutinize me. I do that to myself.
7) Discernment: Recognizing and Responding to the Presence of God
Crystal: I don't want to come through any period in my life, especially the one I am in right now, and be the same. I want to be changed into His likeness. So many times I am not sure that I am gaining ground with God (getting closer to Him). I fear that I may go through something and not learn the intended lesson or have discerned what He intended for me.
8) Sabbath: Establishing Rhythms of Work and Rest
Wife: The chapter really got me thinking about setting a time for family-time. My husband and I live on the go. He is always so busy, and I have numerous things on my plate too. I would really like to set aside a time when nothing else can get in the way of just being together. It sounds so wonderful for our relationship with each other and our son. This is a chapter that I would like to re-read.
9) A Rule of Life: Cultivating Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation
Husband: I want to become more of a spiritual leader in my house. This also comes into play with the community thing. I want to be a part of a community where I can be a leader and we can share experiences and be supportive.
Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.