I was honored to speak to a group of students who serve as resident chaplains on our campus about the concept of Sacred Rhythms—patterns that can open us up to God and in so doing, the things God wants us to do. The core concept came from the book by the same title from Ruth Haley Barton, and then we layered in a little of Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways. I heart the pathways.
So here’s the workshop, both what I said and the activities we did. Feel free to use any of this if it’d be helpful to you. There is a lot more that could be said on this, to be sure, and both books offer great resources within them to discuss their themes.
Introduction: Exploring the rhythm metaphor
I love the idea of a rhythm. I immediately think of music, because I love to sing and because music is one way that I connect to God.
I think about the basic timing of a song—dun, dun, dun, dun—a regular interval the sets up the whole piece. To push the metaphor, it reminds me of time, moving along in consistent, predictable ways. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks.
But then, the song gets a melody line, a bass line, interludes and rifts. These layers offer infinite possibilities. And as those possibilities are played out, we still know—this is a song.
And certain songs fit certain moods. You create a playlist for a road trip that sounds different than what you study to.
In life, we are each charged with creating a song that glorifies God. Then we’ve told each other that our songs must sound the same, or else they don’t count. You can’t play in a minor key—that’s too depressing for a God who brings joy. Or you can’t make that song too upbeat and crazy—it’s irreverent and unholy.
We’ve done to our faith what we would never do to music. We’ve expected uniformity in its expression, or else it doesn’t count.
Sacred rhythms are an invitation to reclaim the patterns of your life so that you are open to God. It’s a way to orient your days so that God can shape you, both internally and externally.
Defining Sacred Rhythms (Hint: It’s not more ‘spiritual stuff’ to do)
The invitation to create a sacred rhythm is not an invitation to do more “spiritual stuff.” Barton describes how “Our longing for a way of life that works and is most often met with an invitation to more activity, which unfortunately plays right into our compulsions.”
We’ve been trying to makes ourselves Christ-like forever.
But we want to yield to the mystery that God is one who changes us; we co-author this song. God shapes the melody line and we are creating space to hear it, and them come in in harmony.
And again, each song sounds a little different, based on the way God uniquely created you. Barton explains,
“We are compelled to seek out ways of living that are congruent with our deepest desires. Sometimes this feels risky, and it often opens up a whole new set of questions, but this is fundamentally what spiritual transformation is all about: choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our truest desires and deepest longings stir. These discoveries are available to all of us as we become more honest in naming what isn’t working so that we can craft a way of life that is more congruent with our deepest desires.”
We think: well, our deepest desire is God, so we must all shape the same way of life because we are seeking the same God in the end.
But just like a song sounds a million different ways and is still a song, your sacred rhythm, your way of life, is unique to you and no less spiritual for being different.
Now, for those of you who thrive in the concrete, here we go:
Exercise: map your week (5-7 minutes)
I want you to map out your week. Color code it: one color for class, another for studying, a third for your job. One color for anything that’s a time-waster. One for anything you do on purpose to open yourself up to the rhythm and melody of the song God is writing with you. And so on.
Now, I want you to reflect: is it working?
In a minute, you’ll have time to reflect on your schedule and the various practices and pathways that the authors discuss. After you do, you’ll take a new blank week, and create a new schedule that lets you try out a different rhythm. Try it on for size next week, see how it feels.
But before we do that, I want to dive into the various practices and pathways these two authors suggest.
Overview of Barton’s 7 practices and Thomas’ 9 pathways
Briefly explain what these practices or pathways look like to the group. They may find it helpful to note which ones most interest them as you go. Remind them not to worry that there are 16 new things there–it’s just a snapshot.
Seven practices that can help create a sacred rhythm. From Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms.
- Solitude: Creating space for God
- Scripture: Encountering God through Lectio Divina
- Prayer: Deepening our intimacy with God
- Honoring the Body: Flesh-and-blood spirituality
- Self Examination: Bringing my whole self to God, practicing honesty before God, especially through confession
- Discernment: Recognizing and responding to the presence of God
- Sabbath: Establishing rhythms of work and rest.
Nine pathways that allow us to better understand how we most naturally draw closer to God. From Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways.
- Naturalists: loving God outdoors. Naturalists draw near to God through nature.
- Sensates: loving God with the senses. Sensates draw near to God by engaging with what they can see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
- Traditionalists: loving God through ritual and symbol. Traditionalists draw near to God through longstanding practices of disciples through history.
- Ascetics: loving God in solitude and simplicity. Ascetics draw near to God in stripped down spaces and practices.
- Activists: loving God through confrontation. Activists draw near to God through bringing about social change.
- Caregivers: loving God by loving others. Caregivers draw near to God through caring for and serving others.
- Enthusiasts: loving God with mystery and celebration. Enthusiasts draw near to God through experiences of great joy and God’s unexpected movement.
- Contemplatives: loving God through adoration. Contemplatives draw near to God through personal adoration and heartfelt devotion.
- Intellectuals: loving God with the mind. Intellectuals draw near to God when they learn new things about God or Scripture.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to let yourself try these with no pressure for a certain one to ‘work.’ None are ‘more spiritual’ than the others; they are purposefully varied and are all rich options. The goal is for you to shape your time in such a way that you regularly draw near to God, so that he can sustain you. May you experience the fullness of life with a God who crafted you uniquely and has a song for you that doesn’t sound like anybody else’s.
Reflection (20+ minutes)
Here are some questions to reflect on when it comes to setting up a rhythm of life with God. They are just a guide, and are not prescriptive in any way.
Part 1: Look at the week you colored in.
Do you go through a typical week and feel like you honor the body God gave you, give quality time to the friends God has asked you to take care of, and hear and respond to the changes God would like to make in your attitudes, decisions, words, or actions?
If yes, note the things that work for you.
If no, think about what you most want instead. Sleep? Time alone? Time outside? God-ward conversation? To study Scripture? To pray? Something else?
Part 2: Look at the list of seven practices from Barton.
Recognizing it’s just an overview, what is something you want to try from that list and why?
Part 3: Take the online assessment of Thomas’ nine pathways
My potential pathways:
Do these resonate with you? Why or why not?
Are you currently leaning into your top pathways on a regular basis? If so, how? If not, what could you adjust so that you start?
Part 4: Flip over the week-long calendar you filled in so you have a blank one.
Fill it in a second time, but build in time for one or more of these practices or pathways. Follow it for next week, and then reflect on how that felt.