Over the past several years I have heard and read a significant amount of commentary on changes in the places we gather for spiritual growth. There have been many great studies on why the millennial generation has been leaving churches as these places, and a few on why some young adults have stayed. There have been studies on the physical buildings of churches, and how they can better serve the needs of congregations today. I have even read some articles explaining how third places (any place outside the most frequent social interactions of the home and the workplace) are becoming the new sites for churches.
I can’t say that I had read any about gyms before last week.
It may be that in times where there were fewer options of places to gather, it was easier for churches to attract people to gather inside those walls. This is similar to comparing a town with only one coffee shop to a town with many coffee shops: in the town with many, it is more difficult for any one coffee shop to attract as many coffee-drinkers.
In addition to reading this article, last week I also participated in a conversation about spiritual practices in the back room of my favorite local brewery. I didn’t plan the topic of conversation, but that was certainly fortunate. One by one a group of young adults around the table listed spiritual practices that we enjoy: walking outdoors, quiet time alone, the meditative practice of mindfulness, even (my mundane answer) ironing. We noted how none of these were necessarily part of a community, and none were what we might consider ‘traditional’ practices from churches. Yet if you asked a random group of people what they would list as spiritual practices, undoubtedly the most common answer would be prayer. There have been a variety of surveys over the past few years that show this result.
All of this leads me to an interesting question and opportunity this week:
What qualifies as a spiritual practice?.. as a religious community?.. as a place for spiritual growth? This week I’m inclined to respond, anything. As long as it leads us to God.
If people find community in their CrossFit gym, and through that community are more deeply, compassionately connected with each other, it may well be spiritual for them.
If they grow that connection in the hope to be more Christ-like in that relationship, then it may be a spiritual practice.
If I find deeper understanding about my own faith, and more ways to connect with God through a conversation with my peers in my favorite brewery, then it may be a spiritual practice.
Or, to use the example I used in hat conversation: if I find clarity and more understand of the ways in which I can love others as God has shown love for me while ironing my shirt, then it is a spiritual practice for me.
If you are interested in finding spiritual growth in mundane activities, read some of the thoughts of Brother Lawrence a lay member of a monastery in Paris in the 1600’s who worked in the kitchen. He wrote about the spiritual practice of flipping pancakes.
I don’t believe that the role of the church is over. I do think that spiritual growth is available in a wider variety of ways than may previously have been accepted and widely discussed. How do take advantage of that? How do people who are exploring their own faith get the most out of all of these opportunities to grow? Why not try every coffee shop in town?
It may be that some places, some communities, or some practices are better for me than others. I like my church. I also like my favorite brewery. I also like ironing, and being outdoors, and time by myself. I also enjoy stretching my spiritual growth and trying new practices from time to time.
How do you stay open to growing in new ways? How do you support others who are growing in different ways than you?