Spiritual practices and the art of soul nurturing
Kaitlyn Steele Steele offers an appreciation of Fully Awake and Truly Alive by Jane Vennard.‘I have come to think of myself as a practicing Christian rather than a believing Christian. This renaming has liberated me from the struggle of agonizing over what I believe and has allowed me to turn my attention and my energy to the practices of other traditions as well as my own. This variety of spiritual practices has helped me to understand and experience what I believe to be the core teaching of Christianity - what it means to be human and truly alive.‘
Jane Vennard, Extract from ‘Fully Awake and Truly Alive’
When we think about spiritual practice, what comes most readily to mind perhaps are such traditional practices as prayer, meditation, fasting, worship and acts of service. In her book, ‘Fully Awake and Truly Alive’, however, Jane Vennard encourages us to move towards a new way of thinking about spiritual practice. She offers us a very broad definition of spiritual practices as ‘those ways of seeing and being in the world that help us to wake up and become fully, truly alive.’ In other words, she argues, any activity we engage in that helps us to feel more deeply connected with the Sacred and more fully alive can be regarded as a spiritual practice. So walking in a beautiful place, listening to a piece of music, reading poetry, talking with a good friend, gazing at the night sky or watching a stunning sunset - all of these (and many others) can be seen as forms of spiritual practice if they nurture our souls and awaken us to the spiritual dimension of our being in the world.
In her book, she distinguishes between the more formal, structured spiritual practices such as study, prayer and meditation (what the Buddhists might call ‘on-cushion practices’) and the more informal, spontaneous practices that happen naturally whenever we remember to pay attention to the Sacred (what the Buddhists might call ‘off-cushion practices’). She introduces us to a range of activities that we might not normally think of as spiritual practices such as befriending and caring for our bodies, resting, entering into solitude, offering hospitality and what she calls the practice of ‘letting go’. She also challenges us to discover what specific forms of practice each of us is most drawn to and to recognise that what once resourced and enriched us spiritually may no longer do so as our spirituality changes shape over the years.
I found reading this book profoundly liberating. It brought me to the realisation that how I practice is far more important than what I believe. It challenged me to examine the more traditional spiritual practices I had been drawing on for many years and to ask myself whether they were really meeting my own individual spiritual needs. It enabled me to recognise that when I gaze at the beauty of nature through the lens of my camera; when I sit outside on a moonlit night and feel a deep sense of connection with this extraordinary universe of which I am but such a small part; when I bare my soul with a trusted friend; or when I try to capture in the words of a poem something of my own spiritual experience, I am also engaging in spiritual practice.
Vennard’s book is very inclusive and so has the potential to speak to us no matter where we are on our spiritual journey or what shape our spirituality may take. She believes that being awake - to the fullness of life, to our innermost self, to the wonder of the present moment - is our essential nature. She argues that though we may sometimes resist it, there is a force within us which seeks to draw us to those spiritual practices that have the capacity to wake us up - not a one-off experience, but a lifetime’s journey as she sees it. This book is a rich resource for the journey.
Kaitlyn Steele is co-founder of Spaceforsoul, which is a progressive Christian group based in Bristol and which is affiliated to the PCN Britain groups network. This appreciation by Kaitlyn is taken from the group's September 2016 newsletter which can be read here.