If you want to connect to the rhythms of the natural world, your own body, and the larger body of Christ, I’ve compiled some great online resources already available to help you get started. Don’t try to do everything at once – maybe just start with one thing that resonates with where you are at now, and then let that rhythm deepen into others.
Contemplative Practices: The contemplativemind.org is a great resource for beginning almost any contemplative practice you can think of – from the communal to the personal, from the quiet to the active. All practices are categorized on a tree so that you can see the relationship between them. This will help you introduce practices from various categories. They have a great beginners guide for how to introduce a practice into your life successfully as well as a break-down of how to begin each practice. Introducing almost any contemplative practice will lend rhythm to your life by introducing moments of intentionality and quiet amongst the chaos at regular or semi-regular intervals. Some of the practices themselves have a rhythmic quality to them such as lectio divina, yoga (I recommend yoga with Adrienne), music, ritual, dance, story-telling, political marches etc. These practices can act as seeds of rhythm in your life, helping you to become more aware of the other rhythms that surround you.
A couple of other practices that are not listed on the contemplative practices tree that are nevertheless very helpful in encouraging rhythm:
- Gardening: Anything that connects your everyday life to the natural world will slow down your life into sync with the rhythms of the natural world, which has many health, character, ecological, and community benefits – listed here and here. The Farmer’s Almanac has a beginner’s guide for planting vegetable gardens with a specific guide for several different vegetables.
- Reading Poetry: This practice is particularly important in a time when we do a lot of online reading. Usually when we read, we do so for information, to find the take-away as quickly as possible, and dispense with the shell of the language. Poetry, in contrast, requires us to slow down and feel the texture and rhythm of language. This deepens our attention and trains our awareness, not least to rhythm, as we learn to discern the subtle rhythms of the poem. Lauren Winner has a fantastic essay on why she reads poetry, and you can find tips for how to start reading poetry here and here.
Some specifically religious rhythmic practices include:
- Fixed-hour Prayer: For Christians (as well as many other faiths), one particularly important practice for introducing a rhythm that is based on scripture and the church is that of fixed-hour prayer, sometimes called “the liturgy of the hours.” This is the basis of monastic rhythms, in which life is built around saying prayers at certain, fixed times. A large part of the importance of rhythm for Christian salvation is the way in which rhythm can organize the whole of life. Fixed hour prayer shifts our approach to time from an empty vessel with which we can do what we want and requires us to submit our own agendas to God through submitting our time to the rhythms of prayer – we adapt ourselves to prayer, rather than simply fitting prayer into our own schedule. This allows prayer to punctuate and interrupt our own schedules, thereby forming the day into a rhythm. See Phyllis Tickle for an explanation of fixed-hour prayer. I use Tickle’s books The Divine Hours for my fixed hour prayer (three times per day), which are very easy to use. However, you could also visit universalis for free, daily fixed-hour prayers.
Centering Prayer: Another type of prayer taps into rhythm is centering prayer – a guide is available from The Liturgists. Rather than prayer as speech, centering prayer seeks to focus your whole being on God. An important part of this is attending to the rhythms of your body and breath.
- Sabbath: If fixed-hour prayer forms a rhythm for the day, Sabbath is the corresponding form for the rhythm of the week. For Christians, who do not have one official way of marking the Sabbath, there are many different forms this could take, but I think one of the most powerful is currently the Sabbath as digital-fast. Since the internet is the form that shapes and controls so much of our time, introducing a suspension of the internet or of screens is probably the most powerful way to introduce a space into life. The introduction of repeated spaces is what organizes time into patterns. It introduces contrast. This is an account of one person’s experience of internet-Sabbath, and here is an argument for why we need these internet-free spaces:
Removing the internet from your home: An even more radical version of this is disconnecting your home internet altogether. The Minimalists make an argument for this course of action. From the perspective of rhythm, the effect of this move would be to completely alter where our everyday rhythms are based. Internet-use would be a particular activity within an overall rhythm of life determined by something else, while currently I suspect that the flows and rhythms of the internet are the primary scaffold for life itself. I confess I have not tried this myself (partly because I live with someone who is not happy about the idea) but I nevertheless think that it is a healthier approach to internet, where feasible.
Becoming un-busy: Rather than adding a practice, another way to live more rhythmically is by removing activities or spacing them such that you do not feel busy or harried. Again, introducing regular space is the basis of rhythm, so a life with overall rhythm has a pattern of activity-rest-activity-rest, rather than a stream of activities that blur together. Again, the minimalist movement has tips for reducing busy-ness
Addendum: A rhythm for studying theology: This is a great post that outlines a particular rhythm for studying theology. This would work with any subject of course, but as a theologian I wanted to include it as a reminder that theology is arguably not really understood if we think we can simply extract content without paying attention to how we are reading. Creating a rhythm of study, not least by interspersing study with prayer, creates a headspace that can encounter content more receptively, attentively, and with a view to connecting it to one’s life more generally. Or that, in any case, is the argument of this project.