It takes spiritual maturity to recognize dependence on God when things are going well—either before we hit rock bottom or after salvaging life from a broken place. When we have been saved from that broken place, and when we have experienced some healing and perhaps some spiritual growth, embracing redemption means leaving the past in the past. We can look inward to see if we are being called to further life change without rehashing the past. Introspection can focus less on one’s past and more on one’s present relationship with God.
A regular practice of inner inventory will keep us moving from intellectual awareness into action. Many spiritual traditions rely on introspection to keep us from settling into a comfortable rut. The Catholic tradition has a practice of confessing weekly before celebrating mass. Early Buddhist texts indicate monks confessed individual faults to a superior privately twice a month at the full and new moons. Jews observe Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, annually with prayers of confession spoken aloud in community. Outside of ancient religious traditions, Twelve Step addiction recovery programs rely on the power of introspection in the Fourth Step, searching and fearless moral inventory, but also as an ongoing practice. The Tenth Step calls for frequent inventory in order to make prompt amends.
What is the optimal interval? It’s individual, of course. Some Twelve step recovery programs encourage nightly examination. Several protestant traditions incorporate weekly confession into Eucharistic prayers. When we look at our challenges with a daily or a weekly focal length, however, we can overlook patterns. Most of us have to step back from what occupies us day-to-day and week-to-week to discern the major themes at work in our present journey.
Jewish and some liturgical Christian traditions also give a framework for annual self-examination with Yom Kippur and Lent. For a truly searching and fearless moral inventory of the patterns in my life, I find that a yearly interval is practical. Embracing your own new life alongside others in your faith community can intensify the experience. Traditional symbolism can deepen meaning as well. Alternatively, confessing annually on the anniversary of a first confession or, in the case of addiction recovery seekers, the anniversary of one’s last drink may have special meaning.
An American commentator (and I am hopeful an alert reader will remind me of which one) drew the analogy that a white fence grows black over time unless it is repainted every year. We, too, are in need of spiritual maintenance at intervals.
Join the conversation. How do you know whether you need spiritual maintenance if you don’t stop to look?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.