Devotionals: Connecting With Unexpected Ancestors
Photo Credit: Getty/MihailUlianikov
Devotionals serve as a grounding presence during unprecedented times. “The practice of a daily devotion connects to the idea of spiritual reflection as a way to gain clarity and peace. Daily time for devotion creates inner peace, slows us down, and allows us to connect with the divine.”
Since COVID-19 changed the landscape of how we connect with each other and how we connect within ourselves, I’ve noticed a marked uptick in simple practices to help us stay grounded and calm.
- Breathing in for four, holding for two, breathing out for six. (This breathing pattern helps us tap into and disrupt the fight-or-flight response connected to our vagus nerve, according to some research.)
- Check-ins on people’s emotional wellbeing.
- “DIY” daylong self-care retreats where people bring self-care rituals to share with each other.
One thing I wasn’t expecting to be a lifeline for so many of my friends was a devotional. Friends who aren’t religious, friends who gave up on Christianity long ago, friends who never related to the Bible, are finding devotionals as a source of encouragement, hope, and energy for the day. (I’m the author of Liberating Love Daily Devotional, so I’ve seen firsthand how easily people incorporate devotionals as a critical daily tool.)
Devotional guides have been around for millennia. I have one that breaks down the Sufi poet Rumi’s poems so I can read one each day as inspiration throughout the whole year. The earliest Christian one dates back to the ninth-century Gaels. Devotionals typically feature a Bible verse and very short non-academic commentary. The practice of a daily devotion connects to the idea of spiritual reflection as a way to gain clarity and peace. Daily time for devotion creates inner peace, slows us down, and allows us to connect with the divine.
Each day’s devotion is normally quite short. Reading the text itself takes almost no time, but devotions are meant to be slowly pondered, even over the course of the whole day. Think of a morning devotion as easing into the day connected to hope; or if you read a devotion in the evening, it can set the tone for your rest. It can even be used by a family to foster deeper reflection together on spirituality and hope, creating a family practice that brings people together.
Truth be told, most of the bestselling devotionals today utilize a spirituality that doesn’t feel very fulfilling. They either avoid real issues or they promote a conservative ideology that is actually harmful to our spiritual and physical wellbeing in the long run. I was a little nervous about introducing a Bible-based daily devotional guide into the world. But people have been effusive.
And I think I know why.
We need anchors when we’re adrift. These are unsettled times. We have faced horrific losses and we do not know how long our isolation will last. In addition to COVID, we’ve had to face the costs of climate change with changing weather patterns and the whole West Coast aflame, and we’ve reencountered the realities of racial injustice. In those moments, turning to ancient texts can surprisingly provide some stability … provided the texts aren’t being abused. Which is why:
We need an antidote to the bad religion we’re encountering. So much of the “religion” we’re encountering in the media and maybe even in our own communities is religion of fear, judgment, and contempt. For people to encounter the Bible as a tool of healing and even of progressive values feels almost subversive, which actually makes sense: The Bible was written for an oppressed minority, teaching them how to survive and even resist corrupt and oppressive regimes. Reclaiming those stories for that purpose in a new era can be empowering. After all ...
We need the reminder that we’re powerful, good is possible, and we are not alone. We keep saying that we live in unprecedented times. In fact, several friends joke that they long for “precedented times.” And yet it can be a comfort to know that people have weathered hard times before. It can be a comfort to know that those people actually made things better. And it can be a comfort to know that we have ancestors on our side, even if they have names that are hard to pronounce from times that seem far removed.
Recently I had several friends message me. “I felt really seen by today’s devotion.” “Today’s devotion made me feel like my work’s not in vain.” “Today’s devotion made it easier to face the day.” They were writing to me about a devotion about a king named Artaxerxes who ruled in the 400s BCE.
Here’s a sample devotion from my book. Note that I write the commentary in first-person voice of God, in order to help people feel a little more loved and held when it is so easy to feel alone these days … and because it’s important for people to hear God saying progressive and inclusive things in a world where so often violence and exclusion get attributed to God.January 6
When [Jesus’] parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Seek me where my Son sought me: in the rich debates and dialogues and disagreements that faithful people can have when they are seeking to understand me. At the age of 12, my Son engaged wise rabbis, debating the fine points of how to honor me best. Do not hide from the discussion as if any one of my children can understand me by themselves. Distrust my children who have been led astray and believe they have the answers. I created you for each other. Only in wrestling with my word together can you grow closer to my heart’s wish for you. I will tell you a secret, and I invite you to ponder it today: my wisdom does not lie within any of you. My word rests between you.