Building Spiritual Muscles

Food for Thought is pleased to offer this contribution about prayer from guest editor, Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer, the pastor at South Congregational Church in Springfield, MA.

As an ordained minister, my daily exercise of centering prayer, a contemplative practice, has helped me to deepen my capacity for pastoral caregiving. My understanding of and appreciation for prayer is as relationship with God. As a Christian, Jesus is my model for understanding and practicing prayer.

I have found that with this ministry comes the relationship expectations of others, regardless of whether they are churched or not. In order to meet these expectations - not necessarily satisfy, but at least to meet - it helps me to have a reservoir of patience on which to draw. My daily exercise of centering prayer has helped me to deepen my capacity for this sort of pastoral stamina.

Listening is a key feature of pastoral caregiving, not my strongest attribute! I have found that listening for God stretches me more than any human being ever could, and so, I listen for God in my exchanges with people. And I get stronger.

As an ordained minister, it seems especially appropriate to study and explore religious texts, and to plumb them for meaning and guidance. One biblical passage that I find particularly helpful is in Luke's Gospel (11:1-13).

The rabbi Jesus returns from a "certain place" and when questioned about praying, expounds at length from a very relational perspective. This teaching, as well as my own experience, tells me that prayer is all about relationship, with God and with one another, and that as I practice praying, my spiritual "muscles" are made strong for those times when heavy spiritual lifting is required. Lord knows there are plenty such times nowadays...

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