By James Hazelwood
People want to hear stories, and they want to tell their own stories.
That’s pretty well understood. North Americans spend millions of dollars per year on stories as recorded in books, displayed on Netflix, or presented in live performances. But what about spiritual stories? Are we really ready to tell and hear those stories?
Much to my surprise, I discovered the answer was a resounding yes. In preparation for writing a book on modern spirituality, I put out a call for people’s stories of encounters with the divine and holy moments. I was hoping for five or ten. Instead, I received over 200 responses. These stories varied from little vignettes to profound descriptions of vulnerable moments in their lives.
The spiritual stories I received included moments in the natural world, such as this one, when a grandfather brought a young boy to a cornfield before dawn just to lie there: “‘Shh, just listen,’ [he said]. I lay there on my back in my grandfather’s cornfield in Iowa. Eventually, I heard something. It was the sound of the corn growing. God’s creation was alive and coming alive at that moment, and I realized a sacred presence in it all.”
Other stories were more mundane: walking, hosting a meal, singing, even wearing a rock concert T-shirt. The range of responses was surprising and heartwarming. While I couldn’t use all 200 submissions, I was able to gather enough to write 27 separate chapters. Each one reflects on a common theme, such as breathing, cooking, or tasting, as well as those moments in life that are more challenging, such as grieving, disagreeing, or losing.
Non-church-attending folks often say that they’re “spiritual but not religious”–but perhaps an equally vexing problem is its opposite, as described by an early reader of the book: “It’s for those who are religious but not spiritual.”
Everyday spirituality can help the active or semi-active person of faith rediscover a spirituality they may have lost in all the potlucks, committee meetings, and property concerns. My efforts are to help people realize that God is present in all of life, not just the Sunday morning gathering around the altar and baptismal font. Can we recover a sense of the holy in our careers, our hobbies, our time with friends and family? This might require shifting how we have typically discussed spirituality in the church over the past several generations, but it’s also a return to an earlier way the church taught such practices.
More recently, our pattern has been to design curricula around spiritual practices such as devotional reading, meditation, and prayer or Bible study. Don’t get me wrong, this is valuable, but in reality, only about 10 percent of people engage in these activities. I’m looking for spirituality for the other 90 percent–those of us who believe God is alive in our bicycling, our gardening, and our spending time with friends, but who might not have experience reflecting on or talking about it.
Perhaps my greatest joy is discovering how eager people are to share their stories once you introduce this topic. To that end, I’ve developed a series of questions or conversation starters that people can answer in small groups or as part their personal reflection, such as:
- Describe a time when you were surprised…by love, children, God (pick one).
- There have been too many times in my life when…
- What’s something in life that doesn’t make sense?
These aren’t questions that are particularly spiritual in an overt sense. Or are they? The intent is to prompt people to tell a story about their lives, to help them realize that they are indeed more spiritual in their everyday lives than they realized.
Along with the book, I created a card game that can be used to spark such conversations. I call it Everyday Spirituality. It’s a hashtag (#everydayspirituality), a book, a card game, but mostly it’s a way of life–an opportunity for all of us to share and listen to sacred stories.
About the Author
James Hazelwood has been a parish pastor, photographer, disc jockey and ice cream scooper. These life experiences inform his writing for the recently released book, Everyday Spirituality: Discover a Life of Hope, Peace and Meaning.
In 2001, he earned his Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. His first book, Experience Church, based on his Doctoral Studies, explored the shift from a knowledge-based approach to faith to an experiential emphasis using his work in congregations as a case study.