There are a lot of reasons why I don’t like the prescription to be “the best version of yourself,” but maybe the strongest one is that it not only ends with “yourself” but actually begins with “yourself.” It is as if there is a preset catalogue of “yourself-s” and the point is to choose the best one. Or, instead, it means something like maximizing your potential, especially spiritually. Either way, that’s the wrong image, and images shape our imaginations.
The works of mercy are loving acts of service and compassion directed towards the spiritual and material needs of our neighbors. At first glance, it may seem odd to include them alongside other forms of prayer, but we must remember that prayer and the Christian life are inseparable. The love of God that leads us into prayer is the same love that leads us to serve our neighbor. Consider the words of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from something good, usually food. It’s a familiar spiritual practice for most of us, but it’s also a practice we tend to take up only during Lent or only when the Church tells us we have to. That’s unfortunate because fasting is, in the words of St. Basil the Great, a powerful “weapon of protection against demons.” Similarly, Christ tells his disciples that certain kinds of demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). With this in mind, we should want to be well-practiced at fasting and have this form of prayer in our spiritual arsenal at all times.
Taizé (pronounced: tay-zay) is a prayerful form of music known for its simple, yet rich and meditative character. Taizé music often takes the structure of an ostinato (a simple melody that repeats over and over) and is meant to serve as a kind of musical centering prayer. Because Taizé music itself is intentionally simple, it provides a great way to move our prayer from the head to the heart.
Praying with a labyrinth is a form of walking meditation, a physical expression of the interior journey towards Christ that characterizes all Christian meditation. Like a pilgrimage, forms of walking meditation evoke our earthly journey towards heaven while simultaneously giving us time and space to listen and respond to the Lord.