How I cultivate my relationship with God
No, this blog isn’t about developing a spiritual relationship with a significant other. This is going to be about cultivating a relationship with God. I’m writing this particular blog because I want to explore how people cultivate a relationship with God. Relationships are hard work just with family, friends and significant others alone. They are also more immediately tangible than God or the concept that God represents. The way we cultivate relationships with human beings involves being consistent with them, sharing interests and providing diversity in each other’s lives. It involves conversation, shared experiences, spending time with each other, crying when the other cries, laughing when the other person laughs, and even sometimes fighting over differences. These things look different for each and every individual and in a wide variety of contexts. So how do we translate those practices over to our relationship with God? Is that even a sufficient enough view of a relationship with God? It’s hard to even imagine a relationship with a being or Universe that, to our very limited perception, seems to be mostly one-sided. Almost like having an imaginary friend.
When we look for ways and practices to cultivate a relationship with God though, we often look to both the revealed texts of our religions and we consult our religious leaders/teachers. These sources will point to three major ways we can cultivate our relationship with our creator: Believe, Pray, and do what the Good book tells you. These are good starting points but I would like to expand on them and show my take on cultivating a relationship with God.
Praying and meditating
Praying is a big part of many religions. For me, I do the five prayers a day prescribed by Islam. Within those prayers, I do the traditional recitation of the Surahs for the first part, but also the Lord’s Prayer from the Bible and another Prayer I came across in life. These non-Surah prayers are in English so that I can understand readily at least some part of the prayers. While I am praying, I try to be in a meditative state, or what I feel is an opening of myself to God, to receive God, and to give myself to God. Before I get into praying, I try to do three meditative breaths so that I can clear my focus from the daily routines and work.
Praying five times a day in another language is a hard thing to do. For me, many times it often feels like I’m just going through the motions, or that its not working. But I continue to do it because I am a very kinesthetic worshipper, and the act of bowing down in supplication helps me to be in a more worshipful state. I also continue to do the five prayers a day because it gives me opportunities that are embedded in the day to pause and reflect, pray, and be reminded of God. It helps me to keep God in mind throughout the day even outside of the prayer times because my morning, noon, and night are scheduled around these prayer times.
I have found that much of my decisions and actions are more informed by or framed in the context of “is this what God wants?” I am more consciously thinking about what god wants in my actions rather than just living and responding throughout the day to daily things and struggles.
I have also recently added to my daily routine the practice of meditation. Most of the time it is just breathing and secular meditation, but it helps to open me up to God. While I went into meditation with the intention of just reducing my anxiety, it had the pleasant hidden benefit of it opening me up to God. Meditation helps me to slow my mind down and focus on being in the moment. When I’m in a successful state of meditation, sometimes things that made me happy that day or just in general pop up and the happiness it brings me is extremely intense. I think the reason for this intensity is because in those meditative states, my focus is not as scattered as in a regular time of day.
Along with Daily prayer and meditation, I study. I read. Ive made it a practice to read the Qur’an or Bible almost everyday. I also read different commentaries, analysis, and nonfiction books on religion. Much of my religious readings that are outside the Holy Text are focused on writers like Rachel Held Evans, Marcus Borg, and other writers. I try to see different perspectives on religion and their texts because these writers may have a different take on a passage that I have read, or see the religion in a different way that may add to my perspective in a good way. I also read a lot of nonfiction that is outside of the religious genre. I read books like Atomic Habits, Essentialism, Scarcity, White Fragility and others. I read books dealing with human nature or human society. I want to see how I can better myself and how to look at our society. These readings and study sessions inform me of how to act and how to look at the world. They help develop my faith and my faith-lens. They help to develop my view of my relationship with God.
While reading these books, I actively engage with them in four ways: annotation in the books, Lectio Divina, hashing them out in my head, and blogging about them. The first active engagement activity, annotation in books, is done while I am reading the books. I underline things I find important or that stand out. Sometimes I underline things just to organize the thoughts that come with reading them. I write notes in the margins, sometimes summarizing the concepts or writing how it connects to my life and experiences. Sometimes I put questions in the margins or general comments. Many times, when I read a book or a chapter that is really good, I write at the end of the chapter a summary of either my thoughts, what I thought was super important, or excerpts of my thoughts. The second activity, Lectio Divinia, is an established routine within church scholarship. A particular practice I use for this is SOAP. S is for scripture that you pick out, O is for observing what touches me about this passage, A is for asking how I can apply it to my life and P is for Praying for guidance and wisdom. I use a journal and write out the whole passage that touches me and write below it why it touches and how I would apply it to my life. The third activity usually occurs naturally and is generally a practice that slows down my reading productivity. Though it slows down the reading process, it’s an act of me hashing out an important concept in my head, a conversation in my mind of how that concept looks and applies to things in life and the world. It is a deep dive and analysis of the concept. This process usually partners with Lectio Divinia so that I don’t lose what I was able to come up with in my thought process. The fourth activity is a recent practice for me. I see it as a summation of all that I do in the last three, to give a final analysis on my thoughts and what I’ve picked up.
Living it out
This is the most important part. This is where the Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Yearly practices culminate in, puddle towards, or collect as. This is what the prayer, meditation, and study work towards and inform. Living out what you believe and what you read, what you accept is the most important piece to faith. The bible says in James 2:14–17 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” For me, I live out faith by doing what Jesus said and what Muhammad revealed through the Qur’an. Both taught to Love and worship God. Both taught to help the poor. Both taught to live in a way God would want us to live. The Qur’an teaches to be fair and just even towards people you consider on the outside. The Qur’an teaches us to not care about specific rituals of specific religions, but to acknowledge that all religions come from God, but may be different. Both the Qur’an and Bible teaches us that living in fear of losing riches and choosing comfort over what’s right is wrong. So in my everyday life, I choose to remember these teachings and use them to consider my actions. I ask myself, have I helped someone today? Have I contributed to a lasting impact? I donate monthly to organizations 10% of my income that help people. I chose a career in helping others by teaching. I choose paths in my everyday life when interacting with people to make their days better or less burdensome.
The last way that I cultivate my relationship with God is through community. This doesn’t just mean having a church family or Mosque family. Building community is actually the harder practice I do because I find it hard to be around people. I get anxiety and it takes a lot of energy to be in the presence of people. But I do my best to attend church (and oftentimes a Jummah service) when I can. I connect with people using facebook and join groups. I field questions, answers and give encouragement to people in my online groups. I even got a lot of book recommendations from the online groups.
A lot of the time, there is no specific thing we can do that is purely an act that lets you cultivate a relationship with God. It’s a mixture of things that get mixed up in your everyday life. The Qur’an teaches us to be like Abraham. According to what the Bible and the Qur’an wants us to see as how Abraham lived, he had no specific rituals. He lived his life in prosperity, and when called upon by God, he answered. He was kind to strangers and through the strangers he welcomed into his home, he was able to conversate with the Divine being’s will. That is how we should be. Living our lives and providing opportunities to let God in.
What are some practices you do to foster a relationship with God?