What Is a Daily Devotional? Where To Begin?
Whenever I reflect on the concept of devotionals I cannot help but think of the Chronicles by C.S. Lewis – specifically The Silver Chair – where Jill asks Aslan how she is to carry out a seemingly impossible task, to which he replies she must follow the signs by which he would guide her.
No addict can deny that their brain synapses mimic a fog machine – clarity in abundance one minute only to be a scarcity the next. Undoubtedly, we need reminders! Hence why I call devotions/meditations “daily reminders,” they are the signs which help navigate the chaos – beginning once the eyes open!
Where Did Devotional’s Come From? A Brief, Obscure, and
Probably Accurate Historical Analysis.
Sometimes I can envision the eye rolls and the sneers when off my tongue rolls the all too frequent answer, but it’s inescapable: religion.
“A devotional can be many things. It can be a Bible reading plan. It can be a series of meditations. It can be a liturgical exercise. It can be a daily selection of verses, accompanied by a thoughtful essay (blog.faithlife.com),” but not limited to this.
Ultimately, the parameters can extend into any philosophical-religious-academic quadrants. The above quotation was taken from an exclusively Christian perspective (where the concept originated and became widespread), but the Big Book, N.A. Basic Text or any distinctly devotional piece of literature would suffice. The concept has even left spiritual sectors and has sauntered into the secular sphere (===>check out the Intellectual Devotional).
: The Traditional Devotion Is Usually Formatted In This Way:
Speculated to have been written in the 9th century, the first recorded devotional was written in Ireland by no other than the late celebrated Catholic Saint Óengus of Tallaght. What was it exactly? Well, this Celtic monk wrote the Félire (Martyrology), the first of its kind, which for simplicity’s sake is a record of the Saints and their feast days, one for each day of the year (still widely used in Catholicism).
This, in turn, would serve as a “daily reminder/motivator” for those who read it each day – one that was inspirational, intellectual, emotional, and deeply spiritual – to help navigate the labyrinth of the inner journey. Undoubtedly, this qualifies per Faith Life’s definition, “A devotional is not designed to change your mind; it’s meant to change your heart.” I would argue however that the latter presupposes the former.
This understanding is crucial if the daily meditation is to penetrate the intellect, stimulate the affections, and transmute into behavior – the intended goal – ones walk as it were. Thus, there is a sequence!
How People Learn and Why Devotions are Brilliant
Benjamin Bloom developed a classification for learning – Bloom’s Taxonomy – which demonstrates precisely how REAL learning takes place; that is, an education that truly changes an individual.
Apparently, his chief complaint with modern education was that it was too focused on the intellectual sphere which he posited had severe limitations for producing character change, utility, and productivity. Thus, he proposed learning – to have any lasting effect – must pass through three domains, not merely one.
- The cognitive domain (knowledge-based) – thinking and knowing e.g. cognition (head)
- The affective domain (emotion-based) – values and attitudes e.g. conviction (heart)
- The psychomotor domain (action-based) – action and skills e.g. competence (hands/feet)
Per Richards and Bredfeldt, this means that teaching must have three aims.
- Content Aim – to communicate and successfully transmit information (1st domain).
- Inspirational Aim – to inspire, touch the emotions, change or challenge an attitude, affect a personal value choice, or engender commitment to an ideal of belief (2nd domain).
- Action Aim – to move to action or impart a skill (3rd domain).
Just in case you missed it, it’s worth repeating.
The intention of the teacher is to transmit information to the head (intellect), to subsequently stimulate the heart (emotions), and if successful, move the feet (action/life change).
Do Devotionals Successfully Target and Strike All Three Domains and Aims?
The format for most devotionals consists of a reading – usually in the form of a passage, verse, quotation, excerpt, from some piece of literature.
This is then followed by an essay or reflection on what was just read. In addition, frequently the meditations conclude with a prayer or an affirmation – which is a call to action of sorts. I call it the WHAT, the WHY, and the HOW.
- The “WHAT” is the reading, topic, or whatever the main focus of the devotional is – striking the cognition.
- The “WHY” is the essay or reflection, seeking to stir the affections and generate greater contemplation.
- Often the “HOW” is interspersed within the essay itself, however, the concluding prayer or affirmation – if there – will emphasize precisely what the desired action to take it.
Therefore, the devotional – though historically brief – is a powerful educational tool touching upon each significant domain of learning. It follows, then that a daily meditation is not only a dynamic and effective resource for producing and sustaining character change and maximizing utility and growth – but perhaps a necessary one.
Let’s Go Just a Bit Further
I found a definition in The Encyclopedia of Christian Literature to be instructive,
“Most broadly considered, Christian devotional literature may be thought to encompass any inscribed verbal artifact employed to stimulate the production, sustenance, and direction of the unique interior Christian self, whether solely in relation to the divine or including also service to fellow believers, neighbor, and/or world.”
Once more, moving beyond the limitations of a purely Christian understanding, the idea of Devotionals as “any inscribed verbal artifact employed to stimulate the production, sustenance, and direction of the unique interior…whether solely in relation to the divine or including also service to fellow believers, neighbor, and/or world…” is what basically every daily meditation seeks to accomplish.
As I alluded to above, this understanding emphasizes the idea that a devotional could be anything!
The Barebones Daily Devotional
I found two definitions for “devote” which I believe to be profitable for gleaning a helpful definition.
1. To give or apply (one’s time, attention, or self, for example) entirely to a particular activity, pursuit, cause, or person.
2. To set apart for a specific purpose or use
Regarding recovery, devotions is a time set apart for the specific purpose of recovery, applying one’s time, attention, and entire self for recovery, in the pursuit or cause of total life change. Whether this is solely meditation, journaling, praying, etc., it matters little compared to actually doing it!
- Devote some time to recovery (select an exact time – be precise)
- Find an activity to do (book, journal, meditation, prayer, etc.,) – make sure it follows the guidelines (the what, the why, and the how) – and do it, this is the best way to start.
>>>The Magic Word: Action
>>>Most Important Thing You Can Do on a Daily Basis: Start and Continue!
There are a nauseating amount of books to help with this time of devotion (see my top five 12-Step devotional and my top five 12-Step alternate devotions — coming soon!) – this way you can just select the time and execute. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Buy a devotional, start somewhere, you’ll be surprised how your devotional time transforms over time. Let’s stop needlessly beating this dead horse and simply exercise the Nike maxim: JUST DO IT!
Timmy G (2020)
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