Happy New Year, Happy New Book! In keeping with our 2012 focus on spirituality, our first book of the new year will be Practicing Our Faith, edited by Dorothy Bass. This is a book of 12 different Christian practices–ancient and modern, but all relevant. The question the book seeks to help us work toward is “How can we live faithfully and with integrity here, where the pace of existence is so fast and life’s patterns are changing all around us? Can we conduct our daily lives in ways that help us not just get by but flourish–as individuals, as communities, and as a society, in concert with all creation and in communion with God?”
That’s a big question! Bass points out that the 12 practices of this book are not an exhaustive list, only a beginning. She even recommends some others she would like to consider in the future in the preface to the new edition, practices like care for creation and peacemaking and just eating. At the end of the book series, we’ll contemplate what practices we might add and how we might describe them for others who seek to live in concert with all creation and in communion with God.
So for today, we consider–what does it mean to “practice” our faith? Often these practices are called “disciplines”–which comes from the same root word as “disciple”–so to be a disciple is to practice the disciplines, one could say. They go together. Bass defines practices by saying “Practices are those shared activities that address fundamental needs of humanity and the rest of creation and that, woven together, form a way of life. Reflecting on practices as they have been shaped in the context of Christian faith leads us to encounter the possibility of a faithful way of life, one that is both attuned to present-day needs and taught by ancient wisdom. And here is the really important point: this encounter can change how we live each day.”
Many of us think primarily of “practice” as something we do to get better at a task, until we can do the task perfectly. We practice an instrument, or a sport, or a particular skill, or writing in cursive, or multiplication tables, etc. Bass says “To practice our faith is not a matter of trying very very hard until finally we learn to keep things under control. Although the point of most human practices is the achievement of some form of mastery over a specific kind of conflict or chaos, Christian practitioners do not master death in the practice of dying well, master time in the practice of keeping sabbath, or master strangers in the practice of hospitality. Instead, in trying to engage in such practices faithfully and well, we seek to enter more fully into receptivity and responsiveness, to others and to God.”
So practice does not make perfect in this case! Instead, practice makes us open to God’s presence and movement and call. Practice hones our senses so we can walk more closely with the one who says “come, follow me.” Practice teaches us how to “imagine a way of life that prizes an abundance of life rather than an abundance of things to do and things to possess,” and this imagining “puts a new frame around the world in which many middle class North Americans live at this point in history.”
Most importantly, Bass says, “Within these practices we discover time and space for God.”
I don’t know about you, but time and space are two things often lacking. So let’s take this journey together and see what new thing God might do.