online book group: Practicing Our Faith, chapter 1

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Let’s face it, we’re busy. Often so busy we can barely find time to eat dinner with our families or sleep in on Saturday or stay for lunch after worship. This is true for most of us–whether we’re employed or not, retired or young, parents or not. Sigh.

“These signs are born of our yearning to understand what the too-much-to-do adds up to. We long to see our lives whole and to know that they matter. We wonder whether our many activities might ever come together in a way of life that is good for ourselves and other. Does all this activity make a difference beyond ourselves? Are we really living in right relation to other people, to the created world, and to God? … Lacking a vision of a life-giving way of life, we turn from one task to another, doing as well as we can but feeling increasingly uncertain about what doing things well would look like.”

In the midst of this comes the idea of spiritual practices–ways we can live our faith in the midst of our lives. This book invites us into “a way of life that is whole, a way of life that can be lived with integrity in our time.”

Bass tells a story of a priest visiting Israel, arriving just as everything was shutting down for the Sabbath. A family saw him walking through the street with his suitcase, and invited him in to their home to share the Sabbath with them–from sundown to sundown, they spent time together in the house, eating, resting, telling stories, laughing, lighting the candles, saying the prayers. And another story of a Jewish man traveling in Spain, arriving in a town when everything was shut down–except there was one place with lights. It turned out to be a monastery, where the monks welcomed him, fed him, gave him a place to sleep, and had even slipped some coins into his pocket for his journey.

These kinds of stories seem odd to us–why would we invite a stranger into our home? But Bass points out that many of us don’t even have our friends or families in our homes with any regularity anymore. The practice of hospitality has slowly slipped away, and with it the opportunity to meet Christ in the stranger as well as the friend. As our society has become more individualized, our sense of life as a shared adventure, of hospitality as a way to share the journey, has changed (some would say “has been lost.”).

But we cannot do it alone–we are made to be in community. As MLK put it, we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.”

And so we seek companions…some of our companions may be people who have traveled this road before us and have written, or made music, or created art. Some of our companions may be our family, or our church family. Some of our companions may be people we meet on the blog. We won’t be a perfect community, whoever we are, but we will be gathered around Jesus, and that’s what matters.

So what are Practices–what are we doing? Bass says that “Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world in Christ Jesus.” These practices might be things like hospitality, sabbath, discernment, forgiveness, healing, singing, body practices, etc. They are every day things–how do we shape them in response to God’s presence? How do we live in God’s presence? How do we weave these things together into a faithful life? This is what we practice. Notice that we don’t achieve–we practice. We don’t just think, we practice. It’s practical. We do things concretely to live out an abstract reality. And we don’t always do it for the outcome–this is where “the journey IS the destination” becomes more than a cliche. Practices take time–we don’t just do it once and find we’ve conquered it! People have been engaging in these practices for centuries, for hundreds of generations. We are entering a stream that has been flowing for a long time, and it will take time for us to join in, but the important part is THAT we join in! Eventually we get the momentum, we feel the rhythm, and it becomes part of who we are just as we become part of the community that stretches back millennia.

When we do these things, we find that God permeates all that we are and all that we do, and we become aware of God’s loving presence with us in every aspect of life. Then we can shape our lives in response to God’s love, God’s action, God’s call. We begin to see “how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is going in the world.” And when we see that, we WANT to be even more tangled up, our desire is to become a partner with God, to be a part of God’s reconciling-justice-peace-making-loving-kingdom-changing of the world.

Sometimes I talk about worship as a rehearsal–worship is the place where we practice being in community. We practice praying for one another. We gather at the table and practice hospitality where we experience it. We practice living according to God’s word. We practice saying we are sorry, and offering and receiving forgiveness. And then we go out into the world and try to do it. Because we’ve rehearsed, we’re ready to encounter God in strange places, to pray for others, to offer and receive, etc. These other practices work the same way–they prepare us for life! Bass talks about worship (and all these practices) the same way–it’s like practicing catching, or playing scales, or learning to dribble the ball. It may feel awkward at first, but eventually it becomes a part of you. That’s the goal–when the ball’s hit to us, we’ll be ready because we’ve practiced. When the hard times come, we’ll have practiced. When we find ourselves confronted with a stranger, we’ll have practiced.

So–let’s get practicing!

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4 responses »

  1. Stewardship is also a Christian “practice” we need to apply to our lives. I’m not referring to the warm, fuzzy stewardship of the earth or care of God’s creatures; that’s all well and good and necessary. I’m referring to financial stewardship, the hard one that makes us gulp with doubt and rationalization. If we’re to become entangled with God’s work in the world, we need a base of operations from which to begin–the church and all it entails (costs). I would submit that the amount of dollars (resources which are God’s ultimately) dropped into the offering plate are an indication of faith and commitment to what the church is to be about. Pledges and offerings are not like dues to the Rotary Club. They are a sign of our faith and trust in God as much as our words and actions.

  2. The expression “pray without ceasing” comes to mind, but I don’t recall where it comes from. Guess I could have googled it. Too late now. It is an interesting idea though. But if we think of prayer in traditional terms, I guess I would have ro become a monastic. Instead I link the injunction to another idea: live as though God is in the audience. (I don’t recall where that came from either; it is not mine.) The nice thing about that is that wherever I go and whatever I do is just a scene change. God is there, so I don’t have to go to the monastery to “find my audience.” But I do need to think of who I am playing to.

  3. Fred, “pray without ceasing” comes from Paul…in 1 Thessalonians 5 I think. And I think it’s exactly where this idea of spiritual practices comes from–because obviously we can’t be “praying” in terms of the popular understanding of prayer (folded hands, closed eyes, talking to God only) all the time. But we can live lives that are prayers. I like the idea of living as though God is the audience–I’m going to steal that too! 🙂 Then the challenge is…remember the audience, and it’s not the people around me. Sometimes easier said than done!

  4. I think I still don’t really know HOW to pray “properly.” Mostly, the ones that I do are prayers of “Thank you” or “Please help” of all varieties.

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