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Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Art by He Qi

Art by He Qi

This week in our Lenten journey, we’ll be talking about Service. What I like about Richard Foster’s words in the devotional selection for today, is that service needs to be in a symbiotic relationship with spirituality. There is no doubt that spirituality, represented by one on one time with God, is the “one necessary thing” but the true manifestation of that time is in serving others. The story of Mary and Martha shows us how one cannot be isolated from the other: the women were sisters after all.

By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. [Luke 10:40-42a]

first things firstIn another interesting lesson I found online (Lesson 52, Bible.org), the writer builds on two questions from First Things First by Stephen Covey. He asks the questions this way: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your walk with God?” Then, “If you know this would make such a significant difference, why did you not do it this past week?” I believe the young people would yell “Booyah!” which is a bit of slang for “gotcha!”

So, let’s put these two ideas together, if service is best done out of relationship with Christ (more than likely through prayer), and if we prayed consistently and authentically, we would indeed experience significant results in our walk with God and undoubtedly, choose to serve more consistently as well. Why don’t we do it?

I cannot speak for you. I can only confess my own sin, for it is, I suppose, my story to tell.

private prayerI don’t pray privately much because it’s amorphous (another word from the Thesaurus: blobby!). Prayer is just so: private and lonely; there is no one who knows if I pray or not, or if I talk out loud or silently, or if my mind wanders and creates a menu for dinner. Prayer, when it’s truly just me and God, requires concentration, relaxation, and intent, all rolled up into one. There are no benchmarks. There is no one to say I’m doing better or not. There are no fireworks for the well-said prayer or the prayer that struck home, engaging God in a decision to change circumstances. I can’t measure prayer. Oh I suppose, I could monitor my time, but truthfully, I’d have to filter out the wasted minutes, the distracted candle-lighting or wrapping up in an afghan or escorting the persistent, playful dog out of the room.

And maybe, if I was really honest, maybe I’m not even praying. It’s easier to read a prayer or read scripture. It’s easier to write prayer or blog. It’s easier to think about praying or to think about God. It’s easier to do anything but center down.

rosaryI’m sure, in some ways, this is why Eastern religions may have a little edge on us Christian types. There are practices and breathing and instruction that is aimed toward emptying the mind. Sometimes I wonder if I should try some of the Catholic practices, would the rote repetition settle me into an inner place where the Holy Spirit and I could really commune?

I’m a woman of flash prayers and thanksgivings and even, service. I am a woman who can pray in public with intensity and love for my God. I can gather others into prayer. I am a woman of the Word for I find much solace in its depths. But I am not a woman of private prayer.

Going back to Stephen Covey, do I believe it will change my life? I do, or at least, I suspect. But maybe, secretly, the changes are too slow for my 21st century-cultured mind. Perhaps I am still looking for results too soon. I have trouble with the long vision. And yet, here I am, almost forty years a believer, and still I can’t pray with consistency, alone?

St. augustineI know, I know. This post is supposed to be about service, but my spirit is quickened to consider the importance of service growing out of spirituality. I “do” or “serve” because God leads me to do it. I serve because God is present out there as well as in here. And when I pray, I serve. That’s the idea.

Whether it’s learning a sport or a martial art or flying a plane, automatic body/mind memory only comes from repetition, practice, and consistency. If there is any time to practice, it’s during Lent. Now. Now.

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done in Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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Separating myself from “corrupting influences” is not so easy. It’s a matter of degree, that difference between good, better & best. In some areas, I have been successful and on occasion, I have been blessed and used in a powerful way but it’s an erratic arrangement.

II Timothy 2:21
So whoever cleanses himself/herself [from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself/herself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences] will [then himself/herself] be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work.
[Amplified]

Some of this “separation” feels too strict and legalistic, like those Pharisaical laws that disallowed touching contaminated things without all kinds of ceremonial washings and waiting times. It smacks of the story that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37] who broke all kinds of laws to minister to an injured and “unclean” man. There are contemporary versions of this, various religious sects that will not allow people of differing beliefs to sit at table or to share in communion or other sacred acts.

And so I manage to excuse or validate some of my choices in the name of freedom. But it can be a slippery slope, I know.

I think it’s important to recognize the value of single-minded piety, as long as it is also lived with grace and generosity toward others who do not live in the same way. That kind of life does indeed prepare the mind and soul for greater challenges of faith. There are other hints to this concept like Paul’s references to the athletes who prepare hard for the race, who practice their craft diligently, who commit their energies toward attaining a particular goal.

In earlier years of my faith journey, I have somewhat foolishly asked God to drop gifts and signs on me, to use me as that intermediary for healing or miracles. And yes, it’s true that these are gifts; it’s possible that God, for the sake of the moment, might grant such experiences. But for the long haul? I think it’s the warriors of faith, the ones who don’t necessarily shy away from “corruptions” and “contaminations,” they simply don’t have time or interest there. It’s a non-issue.

If I am in a time of prayer and meditation, I am not watching the unenlightening television show or browsing the Internet for inappropriate content. My “self” is elsewhere engaged.

It all boils down to this for me: to be used for “noble purpose” is part and parcel of my daily life, how I manage the little things [Luke 16:10a]. Thanks be to God.

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Photo from Flickzzz

A two-part requirement is implicated in the advice of Phil 4:8 — First I must recognize what is true, virtuous and lovely while I consciously decide to “think on these things.” I must choose to move my mind there. And secondly I must put what I know into practice.

Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This is one of those core messages from scripture, a bare bones instruction that can be followed and if, I could exercise such a truth, my world would be better.

This lesson is taught in secular circles as well. My daughter struggles with emotional swings that are fueled by her raging thoughts, sometimes from her difficult past before we adopted her and sometimes from her daily struggles. In any event, these mind games steal her sleep, her well-being, and her confidence. The process of moving the mind to another place is a discipline she is trying to learn, but it’s a slow kind of progress, the two steps forward and one step back kind of schlep through life.

But am I any different just because I understand it better? I do a lot of replays in my mind and I find my mind pulling up old scripts all the time. The holidays are often the worst: “Why does Christmas cheer depend on me?” “Why am I always placating everyone else?” “Why do I end up doing all the cooking, wrapping, cleaning, and planning?” “Can’t anyone help me pick up some pieces of the weight of our responsibilities?” “Will we always struggle financially?” “I don’t want to be poor again.”

Every one of these inner questions is laden with stories and history and images that can replay forever, if I allow them to start. They go from some sort of righteous indignation through a variety of pity parties to fear. It’s a sad, downward spiral. These are the gifts of an undisciplined mind.

And so, I must choose to set these thoughts, and others aside for a time when they can be addressed in the safety of my inner counselor, when my connection to Spirit is strong and lush. Not before.

Another trouble begins however if I don’t remember the second part: the practice of what I know. This is the part that supports my inner health so I’m not just putting my mind and my head in the sand forever. It is the practice of what I know that gives me the ability to move my mind both to AND from the harder elements of life on this earth.

Writing and praying and reading, these are three of the key disciplines in my life.

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Other translations of this phrase are “this present distress” or “this present trouble.” The entire discussion on not marrying or marrying is about that moment in time. Paul believed the time was short. But we’re still here. And what is the application for us?

I Corinthians 7:26, 29a, 30b
Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. . . .What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. . . . For this world in its present form is passing away.

The commentaries are numerous on these passages and the emphasis is almost entirely on the attachments to worldly comforts and the responsibilities of a mate and/or children (I presume). And certainly, much can be said for being unattached to any of these things. But alas, I am neither. I am a wife, a mother, and culturally, I confess, I’m tethered to the conveniences of my world.

But for me, it’s the phrase about timing that intrigues me the most. Paul was pretty sure that Christ would return within his generation, if not within his lifetime. This, in itself, does reflect on the human-ness of Paul. He was wrong on this point, and in a big way. For him, the times were bad. Later, they got worse for that part of the world when the Romans besieged Jerusalem and destroyed it. That was certainly the end of the “their world in its present form.”

And what about our own crisis? What about our culture’s troubles? What would help? Only one thing, single or married, could make a difference. The practice of the presence of Christ. Nothing else. It is this presence within that has the power to change our responses to the world. It is the Christ spirit that is perceived as light. It is the love of God that transforms situations. When that is present, then the attachment to the world becomes less by default. Marriages remain whole. Singles remain trusting.

We cannot take on the outer trappings of Paul’s recommendations and expect change. For me, it must begin within.

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This should be a no-brainer. Of course I should practice hospitality . . . except when I haven’t mopped the floors or gone to the grocery store or finished that novel or walked the dog or put the dishes in the dishwasher. Oh yeah, clearly, I’ve missed the practice part.

Romans 12:13
Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

A quick definition of practice is “to repeat an action to improve.” And clearly, I need to improve. It’s not that I don’t love being around people. I do. But bringing them home seems to take more and more energy. It’s unfortunate that having people over has turned into the requisite dinner party or the gathering has to be for a clear purpose/event. Whatever happened to just getting together?

When Mike and I were newly married and living in Atlanta, there was rarely a Sunday that went by that one family or another wouldn’t invite us over for dinner after church, unplanned. They didn’t call us the week before or even the night before. It was on the moment, “Come share a meal with us.” And it wasn’t a special meal picked out for us because we were guests. We were just enveloped into family that day.

Hospitality is not just providing food, drink, and clean sheets for an overnight stay. It’s an invitation into who I really am. When I am hospitable, I am inviting the person to share in my “real.” I am opening a door to my private self. I am giving permission for the guest to know me.

Funny. I think about Jesus who didn’t have a place to invite people to visit. Instead, he made himself the guest in a variety of places and homes. He was giving them opportunity to know him in reverse. He was teaching them how to practice.

I understand why the first churches were house churches and why they are becoming such a phenomenon today. Home is one of the few safety nets most people still have. And if they don’t, they need one. Home: where the door swings wide and one enters into a wide embrace.

Practicing hospitality means practicing an open heart. Welcome is the first word toward koinonia.

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