At our friends’ recent 50th anniversary celebration, I was introduced to Darci–not her real name–by way of a challenge: You’ll never guess what SHE does for a living!
Thus commenced an impromptu round of “What’s My Line” wherein I discovered that, at 5′ 4″/ 120-ish lbs, she is a long haul, semi truck driver–logging in over 2 million miles in seventeen years! In his 70-year driving career my dad was a 2-million-miler, accident-free. Now she, too, has my mad respect–and he hers, for racking up a good portion of his before technology and paved roads. It takes a lot of doing a thing over many years to realize one’s potential–for whatever, in whatever era.
In trucking terms, he and I had little in common. We did, though, share a love of language and learning. He was also a philosopher at heart. When assimilating new information or processing a foreign concept became difficult, Dad would often say, “Well, that’s Greek to me!” And, in fact, the Greek is helpful. [See “praxis” (Gr. for practice).]
If you’re short on time, here’s the short version (…you’re welcome). Otherwise, read on.
- Words are symbols for actual realities
- Internalizing new realities takes practice, and by extension, time
- Spiritual formation is not about learning new words…it’s about practice
- Transformation is the process of removing barriers to freedom
- Darci is a rock star. So’s Dad. And Happy Anniversary to my friends.
Practice is required to truly learn anything new. Language and learning are hard to separate, but learning involves much more than words, as words are simply symbols for the realities they represent.
For example, as a young piano student, I studied theory books explaining how music worked and completed lesson books requiring me to actually practice–for an hour a day (thanks, Mom). I exercised the principles for myself until one day my miniature finger muscles had memorized the necessary motions and could perform them without studied concentration. Likewise:
- Doctors invest themselves in internships
- Counselors submit themselves to “supervised” hours
- Mothers commandeer children
- Pilots soar with flight simulators
Each is showing up and doing the thing, day after day. In the work I do with spiritual formation, it’s quite easy to slip into engagement with the theory of formation and attend less to doing the thing day after day, to praxis.
In A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, an anthology from Upper Room Books, Howard Rice says this, which I share in the spirit of both accountability and encouragement:
Discipline in the Christian life is not a luxury. Without it we become confused, lose our way, compromise our principles, and discover that we are not the people we had intended to be. No one is so sturdy in the faith that the temptation to surrender bit by bit does not erode conviction. Days go by and we discover that, instead of growing in grace in these days, we have wasted them…These means of grace are not a method of deserving God’s grace, but a pattern by which we enable ourselves to be receptive to grace and remove the barriers that God permits us to erect as the price of our freedom. These tools, or aids, are ways by which we open ourselves to God’s free grace.
A common question I hear is around how to “do” all these practices. “Isn’t this just another set of rules? A new kind of legalism?”
To which I cry a resounding, YES! It can be. And if that’s where you find yourself, notice that it’s happening to you and STOP! Re-evaluate what has taken you there and reorient your heart toward freedom.
It is one of the reasons I’m so glad to have found Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines before I found any of the to-do lists at all, i.e. Celebration of Discipline, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, books I recommend, by the way. But to have reversed them may have been my tragic undoing. While transformation is not accomplished by what we do, our doing something is needed in order for us to experience transformation. That something is to turn, over and over again, to the Love which sets us free.
And that means being who I say I am, doing what transforming people do: praxis.
What practices help you to turn toward God, the Love which sets us free? What will you do today, this week? What would you like to experiment with or know more about? Are your practices changing over time?
Leave a comment. I would love to hear what’s helping you open to God more fully…running, reading, reflecting, resting…it doesn’t have to start with ‘r’. 🙂
Spiritual direction is one such practice. If you’re interested, contact me here for more information.