Friday, March 12, 2010

To the edge…

Two weeks back, I stole one of your ideas and wrote about faith and mogul skiing. One of you responded to that letter with another great idea, which I will now steal shamelessly also!

Here’s what happened: I wrote that faith was like mogul skiing; moguls come at you so fast that the better trained you are, the easier it is to respond like you want. Ditto faithful living, goes the theory. Then, someone made a good observation, how often we speak of routine as a problem for faith, and talk about ‘keeping faith fresh.’ But maybe, he went on, there’s a positive way to think of spiritual routine, perhaps after the fashion of performers. “Ask any performer what happens when they take time off…How long does it take to lose your edge?”

That reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a spiritual mentor. He and I spent an hour together weekly for about two years. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but I deeply respected his insight and spiritual maturity, and especially his ability to love me for who I was. And that’s helped shaped me into who I am today. So if any of you are searching for ways to make more of an impact with your life, consider becoming a mentor. It takes commitment and compassion, but helps people in lasting, profound ways (and you needn’t be a ‘spiritual mentor’; just hanging out with youth is enough). I have multiple ways to help you do that, by the way, just let me know.

Anyway, so Mark and I were chatting one afternoon, and we pondered what spiritual development takes. We were both musicians (he muuuuuuch better than I!), so he said, “Shane, think about concert pianists.” So I did. And I said, “I got nothing, Mark. What do you mean?” “Concert pianists practice their art daily. And they say that if they take a day or two off, they can really feel it. Others may have no clue, but they know. But if a week goes by without practice, they say critics will begin to notice; you know, those trained to pay attention. And give it a month without practice, they’ll say that the general public starts noticing. And that’s when trouble really begins!” Now, I can’t say if that’s actually true; I’ve never asked a concert pianist (some I’m relying on Jeremae- resident orchestra musician- to confirm or deny). But the analogy with how faith works is interesting. Faith requires regular practice, for it to accomplish what we want. And if practice stops, you might lose your edge.

Couple of observations- 1) Often people define “faith” as “what I believe.” But that’s wrong, or at least, incomplete. Actually, faith is something you do, something you can practice, a capacity you can build, or lose. And to narrow that to something like ‘belief’ diminishes the power of faith. In fact, it’s probably better to talk about what-faith-does by using the word “trust.” We trust that Jesus is Lord, which requires belief but means little if you don’t act or live like Jesus is Lord. Etc.

2) The way musicians practice their art is pretty straightforward- Sing every day; play scales on the piano; work on music above your skill level so you can build the capacity for more challenging material. Practicing our faith, however, isn’t always so concrete or straightforward. Jesus gave us general principles- Love God, and your neighbor as yourself- but left it to us to put that in action. And while some things are obvious ways to do this (give to Haiti relief efforts, mentor youth, assist with worship, etc.), do you ever think of such things as ‘practice’? Or is it more natural to think that is actually ‘doing faith’? Or is it both?

I notice I’m near the letter’s end, so let that be an open question. How do you “practice faith”, on a day-to-day basis? I’ll write a follow-up soon with some ideas and wisdom from folk who’ve thought about that question deeply. Until then, I pray you keep your edge sharp and shining bright. In all things,

Grace and Peace,


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