Beginning Advent this year is an exercise in finding a centering rhythm as I come back to writing daily during the season, which has become my spiritual practice. Over the past few months, with the publication of my book and the corresponding learning curve of how to begin to get the word out that the book is even here, I have not been consistent in my writing either here on my blog or on the larger project that I hope will become a sister volume one day. These are days I have committed to writing everyday to focus my heart and mind, to learn more about how to pray, to point myself toward the indefatigable light of Christ even as the days still grow shorter.
Spiritual practice: an intriguing phrase for me, and helpful, too. Practice — as though there is something new to learn, more to hone, something for which to prepare. There is a sense in which this practice is different than practicing a song or a part in a play because there is never a designated performance per se; we don’t have the climactic moment when the curtain goes up and the announcer says, “And now, being Christian, Milton Brasher-Cunningham.” Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the spotlight. I am an extrovert to the core of my being. But the trajectory of life is not an ascending line of fame or fortune or power. We do not have to earn the love God offers us.
The paradox is, however, that each day is open practice: no performance, but also no discards. Even the practices count. Every time we have to go back and do it again, every time we have to say, “I’m sorry,” every time we pick ourselves up from failure it’s for real. We don’t have to earn love, but life counts. It has consequences. Ripples. Still, contrary to cliche, practice does not make perfect. Practice makes faithful. The point of practice, in the best sense of the word, is growth. I am a better guitar player when I play everyday. I’m a better cook when I practice to learn new things. I’m a better writer when I practice both reading and writing. I’m a better Christian when I practice praying and listening. I’m a better person when I see every day as an opportunity to practice being human.
walking on the earth for a little while
how do how do we make it count
kicking up the dust for another mile
how do how do we make it count
As the song continues, one line says, “There is no practice life, this is it.” I know what we meant by that line and I still stand by it and, in light of what the word practice is coming to mean to me, I am going to offer a contradiction: this is a practice life. That’s the point. Practice. Practice. Practice. The circular motion of the liturgical year from Advent to Advent, Lent to Lent, Ordinary Time to Ordinary Time is at the heart of my realization. We are practicing and preparing, over and over, year after year, to go nowhere — but to God.
On his last night with his disciples, John says of Jesus, “Knowing . . . that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.” (John 13:3-4) He was going nowhere but to God, and so he knew he could do what he needed to do in that moment to show those who mattered most to him how much he loved them.
Our lives are not about practicing for success or perfection, but open practice with room for both fun and failure as we circle round to meet the One who spoke us into being and who welcomes us with open arms. God’s grace means we have room to try and try again, to keep growing and changing, to keep learning. To practice. So we begin to mark the days, circling toward the manger that Christ might be born again in us, retelling the story, re-singing the songs, practicing the presence, and learning — again– that we were made, even called, to go nowhere but to God, over and over again.
If you were to go through the almost seven years of blog entries, you would soon find this theme is not new for me. I have spent more days that I can count trying to figure out how to matter enough and have come up wanting at the end of most all of them. I am weeks away from my fifty-seventh Christmas and I still have to remind myself that I am wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved. Period. I am more practiced at sharing that truth than digesting it for myself. And so I practice — writing it, speaking it, singing it — that I might hear in ways I have not before. And I am. I am.
Or at least I’m practicing.