lenten journal: practice life


    Sunday night I was working at the Durham restaurant when one of the servers came to tell me that Chuck, one of our vets, was in the dining room. (It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a clinic to raise Schnauzers.) He and his wife were well into the entrees of her birthday dinner when I finally got out to their table to say hello. Our conversation bounced a round a bit, but after a while I asked her what she did for a job and she said, “I practice sports medicine and urgent care.” Who knows why, but I woke up thinking about her statement, particularly her choice of verb: practice.
    “We wage war,” I thought to myself, “and we practice healing.”

    Maybe its all the reading about music, or watching and listening to Bill Mallonee Saturday night as he deftly played and sang his way through wonderful songs and stories, or the pull to pick up my guitar because I have a gig with my friend, Terry, in about six weeks and, well, I need to practice.

    Practice: the word came into English a half a millennium ago carrying much the same definition it does now: to perform repeatedly to acquire skill. A hundred years later, people began using it in relation to professions: “she practices law.” Yet, it was hardly a hundred years ago that people began using it in relation to faith: “he is a practicing Christian.”

    I got home late from work last night and sat down with Ginger and the pups with no other intention other than to sit down with Ginger and the pups. Amidst the conversation and puppy rubbing, we began watching the ice dancing and came in just as the Canadian couple who won the gold medal began their routine. Sunday night, as I was sitting at the bar at the restaurant finishing the produce order, I got to see the last few minutes of the USA-Canada hockey game. I had the same thought in both situations, as I watched people moving across the frozen floor on burnished blades with ease and expertise: how did they learn to do that?


    A number of years ago, Billy Crockett and I wrote a song called “Walking on the Earth,” which was inspired by the call to “Carpe Diem” in Dead Poet’s Society. The song began

    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 sentiment unfolded, we said

    walking on the earth it’s your only trip
    how do how do we make it count
    there is no practice life, this is it
    how do how do we make it count

    I still love both the song and the movie, and, tonight I would like to make one small change to the lyric

    there is a practice life: this is it.

    Practice healing. Practice kindness. Practice compassion. Practice guitar and piano, harmonica and mandolin. Practice breaking eggs and painting flowers. Practice friendship and kindness and sitting still. Practice eating well and walking dogs and taking to neighbors. Practice having friends over for dinner and meeting for coffee. Practice affirming one another. Practice having fun for no particular reason. Practice singing with the radio while the car windows are down. At a stop light. With the windows down. Practice following your heart. Practice listening and praying and singing hymns. Practice talking to little kids. Practice laughing out loud. Practice asking questions that don’t have answers. Practice resurrection.

    I know the last phrase because of my friend, Tim, who practices life whole-heartedly. The phrase is the title of his blog, and is taken from this poem by Wendell Berry who practices farming and poetry.

    The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
    vacation with pay. Want more
    of everything ready-made. Be afraid
    to know your neighbors and to die.
    And you will have a window in your head.
    Not even your future will be a mystery
    any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
    and shut away in a little drawer.
    When they want you to buy something
    they will call you. When they want you
    to die for profit they will let you know.

    So, friends, every day do something
    that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
    Love the world. Work for nothing.
    Take all that you have and be poor.
    Love someone who does not deserve it.
    Denounce the government and embrace
    the flag. Hope to live in that free
    republic for which it stands.
    Give your approval to all you cannot
    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
    has not encountered he has not destroyed.

    Ask the questions that have no answers.
    Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
    Say that your main crop is the forest
    that you did not plant,
    that you will not live to harvest.
    Say that the leaves are harvested
    when they have rotted into the mold.
    Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

    Put your faith in the two inches of humus
    that will build under the trees
    every thousand years.
    Listen to carrion – put your ear
    close, and hear the faint chattering
    of the songs that are to come.
    Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
    Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
    though you have considered all the facts.
    So long as women do not go cheap
    for power, please women more than men.
    Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
    a woman satisfied to bear a child?
    Will this disturb the sleep
    of a woman near to giving birth?

    Go with your love to the fields.
    Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
    in her lap. Swear allegiance
    to what is nighest your thoughts.
    As soon as the generals and the politicos
    can predict the motions of your mind,
    lose it. Leave it as a sign
    to mark the false trail, the way
    you didn’t go. Be like the fox
    who makes more tracks than necessary,
    some in the wrong direction.
    Practice resurrection.

    Practice Lent. Practice Love. Practice Life.



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