Recently, after I finished a workout with a yoga DVD I really like—the one that I do most regularly, I found myself wondering if it might be possible to come up with some kind of repeated faith conditioning routine … and then I got sidetracked and imagined me making a DVD of such workout and that DVD getting popular and me making a lot of money and— well, that just took me in a whole different direction!
Now let it be said up front, there’s a lot more than a little of such an idea that doesn’t sit well with me at all (the repeated faith conditioning routine part, not so much the me making a lot of money part). I don’t like the idea of something as dynamic as our faith feeling, in any way, like it could be reduced to a certain fixed, unchanging routine that would be beneficial and healthy repeated over and over again in time. And yet, those are the attributes of conditioning, are they not? … and of eating, come to think of it … with which experience repeated over and over again I have absolutely no trouble … or breathing … I never get bored of repeating either of those activities.
And never mind that no yoga workout (of the same DVD, mind you) ever feels the same. Different poses are challenging on different days. Different stretches. Can’t hold or even get into a position that was easy last time, and one that I absolutely could not manage last time is easy this time.
Paul, you may remember, used all those sports metaphors: “straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal …” (Philippians 3:12-14). “You were running well …” (Galatians 5:7). And I have thought before (and written before) about the parallels between working out our bodies (with all that gear, and muscles trembling) and working out our faith (with fear and trembling—Philippians 2:12).
So what, I’ve been wondering, if we’re to strain forward—press on—if we’re to run well (spiritually speaking—faithfully speaking)—what might constitute faith conditioning? In a sermon not too long ago, I explored the idea of routines of righteousness. Many of those were, in the context of that sermon, corporate (worship, Bible study, fellowship, service), and surely constitute some of our faith conditioning, but I dare say, for most of us, they constitute most of our faith conditioning.
Shouldn’t there be an individual dimension to that faith conditioning? We often make the claim that, in our culture, with regards to our faith, we tend to overemphasize the individual at the expense of the corporate—or the communal. But in conjunction with that, we simultaneously tend to think that any corporate religious activity completely fulfills our faith development needs and furthermore resent the implication that we should devote any more time to our faith.
What we mean by that (and I’m not trying to be cynical here)—what I think we mean by emphasizing the individual, is that individual means private which means (more often than not?) if no one knows, who cares—why bother? In team sports (which surely we would understand the church—the body of Christ, metaphorically speaking, to be), the individual conditioning of each team member is critical. So what can we as those seeking a strengthening faith do on our own? If it’s important to our health and well-being to work-out (physically) four times a week, what’s the spiritual equivalent? Surely nothing to ignore!
Not too long ago, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, a book of spiritual practices—focused on living mindfully. It affirms the good acceptance of what is—meeting God in the reality in which we live, and our culture certainly needs more practice at seeing the reality in which we live. It’s the gift of poets and prophets—the wonder, the beauty of the world—of other people, and of ourselves. But—but Scripture tells us the world is upside down—that as wonderful, beautiful, and even as transparent to God as it may be, creation nonetheless groans—awaiting redemption of which we, as the children of God, are to be a part (Romans 8:19, 22). So while scripture and the community of faith encourage the celebration of creation and self and relationship, they also remind us that we live in an upside world that needs to be turned rightside up—that just appreciating what is (even appreciating it as good gift of Creator) does not necessarily respect God’s wish and God’s ongoing work toward the redemption of which we’re to be a part.
E.B. White wrote, “When I wake up in the morning, I can’t decide whether to enjoy the world or improve the world; that makes it difficult to plan the day.” While I might choose the phrase “transforming the world” as the alternative to “enjoying the world” instead of “improving” it, more importantly, I would ask, why not both? Don’t we need to do both—every day? As important as it is, and as much as it has admittedly been neglected by the church, it’s not enough to be absorbed in the wonder and awe of creation. By all means, practice mindfulness (an open sensitivity to what is) but only along with practicing resurrection (our assurance that God’s story is always rewriting anyone’s attempt to take over that ever-unfolding story—even as it’s our own participation in God’s persistent rewriting).