So, just for fun, if I were to produce a DVD for Christian faith conditioning (not some generic spiritual conditioning, nor the conditioning that is the taking joy in what is, but very specifically conditioning in the Christian story), what have I got? What would I do? (Now please realize, this is half tongue firmly in cheek, half … well … tongue where it’s supposed to be, I guess!).
I’d start with an introduction. “Welcome to this time you’ve set aside for some intentional faith conditioning. You’ve taken the so very important step of realizing you need to devote consistent time and energy to exercising your faith story—that spiritual health in your faith tradition doesn’t just happen any more than physical health just happens. What a gift it is you give yourself. Find yourself a safe and quiet place where you can be undisturbed for a time, and wear soft, loose-fitting clothes. You might want to sit comfortably (don’t recline!); you might want to walk (if you choose to walk, locate yourself where you are not likely to encounter other people—particularly other people you might know). As you move through your faith conditioning, acknowledge the sights and sounds and thoughts that come to you, but do not hold on to them; do not allow them to hold on to you. Acknowledge them, and then let them go. And focus ….”
I would not, in this spoken introduction, include any of what I might identify as my credentials: any of my educational background, my experience, my sense of call (that might all be on the DVD cover). In the spoken introduction I’m simply someone on the same way as my listener(s). “It is my hope and my prayer that you will find that this commitment of your time invigorates the living story within you—refreshes your sense of the wellspring within.”
The side of me taking this seriously wonders about using music—perhaps incorporating familiar hymn tunes to go along with various parts of the workout—hymn tunes familiar enough to call lyrics to mind—subtly correlating the association of familiar lyrics with the specifics of the routine. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the tunes and lyrics that might come to your mind.
I. As with all conditioning, it’s important to begin with some warm-up exercises. Just as you want to get the blood flowing and the body focused for a time on itself, so, in our case, we want to get the spirit focused on the story it claims as source—as wellspring—the story by which spirit leads us to want to live—or, at least, to claim to want to live—to want to want to live!
So we begin reciting basic Scripture affirmations. Basic Scripture affirmations, not necessarily Scripture. We could certainly do worse than warm up with some familiar and beloved memory verses (I’m thinking the Lord’s Prayer or John 3:16, Psalm 23), but more basic than Scripture are the affirmations distilled from the core stories of Scripture: “God is grace. God is love. God created all that is (you too), and blessed it all (you too). You are created in the very image of God out of grace into love—God’s love initiating grace upon grace. You are claimed and blessed by God—named child and heir, and within the specifics of your living, God works to restore your brokenness—to free you from any oppression seeking to define you in limitation. God is redeeming the world (you too). God is with you—present to you. You are loved. You are so loved.”
We are centering our spirits, reminding ourselves of what we believe—reminders we need in face of the world as it is. A warm up gets the heart pumping—the blood flowing. As oxygen rich blood flows to every part of your body, so too, story-enriched blessing, prayer-sustained hope, faith-based assurance.
We close our warm-up with the doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” repeated several times. Yes, at face value, spoken unreflectively, uncritically, it is naive praise, but it’s appropriate for what we seek to accomplish in this warm-up—being reminded of and being focused on our faith affirmations.
We don’t stay with our warm-up. We actually could. Many do. It’s easy and carries the satisfying illusion of good exercise. But to strengthen the story alive within us, we must move on to resistance training—resistance training that faces the resistance of our world to our story—even as it disciplines our story as resistance to our world.