Many people in my parish have a discipline of physical exercise. Some work out. Some walk treadmills or ride stationery bikes or use the elliptical. Some bike or walk outside. Some do yoga or swim. Some even train and run half-marathons. However, regardless of the discipline, all who do these things will probably agree that in order to achieve particular fitness goals, you must 1) set goals, 2) “show up” and 3) have an ordered discipline or practice in order to achieve the goals you’ve set.
The spiritual life is no different than a physical fitness regimen. In this season of Lent, many of us have set spiritual goals–either to do some fasting, or to be more mindful of what we eat, to eliminate fast food or sugar or alcohol from our diets, to do a book study, to pray more regularly, etc. Whatever you have chosen, you have likely realized, only a week from Ash Wednesday, how challenging a particular practice can be! We have spiritual muscles, just as we have physical muscles. Yet we forget that. We often believe that we can just make a decision to keep a Lenten spiritual discipline, then when we hit a snag (or slip), we realize that our spiritual muscles are really out of shape. While spiritual muscles don’t get sore in the same way that physical muscles do when we first begin a fitness regimen, our struggles remind us that we have much work to do before the discipline becomes more ingrained in us.
This Lent, I decided not only to read the Marcus Borg book Speaking Christian but to re-read Brian McLaren’s book from last Lent: Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. McLaren’s book has reminded me about different kinds of spiritual practices and how challenging they can be–yet how important it is to attend to them as Christians. In the beginning of the book, McLaren writes of introducing a well-known speaker and his question to the audience: “Why are books on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?” When a stunned McLaren turned the question back to the speaker, Dr. Senge’s response was: “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.”
McLaren then explores what it is like for Christians to practice our faith as a way of life rather than as a system of belief, adopting ancient practices like pilgrimage, fasting, holy meal, fixed hour prayer, tithing, Sabbath and liturgical seasons.
If you have not yet explored a Lenten discipline, it is not too late. Consider how you might limber up, and exercise, your own spiritual muscles. Perhaps it is as simple as being intentional about prayer before meals, prayer with your children at bedtime, taking 15 minutes of quiet every morning or evening. Many of our parishioners have found the rich resource of praying Compline every night before bedtime. That is in our Book of Common Prayer. Even when we don’t practice perfectly, the important part is to practice. Over time, our disciplines can become more of our lives, and can shape and form us in some wonderful ways.
NOTE: If you would like to use Lent to get to know some saints, you should get in on LENT MADNESS. Every day during Lent, two saints in the Church are featured, with biographical info. Every day, you can vote for your choice. The final winner will get “the golden halo.” Go to http://www.lentmadness.org/ and check it out!