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Belief and Practice

April 30, 2007

For all of my theological musings of late, I’m finding myself even more drawn to something that I have long struggled to describe, but over which I have hung the provisional and oft-misleading sign ‘spiritual formation’. By which, I mean the pursuit of actual application of experience with God and God’s perspective to the everyday lives of those who seek to live in the way of Jesus. The kind of rubber-meets-the-road intersection of belief and practice whereby I would find myself progressively obtaining more of what I yearn for: patience, kindness, gentleness, love, patience, compassion, simplicity, freedom, strength/weakness, and patience.

A bunch of folks from our church recently spent a few Sunday evenings attempting to head toward such a destination, and making some real progress. We got to know one another in a deeper way by telling the story of our lives, and trying to see the ways in which God was trying to live out his hopes and dreams through us. Since then, I’ve been having some really good conversations about where we might go from here, and have been getting the tiniest bit of clarity as I go. The main realization being, I personally think that the only way to experience change is to pursue practices, rather than ideas.

I’m sure that this is one of those epiphanies that I should have had long ago. I’m sure it’s something I read somewhere (or, more likely, in many places), and that I’ve experienced time and again. It’s just that I hadn’t seen it so clearly as I did when I heard it come out of my own mouth. So, ironically, I’ve got the right idea about this (I think), but I’m still looking for just what these right practices might be.

I was thumbing through a religious magazine this morning, and was struck by something. As I looked at the photos and read the captions, I saw a clear theme: in several places, the captions were describing growth in ‘spiritual’ matters, but the photos depicted individuals quietly sitting at tables with no less than four books open in front of them. And I wondered, should we expect that to change anything, really? Are we supposed to be so isolated? Is the goal of spiritual formation the assemblage of ideas and beliefs and good thoughts? Or are both the process and product of spirituality some kind of practices?

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