"What is your practice?" you may ask someone. Depending on who they are, they may give any one of a myriad of responses.
"Sixty pushups, then a five mile run, every morning."
"A pint of ice cream in front of the TV after work."
"Sundays at the park, on a blanket, with a book."
"Scales for an hour, then whatever symphony I'm currently learning."
"Kung fu on Mondays and Thursdays."
In Christian spirituality, practice is essential if we want to walk a constant path, if we desire to transform along the way. Spiritual practice is anything repeated in the life of a believer, in the effort to move along on the journey of knowing God.
It could be the prayer you speak as you walk into the kitchen in the morning.
It could be a time of meditation, daily, or weekly.
It could be lighting the candles with the family in the evening, singing a song of thanks.
There are things that spiritual practice on the Jesus path is not. Our actions can not change certain immutable realities about God. With my practice I don't bring him closer, manifest anything or create anything. With or without my input, God is scarily brilliant, burning with love, less changeable than gravity. He simply is what he is: incredibly creative being, made up of good and love and terrifying strength.
The bizarre part is that there is a connection between us and this incredible being. We enter his presence knowing that we are there because he desires it to be so. He desires the space and time to dwell with us, to be circling our hearts as we wait. His heart is touched by our focus. He loves us. Crazy.
Practice is not a manipulation of God, it is not an act of changing the course of the stars. So what is it?
To put it simply, spiritual practice is a way of tricking our hearts to throw open their windows, letting light into our inner cramped, stuffy spaces.
When you practise something, you show up. As you show up day after day and you do the same thing, hopefully in the same place, you make a new crinkle in your brain. Something begins to click. You sit and your mind says, "Oh! Is it this time again? Already? Well, okay," and you've made it a hundred times easier to meditate, or pray, or open your mouth and sing.
I think the first place I discovered this was in my writing life. I learned to sit in the same place at the same time every day. I sat down and I wrote, just started. Usually, good things came. Somethings stupid, boring things came. But sitting down in that specific place unlocked the little attic door where the writing part of me lives. Doing it every day made sitting down and writing less like climbing a mountain and more like opening a door and stepping onto the front porch.
Now I rarely ever go a day without writing at least a thousand words. The more I write, the more I am open to words, thoughts and sentences appearing to me throughout my day.
I learned it next with meditation. Cate built an amazing community space in Goa, where we first started practising Shekina meditation. Now, four years later, just sitting in that space, looking at the way the light hits the red floor, I have all these memories of what it means to meditate, to sit with God in silence, waiting for his gentle words. I am immediately ready for meditation, just by sitting down. It is practice. I have good days and stupid days, where I can't reign my thoughts in. But over time, the good days out number the stupid ones by far. And the more I meditate, the more likely I am to be aware of love surrounding me all day long, the more likely I am to feel the abiding wonder of God.
There are so many spiritual practices on the Jesus path. The practice of humility, of kindness, of thankfulness, of trust. The practice of prayer and of singing. The practice of beauty and of hospitality. They are practices because they do not come naturally, without thinking, unless we have become so accustomed to the practice that they are as easy as breathing.
We do it because our minds are wonderful and slippery, capable of holding far too much information and swamping us with random trivia when we desire to be silent, or in prayer. We have to find ways to harness all that energy, to quiet the senses and make silence possible in our lives.
It's like traveling down the same road, day after day, to get home. You drive almost without thinking, keeping your eyes out for skateboards and children, for turning cars, but not really considering your route. "Home" has become engraved on your brain. So years later, after you move across town, you may be driving home after a long day and realize, suddenly, that you're on that old road home, headed back toward the old house. Your long practice has not allowed you to forget it.
This is practice. Carefully tracing out the road toward home, then taking that road again and again.