by John Espy
This week at VHUMC we began a series on the book, Practicing our Faith edited by Dorothy C. Bass.
What does it mean to practice our faith? If we consider “practice” as a customary activity, it is (generally speaking) our practice to eat three meals a day; it is a practice for (most?, some?, a few?) Christians to go to church on Sunday. If we consider “practice” as a means of learning and developing a skill, one must practice playing the piano in order to develop a proficiency in playing the piano. A person must practice swimming in order to learn how to — and develop a skill in — swimming. Should we be learning and developing skills in faith? Are there activities of faith that we should be performing as a regular custom?
Customary activities — routines — structure our lives and to a large extent define who we are. The specifics vary from person to person but generally speaking we do something like: get up in the morning, shower, break our fast, brush our teeth, go to work or school, follow a schedule or perform activities as expected, come home, eat dinner, watch TV or read a book, go to bed, rinse and repeat five days a week. On Saturday we sleep in, run errands we don’t have time for during the week, clean house, mow the lawn, etc. On Sunday we get up, go to church, go home and continue with Saturday errands.
After a while these activities become so engrained that we perform them by rote without giving them much thought. For many of us who still go to church on Sunday listening to a sermon about hospitality or the importance of prayer or of sabbath, singing a few familiar songs, is the extent of our faith practice and we don’t give it much more thought. That’s sort of like reading books or listening to lectures on swimming but never getting in the water. What is the value of our faith if we never get in the water? Practicing our faith is where the rubber meets the road. If we were to actually practice our faith — make it part of our customary activities — it will have a profound influence on how we structure our lives and how we understand who we are.
This brings us to the learning and development of faith skills. What are faith skills? The book focuses in a variety of activities: honoring the body, hospitality, keeping sabbath, discernment and several others. Each of those activities entails the development of a variety of skills but the underlying skills that these activities hone are love, empathy and compassion. They are about loving and honoring God, ourselves and our neighbors.
Practicing our faith is about living the golden rule; not just talking about it but actually living it. As we practice our faith it becomes more than just another activity that drains our energy but becomes a source of energy that sustains us as we connect more deeply with our neighbors, with ourselves and with God.