In my post on Goal-Setting, I mentioned that the major theme that emerged for me in my goal-setting for 2019 was the desire to focus my time and energy. One of the consequences of that is that I will be ending my weekly explorations of sacred practices in order to focus my attention on a few core practices. The ‘Sacred Practices’ posts have been a fun experiment that brought me a lot of joy and insight: I was introduced to different practices and shades of practice from different traditions and perspectives, and it was wonderful. But as good as that season was, I’m entering a new season and feel happy to let that go now. (It’s sort of like that feeling I get every year towards the end of Summer when, despite the heat and humidity, something deep inside of me yearns to eat stew and dress in layers.)
I already did a half-year reflection of this exercise, which has a lot to say about the nature of sacred practices and the life of faith, so I don’t want to rehash all that (though I encourage you to read it). But I would like to talk a bit about my main take-away from the past year. What this year reinforced for me was that the main reason we practice sacred disciplines, rites, and rituals is to train us to experience all of our life as sacred. They are all signs that point us to the reality that the ultimate sacred practice is the doing of life itself. As I wrote in that half-year reflection:
“[T]he more of life I experience, the more I see that all of creation and every moment is a burning bush, a vessel for knowledge of and communion with God, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.”
Individual practices — be they of sacred reading, prayer, meditation, service, or intentional living — help us cultivate those seeing eyes and listening years; they “tune our senses to the frequencies of the divine life,” as I wrote in July. And the more we can tune into that frequency, the more clearly we hear God’s voice singing that ancient but ever-new hymn of creation and redemption that moulds us, fashions us, and refashions us into God’s likeness. When we tune in clearly to that song, every sip of our morning coffee becomes an opportunity for gratitude, every sunrise an opportunity for awe and wonder, every moment stuck in traffic an opportunity for patience; every disagreement an opportunity for communion. Only a rare few actually experience that level of clarity, but all of us can tune in enough to at least hear the music through the static. And when we do, we’ll find that we can’t help but start singing along.
Religious faith is fundamentally about transformation. As a Christian, I believe that that transformation involves looking more and more like Jesus, in thought, word, and deed — by what I do and by what I leave undone; to love God with my whole heart and to love my neighbour as myself.
This is more challenging that we’d often like to think. It’s all well and good to think of this in terms of inner transformation; but, inner transformation will always manifest itself in outward expression. (Always.) And this is where it gets hard.
The Gospel reading assigned for this morning offers a window into what that outward expression looks like. In this reading, Jesus addresses the synagogue in his hometown and he declares himself to be the fulfillment of the following passage from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach good news to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
(Lk 4.18f, citing Isa 61.1-3)
If this is the heart of God as expressed in Jesus — that song of creation and re-creation — and if I am to be transformed to be more and more like Jesus, then this needs to be my heart too: To have good news for the poor, to offer healing to the brokenhearted, to free captives and all who are oppressed. This is a radical message, and a challenging one. How to do this in a culture that works hard to be good news for the rich, that anaesthetizes the brokenhearted with food, drink, drugs, shopping, and sex, and is happy to offer apologies to the oppressed provided the relationship of oppression doesn’t change? To be honest, I don’t know. But I, like you, am on the journey to find out, one step at a time, seeking in my practice as in all of my life to tune into God’s message more and more clearly, and trusting that the one who calls me to this transformation is merciful, loving, and trustworthy.
Thank you for walking with me in this year of exploring sacred practices. It has been a lot of fun. And I look forward to continue walking with you in different ways in the coming year. May God richly bless you this year, and bless your practice. Amen.