some thoughts on christian practices

If we take note of and follow Jesus in what he did when he was not ministering or teaching, we will find ourselves led and enabled to behave as he did when he was ‘on the spot’.

If one is to take seriously the example of Jesus, one cannot neglect the fact that Jesus was regularly engaged in such spiritual practices as prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, practices which led into transformative, missional encounters with those in need. In order to remain in a posture of readiness from which the disciple can hear and respond to the call to follow Jesus, it is important to adopt these – and other – practices and habits which have been developed over time by those who have sought to reorient their lives according to the way of Jesus.

The challenge is that these practices are, in Brueggemann’s words, “not very exciting or immediately productive”; but, “like the acquiring of any new competence, [these practices] require such regimen, not unlike the learning of a new language by practicing the paradigm of verbs, not unlike the learning of piano by practicing the scales … not unlike every intentional habit that makes new dimensions of life possible.” Whereas Jesus’ spiritual practices, teachings and mission flowed out who he was and is as both truly human and truly divine, followers of Jesus, through the process of engaging in these practices, can “increasingly become on the inside exactly what we are on the outside, where actions and moods and attitudes visibly play over our body, alive in its social context.” In short, these practices, over time, “make following the master-teacher possible and sustainable.”

Discipleship “entails a) a resolve to follow a leader who himself has costly habits, b) in order to engage in disciplines that disentangle us from ways in which we are schooled and narcotized into new habits that break old vicious cycles among us, drawing us into intimacy with this calling God.

In order to follow Jesus, one cannot continue living in accordance with the status quo; tangible steps of obedience must be taken, and these steps are shaped by fundamental practices that develop within us a posture of readiness from which the call to follow Jesus can be answered. A link must be made, however, between more reflective and personal practices and those that Brueggemann refers to as “neighbor practices.” It is important to frame the importance of spiritual practices and habits as not solely individual endeavors for the sake of personal transformation; practices such as generosity, service, compassion and forgiveness are, according to Brueggemann, “profoundly countercultural in a society that is deeply lacking in the elemental ingredients of common humanness” and “amount to a deep challenge to dominant assumptions in our culture.”

As Stanley Hauerwas argues, “to become a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding, but rather to become part of a different community with a different set of practices.” For Hauerwas, to be able to take those first steps of obedience and to embody a way of living that runs counter to the dominant powers of the day “requires nothing less than an alternative story and society in which the self can find a home.” A follower of Jesus must be aware of the fact that discipleship involves active participation in the present realities of the world; the adoption of spiritual practices and habits must not be undertaken solely with a view to personal transformation, but rather with a keen sense of the call to embody a different way of living in the world within the context of community.

  1. June 7th, 2010

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