It’s all Margaret’s fault.
Margaret Guenther, that is.
I am seeing summer in a whole new light as a time to practice. Summer is a time for practice and for failure. To practice prayer and to practice Sabbath. To practice paying attention and practice nothing more than resting in the goodness of the God-given day. God knows we need practice.
This notion of how much we need practice comes to the forefront in her opening chapter of the book we’re reading for the Thursday night group, The Practice of Prayer. We do need to practice. We need practice, as in actually praying. This notion of practice implies regularity, consistency, and fluency. The other notion of practice is one that we tend to leave behind with childhood: practice that is about trying. And learning. And failing. This kind of practice is something we also need to do. A lot.
Perhaps you will join in the practice of prayer this summer. Perhaps there are other spiritual practices that beckon you to practice? Invite you to genuinely risk failing? And failing regularly. Not the failure that comes when we simply don’t do what we intended, but the failure that comes when we do what we intended – and make a mess of it. Is there any spiritual practice that you desire enough to fail at it?
That’s the question we need to ask ourselves, isn’t it? How much am I willing to fail? At anything, much less anything that seems to matter. Seems to me that none of us “like” to fail. Some of us hate it so much that we refuse to try anything at which we might fail. Others of us are so used to failure that we can no longer imagine success – we, too, give up practicing. It seems to me that our faith has something to say about both.
When we only do what we excel at, we are in control. We are busy being busy. God can’t get a word in edgewise. Perhaps even more risky is that when we stay in our competence, we fool ourselves into believing we’re self-sufficient. We have no need of a savior, right? We are good. We are godly. We are just-right, thank you very much. Putting ourselves in situations where we might fail pushes us out of complacency and into companionship, perhaps even discipleship.
It seems to me that summer is a great time for both practice and failure. Think with me about this.
Practice coming to worship at Grace in the summer. What’s that you say? Sunday is your only time to relax? Then, perhaps, another practice that could be introduced into your life is daily Sabbath: daily relaxation. Don’t wait until you’re starving for quiet and relaxation, practice a little bit each day. Don’t expect Sunday morning to fill you up with sufficient relaxation to last the entire week. Practice daily relaxation and practice weekly worship. It’s a different kind of relaxation: a pause in the everyday that could actually equip you to meet the demands of your life more than lingering over one more cup of coffee and the Sunday funnies. When it doesn’t, we will keep practicing together until it does.
Practice serving others. What’s that you say? “I don’t know them.” “I’m afraid.” “I’m shy.” “I’m too busy.” It’s all true, of course. Serving others for many of us is scary, boundary-pushing, unknown, and a distraction from our to-do list. Serving others when we don’t know how could lead us to epic failures and uncomfortable judgments. That’s a good thing. Failure builds compassion. Most of us could use a little fine-tuning of our ability to be compassionate and engaged with the stranger.
Practice inviting someone to church. Practice bringing someone to church. What’s that? They might say ‘no’? I might feel stupid? I don’t know who to invite or what to say? All these failures are okay. They are the risks we take to be in relationship. We won’t die if someone says “no thanks” (even if it feels like we might). And, it is just possible that someone might say “yes – I thought you’d never ask.” We all yearn to be invited. We all need to know that we ourselves matter enough for someone else to risk rejection to invite our company.
Practice spiritual reading. What’s that? You don’t know what to read or where to begin? You already have too many books waiting for you? Check out Grace’s library. Pick something up. Be random (choose a cover you like, or a book that is comfortable to hold, or one that is at eye level). Give it a try. Practice another kind of reading – practice reading a paragraph or two and resting with those thoughts for a day. Practice writing or drawing in response. Practice reading something that you don’t understand at first. If the book doesn’t grab you, practice putting it back unfinished and trying again.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. (BCP, page 831)
See you in church!