A friend of mine took me cross country skiing this last week. It was my first time on cross country skis in well over ten years. I tried to watch him glide smoothly along and to mimic his movements, but the myriad of different tasks that were set before me sometimes boggled my consciousness and my mind. It seemed as if I could only catch the movements for several steps, and then those movements would fail me, transforming instead into a jumble of disorganized commands sent down my spinal column.
I thought to myself that cross country skiing, with its rhythmic motions, gentle gliding step, and the feeling of forever being on the ball of your foot, was a great deal like dancing the Argentinian Tango (not to imply that I have great experience with that art either). It reminded me of the poise, the posture required, and, above all, the ideal of grace that was set before me and the fumbling sensation that I had as I attempted to imitate that lofty ideal.
I think that most ideals are like that – quite lofty, very beautiful, graceful, majestic; and frustratingly unattainable without a great deal of practice, focus and deliberate attentiveness to detail. It isn’t just the training of one’s mind that’s at stake, but the training of one’s body, one’s rhythms, one’s own expectations. It is then, much like dancing. And as I staggered through the snow, listening to bird’s conversations about my odd motions and sudden frightened attempts to keep from falling on my face, I thought that spiritual disciplines are a great deal like both things.
Christ is revealed in subtlety a great many times. He is revealed in the inner workings of great practice, of focused attention and deliberate approach. We’re entering the season of epiphany, and I had my own short little epiphany on the trails just outside of Ironton: that the work of the Gospel in my heart is very much like learning to cross country ski – or any number of other skills that the world has to offer.
Drawing near to the Lord requires a measure of go-get-it-ness. Igniting the relationship is like saying yes to your friend who has offered to take you out somewhere. It’s not hard, and yet, it can be intimidating. Then, though, you actually have to follow through. Perhaps you said that you were going to spend ten minutes that evening in prayer, listening to some soft classical music, nestled onto your couch with a mug of hot something. It’s one thing to imagine the bold and pious image of what it means to pursue Christ…
Then you must pursue him. You must go to the couch. You have to make the tea. Or the coffee. You have to silence your busy-ness thoughts, you have to calm down your consciousness until there remains the space in our busy and noisy life to center upon the Lord.
In the same way, the Gospel confronts us and challenges us. It looks so simple: I am not who I am because of anything I have done and my merits are not conditioned upon my own performance, but rather upon One who has died and risen. And yet, to actually answer the nagging doubts that hide themselves in our chests and whisper immobilizing phrases in our ears is no small feat.
Whether it’s dancing, or cross country skiing, or praying, or simply preaching to yourself again the powerful truth of the Gospel – it requires a measure of deliberate intentionality and above all: practice.
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to covetousness.
Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things,
and revive me in your way.” – Ps. 119:33-37