Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Shifting Practice

I was reading an article the other day about the local footballers, the ones with the incredibly racist team name and, let’s face it, a long history of racist practices as well. The article concerned the team’s practice habits – not the practices of racism, mind you, but the football practices.
I was struck by the routine the author noted, the deeply ingrained habits of off days and on days, of full workout days and study days. I wondered if, given the teams glaring lack of success over the past decade, those routines ever change. If we are what we practice it stands to reason that if a team constantly loses in games then perhaps there is something suspect in its practice habits.
Oh, to be sure, there’s a lot that goes in to making a team – any team in any game, including work teams and worship teams – successful or not. If you have the wrong players on the team then no amount of practice, no matter how perfect, will perfect the team. Moreover, in every game – from football to politics, from work to worship, from the basketball court to the courtroom – random chance and dumb luck loom large.
Practice, then, amounts to a consistent effort to control the things you can control.
What happens when you change practices?
Years ago I was in the regular practice of beginning my day with a reading that was e-mailed to me courtesy of the Bruderhof community. I can’t recall what they named the daily message, but it consisted of a paragraph or so from some text that arose along the fault lines between spiritual practice and political engagement. I came to enjoy the readings and found their provocations an excellent way to begin my day. They became my morning prayer time.
Then the Bruderhof stopped publishing the service. I cast about for another morning prayer practice. I tried the daily lectionary for a while. Having followed it for a long while years ago I anticipated that it would be a good opening for morning prayer, but found that it simply was not speaking a word to me. I discovered the daily e-blast from Sojourners about then, but their afternoon schedule just didn’t work for my morning practice.
(Even as I write that I realize also that some frustrations in the working relationship between Christian Peace Witness and Sojourners no doubt left me a bit closed to what Sojo was sending out, too. Acknowledging that much also prompts the recognition that some folks cannot stand the Bruderhof community and consider it a cult. My own, extremely limited, contact with them in Pennsylvania years ago, on the other hand, was friendly and positive, so I received their daily e-mails with no internal strings attached.)
I tried on various other practices and none of them fit, so I stopped looking.
Somewhere along the way, without thinking about it as a spiritual practice, I discovered that Garrison Keillor would send me a poem every morning. OK, it’s not really Mr. Keillor I’m sure, but whatever. Back about the same time that the Bruderhof was sending me e-mails Mr. Keillor woke me up most mornings with a poem on the radio. Then the station switched formats and when another local public radio station picked up the Writers Almanac they broadcast it at some ungodly early hour when no one should be listening to poetry – or, at least not this someone.
So I was familiar with the almanac and was delighted to discover that I could get it e-mailed to me. Over the course of the past year it has become my practice to begin almost every day with a poem. Some of the poems are complex and provocative. Others are incredibly sad. Some are silly and playful. Some are political and some overtly religious.
But whether playful or profound, all of them are spiritual. That is to say, each of them touches something in my spirit if I am open to being touched on the given morning.
The poem this morning, Changing Genres by Dean Young, prompted all of this with its simple opening line: I was satisfied with haiku until I met you.
Practice shapes us. Changing practices changes the shape of us. I do not know how the new form of practice is reforming me. I do know that I was satisfied with praying in prose until I started receiving a daily dose of poetry.

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