Out walking a few days ago, I passed by the fields at Mullen High School, our local Catholic parochial school. As has become apparent at a number of local practice fields, including Schaefer and Mullen, it is most definitely Lacrosse season*. The kids at Mullen were, mostly, standing around waiting for their coach to get back to them. But a small group had moved off to the side, and were practicing passing to one another and how they might recover from a drop.
It was a strange, smily moment for me, as I recalled the days of my youth playing basketball. I remembered just that moment at a practice when we would have a lull and would turn to shooting or passing drills – that sense of constant repetition, to burn into mind and body the actions and movements that make for a truly spectacular athlete.
And then I thought about the church.
What is it, I asked myself, that sets apart a truly exceptional Christian? How could we drill ourselves like these young students to become truly excellent at our faith. What would it mean, with three or four people standing around with nothing better to do, to practice Christianity together?
If you weren’t aware, the Catholics drill as hard at some parts of this as they rehearse their lacrosse players. But here are a few ways that you and your neighbors might try to stay in peak spiritual condition.
I mean, honestly, this one’s a bit of a no-brainer, but this is where the historical church really shone and where we’ve lost a bit of our edge. When was the last time, other than a worship service, that you recited the Lord’s Prayer? Do you pray before meals? Do you pray before sleep? What would it mean if, when you had a moment to take a break, you were to just start praying? Have you ever prayed a Protestant rosary (spiritual calisthenics if ever there were any)?
There are as many ways to pray as there are grains of sand on the shore – can you find a prayer discipline that speaks to your heart daily?
A few Sundays ago in worship, we recited a bit of the Heidelberg Catechism. If any of you learned as children and can now remember any part of your catechism, good for you! If you’ve never encountered a catechism before in your life, well – now’s as good a time as any! The catechism provides historical answers to questions that Christians have struggled with over the centuries, and can help ground your own thinking and exploration of God’s work in our lives. Try learning or memorizing one question and answer per day! I recommend the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Bonus: there is scholarship money available from the PC(USA) for students who memorize the catechism!
Both the easiest and hardest of spiritual exercises, the daily experience of compassion and kindness constantly brings us closer to God. Like Boy Scouts of old, we can go about our regular, daily lives prepared to be a help to our neighbors – unloading groceries, providing water to the thirsty, being a kind and caring voice to those in active distress…the list of ways that you can stretch your compassionate muscles is endless.
What am I missing in this brief list? How do you practice staying in spiritual shape?
*Honestly, it might have been field hockey. I’m not so great at telling.