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Spiritual discipline redux

September 21st, 2018 by Stephen Bauman

As most readers of this blog know, the mission statement of Christ Church is plain and simple: we seek to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. That’s it. That’s our fundamental organizing principlel. It’s so simple anyone can remember it.

Simple, I say, but not easy. That’s because love is a kind of work. It requires time, attention, thoughtfulness and effort, oftentimes, very great effort. To love well means intentionally establishing certain reinforcing habits. That’s the point behind practicing spiritual disciplines.

For instance: Why attend worship regularly? For one thing, it honors our very first commitment to love God above all things. Is attending a worship service the only, or even the most important way I love God? Well, maybe not. On the other hand, it seems a necessary recurrent practice that helps us keep a bead on the prize, or the point of it all. And it regularly places us in the company of an unlikely group of people who are also attempting to keep their eye on the prize. It never ceases to amaze who shows up on a Sunday, where they’re from, what they’ve been up to and why they think they’ve come.

This past week I received a message from an active member who was inspired by a NY Times article highlighting the character of Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner ever, who broke the world-record last Sunday with a time a hairsbreadth away from shattering the 2 hour barrier. He wrote, “Kipchoge is the type of person who says stuff like: ‘Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.’ And: ‘It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.’ And: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.’”

My friend, who did not grow up in a church-going family,added, “It really got me thinking about why I go to church (or do anything repeatedly for that matter) and it seems that all the little steps add up to something very meaningful at the end of the day…at some level you need to simply trust (or have faith)…” To which I responded, “That’s it! ‘we’ used to know that… it isn’t sexy, just really important—the heart of authentic spiritual/religious practice — a la, ‘remember the sabbath day to keep it holy etc.’”

Here’s the question of the moment given rapidly changing behavior patterns these days: what does it mean to show up? And I mean this question across the boards, as in, not just in terms of showing up for God in worship… But also, what does it mean to show up in marriage? In parenting? In friendship? In a life full to the brim of love and gratitude? In compassionate regard for others? In deeply caring about the common good? Each requires choosing the oftentimes more difficult, yet better way. And it’s about establishing disciplines in the manner Kipchoge suggests: “Only the disciplined ones in this life are free…it’s about the heart and the mind…”

I’m beginning to think the ubiquitous text, “sorry dude, can’t make it today,” may be the hallmark epigram for these first decades of the 21st century. A life with that response always, always at the ready is a life that will forever skirt along the surface of what it means to be a human being fully alive. Choosing to show up consistently may be the one essential necessity for anything that really matters to us, and the foundational requirement for imitating God’s love as demonstrated in the life of Jesus.

What does it mean to love well? First off, it means showing up…

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.