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December 1, 2009

Life is worth practicing, a friend of mine recently wrote. Practice has its roots in a Greek word, praxis, which refers to an action that is taken in order to reach a goal.

For centuries, Christian practice has involved regula, which is Latin for "rule". I prefer to think of regula as a railing, something to hold onto as one ventures toward a goal. In recent years, I have found more and more need for a railing -- because of the steep slopes that fall away from it. On one side of the railing is the slope of distraction. And the distractions are increasing. It is estimated that a person living in the US receives an average of 1,000 electronic messages a day -- telling us that our hair needs to be a different color, that our bodies need to have a different shape, that we need to know and buy and do different things. These messages are constant and consistent -- and after awhile we wear down and are tempted to believe them.

On the other side of the railing is the slope of temptation -- the temptation to think that we don't need God. That we have enough energy and wisdom -- and electronic devices of our own, to get us through life.

Besides, God is busy. There is the economy and Afghanistan and tragedy for God to worry about. We are led to think that we can get by on our own.

I have found that the railing of practice is a much needed anchor to the distractions and temptations that we face. Life, as my friend has said, is worth practicing.


Love the image of railing or guidepost... reminds me that I'm a spiritual hiker and that there is a trail that has been blazed by our ancestors. I'm reminded, however, that there is always work to be done to maintain a trail. Landscapes change over time and the trail needs occasional new markers, railings, even detours whenever a boulder gets in the way or erosion takes it's toll. That is the challenge, I think... doing our part to keep the path open. Seems like John the Baptist said something about that, didn't he?

My morning practice of prayer can be filled with distractions (“Is that a train whistle I’m hearing? Shouldn’t I be leaving?”) and temptations (“God get me through this day/problem/mess and I won’t ever need you again”). It becomes one more thing to check off the list as I start my day. I find myself clinging to the railing obsessively holding on to the ritual instead of letting the Spirit be my guide. Joan Chittister’s interpretation of Benedictine spirituality has the potential to redefine prayer for me. It suggests communicating with God through prayer that is more like mutual dialogue than a plea for help. It is not a time for me to tell God what I need, but rather to listen to what God needs me to do. And if God is not too busy to listen, can I be? Listening means being open to change and to going where the Spirit guides you. We don’t hold onto the railing to stay in one place.

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