The idea of discipline, especially of practicing disciplines, is all tied up with Lent.
Fasting, what most people think about when they hear the word “Lent” (as in, “What are you giving up this year?”), is one of those disciplines. So are silence and solitude, not surprisingly. But so is service. And hospitality.
The purpose of these practices, in the simplest of understandings, is to remind us that we are not the center of the universe. What we have doesn’t really belong to us–not even our time, and certainly not our resources. When we get to open up our refrigerator and eat whatever we feel like, well, that should beget gratitude, not more hunger. A practice like fasting can help with that.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of “practice” a lot recently. In Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, a book I’m reading with some folks at church, Kate Braestrup recalls an interesting moment during a childhood piano lesson.
“Katie,” my piano teacher told me when I was about fourteen, “how you practice is how you play. It’s up to you. You can practice to play the piano. Or you can practice to not play the piano” (26).
You can practice to play. Or you can practice to not play. In context, Braestrup is writing about prayer as something we are either practicing to do or practicing to not do. That is, we aren’t choosing not to practice when we avoid doing something. How you practice is how you play. (J informed me that this is often said in sportscasting, by the way.)
So why bring this up at Texas Schmexas? Because you can apply the principle to community, of course.
You can practice community. You can build relationships, even when it’s hard, and give of yourself and your time, even when you don’t feel like you have time (or have any of yourself left to give). You can look around and listen and remember and respond. And you can love. This is hard and frustrating much of the time, quite frankly. It’s a discipline. It takes practice.
And then there’s the other option.
You can practice to not have community. It’s a practice, too. It’s hoping someone doesn’t see you at the grocery store, or refusing to have people over because you have a sink full of dirty dishes, or complaining to your friend about all of the things that drive you crazy or make life unfair. Maybe it’s reading a text message in the middle of a conversation. Or Facebooking instead of calling. Or not sending a meal to someone going through a tough time because someone else will do it. Or whatever else we do all the time that makes us the center of our individual universes. (See paragraph 3, but for the record, I like being the center of my universe.)
So you’re either practicing to be community or you’re practicing to not be community.
But you’re not just hanging out, indifferent, while you wonder where the community is.
How you practice is how you play.
Think about that for a few minutes. What have you been practicing recently to not do?