In my studies, I have recently been reading about Christian practices, those ways that we live our faith. Christian practices include sacraments such as eucharist, baptism, unction (healing), and reconciliation (confession), but can also include other practices such as hospitality, testimony, sabbath-keeping, discernment, singing, bible study, caring for creation, daily prayer, serving the hungry and thirsty, visiting prisoners... The list is probably endless. A good primer on practices is Dorothy Bass’ Practicing Our Faith. Christian practices are ancient ways that Christians have intentionally ordered their lives in response to Jesus and the Gospel. Practices are informed by beliefs, but go deeper. They are a way of understanding faith that is more grounded in action, what we do regularly and intentionally to live our faith.
At their best, practices shape our lives and nourish our faith. At their best, practices help humanity and all of creation to flourish. At their best, practices are little inbreakings of the Kingdom of God. However, that is not the only possible outcome. Practices are not intrinsically good; they can even be misused and abused. I am currently reading a new book by the author (and fellow Episcopalian) Lauren Winner that powerfully demonstrates how the practice of eucharist in Europe in the Middle Ages led to violence against Jews, including murder, and how the practice of prayer was used to support slavery in the Antebellum South. Winner warns us that practices can be marred by sin, deforming our faith. That does not mean that we should throw up our arms and give up on practices, but rather that we need to be intentional, critical, and remain humble about them.
The transition from one year to the next is a common time for people to reflect on where they have been, and then to make some goals/resolutions to move forward. I would encourage you to take some time to do that with your practices of faith. What do you do to live your faith? What practices do you engage in currently? Once you have done that, honestly assess how those practices are working, and ask yourself in what ways that they might miss the mark and be marred by sin. Finally, take some time to see if there are some ways to heal, build up, or strengthen your current practices and what new practices might be added to help you, your faith, humanity, and all of creation to flourish.