Spiritual Muscle Memory

I have a tendency to share my opinion, even when it is not solicited. Telling someone else what I think when that person didn’t really want to know rarely affects the person or the situation, at least in ways I intended.

However, I’m struggling with a larger question. When do I speak out because what is in front of me is wrong (again, in my opinion)? When are there principles to uphold and when is it just my opinion? When am I complicit with the status quo by not saying or doing anything? And speaking of doing, is action always better than words or are both needed?

In a recent chapel, the speaker was a young graduate of our university. She had been a quite successful wrestler, an unexpected sport, and the title of her sermon was “Wrestling with Faith.” I appreciated her new perspective of a spiritual muscle memory that practicing our faith engenders and her timeworn reflection of the call to radical Christianity. She concluded with a poem by Wendell Berry as a prayer, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. The words of the poem challenge me to consider how I develop a spiritual muscle memory from both quotidian and radical perspectives.

This is only a portion of Berry’s poem (it deserves reading the whole here):

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
… Ask the questions that have no answers.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Practice resurrection.

I have no answer, really, for the questions I’m posing. Practicing is a process of showing up in fullness, not of always getting it right. And prayer might be a place of practice, where I will develop that spiritual muscle memory that the wise young lady wrestler considered.

Heidi De Jonge, whose blog I read recently, wrestles with a similar dilemma. Speaking of the “places” of prayer, she describes a place where paradox pervades understanding.

 … when one strong value in my life bumps up against another, this is the place of prayer. For example, when my commitment and desire to DO THE HARD THINGS bumps up against my commitment and desire to PARTICIPATE IN THE ABUNDANT LIFE OF JESUS and it just doesn’t seem like I can live into both of these values… this is the place of prayer.                        The Place of Prayer, THE TWELVE

One of my challenges, in my academic position, is to “find a right relation to institutions with which I have a lifelong lover’s quarrel” as Parker Palmer contends. I have a complex and sometimes contentious relationship with school. Words are difficult to come by that make sense of the passion I have for what could be or perceive should be that bumps up against the de-humanizing practices I interpret as I observe and experience school. Are even these kinds of dilemmas places of prayer? Yes.

So I will continue to wrestle with my strong ideas (aka opinions) that crash against my desire to practice resurrection, to find the grace of God that surpasses knowledge.

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