Advent conspiracy 14: spiritual practising…

Before you correct my spelling (I am dyslexic after all) I did mean to spell practising with an ‘s’ rather than a ‘c’.

This side of the Atlantic there is a difference, in that ‘practice’ (noun) is a naming word, whereas ‘practise’ (verb) is a doing word. The distinction is very important when applied to spirituality I think. Too often we have named our doctrines – written them in gold ink – and mistaken this for the hard work of practising the adventure of faith, in all its fumbling uncertainty and ephemeral transcendence.

As I consider my own experience of this kind of practise, I have to acknowledge that I have spent too long ‘practicing’, as if for an exam that I have under prepared for. I have been too concerned with getting things ‘right’, forgetting that most spiritual journeys are advanced more reliably by getting things wrong – by failure and falling flat on our faces.

We practise not to get things perfect, but in order to stumble towards grace.

As ever, Richard Rohr puts it better (from ‘Falling upward‘.)

I was reminded of the business of practising again during a conversation with Steve Broadway (a name you will recognise as one of the contributors to this ‘conspiracy’.) I was asking him if he saw his remarkable artistic practise as a ‘spiritual’. After all, it is a daily meditative experience, involving something I can perhaps best describe only in poetry.

Incense scent of shaved pencil

Scratch of point on paper

Trace the turn of heel

Whilst hardly looking

Steve was characteristicaly modest, as if unaware of the rarity of his gift and uncomfortable with promoting his ‘scribblings’ as anything as grand as spiritual discipline, but I think that is exactly what they are.

For him, it is the pause, the looking deeper, the vitilisation, the tingle of connection to the undefinable beyond, the moments ‘in the flow’. It is a different way of looking – at small things, with love.

It has nothing to do with practice, because to label it, to try to contain it within doctrinew would be too pompous and self consciously ‘religious’. It is not seeking to make converts -even of its own adherants – rather it is the grounding of being on something both beautiful and broken.

(I have tried to describe the relationship between spirituality and creativity before, using the term theopoetics. If this idea is of interest you can read a bit about it here.)

Lest you start to think about this kind of pracise as requiring talent of the kind displayed by Steve, let me say that this is not my point at all. I feel strongly that this kind of pracise is hyper ordinary, not extra-ordinary. It is a gift of attention, not an attention placed on giftedness.

Here in post-modern, post-pandemic, post-religious UK, I think we are experiencing something of an unfolding crisis of identity. We cast around for some anchor for our sense of being; some kind of over-arching narrative to give shape and sense to our lives. Into this vacuum, some call us towards patriotism and nationalism. Others invest themselves in sport or the pursuit of unique experience. We all buy in to the dream of aspirational ownership of consumer ideals.

None of these things are necessarily ‘bad’, but many of us still feel them to be hollow, empty of something we find almost impossible to describe.

Is this not the very reason why we turn again to mark the season of advent? Or I could say, why we practise our advent?

We all have at least one more journey in us. One more trip into the unknown, using what we have to try to connect with something we sense but can never fully know.

The best we have, my friends, is within those moments when we stop and look deeper, using whichever tools we have – pencil, guitar, knitting needles, camera, or simply…


May yours be full of grace and wonder.

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