Last week, I had coffee with a neighbor of mine who is a devout Muslim. He was asking me questions about the faith of an Episcopalian. Mind you, I was talking to someone who practices his faith. He, just like most Muslims, prays five times a day at certain hours, he reads his sacred scripture frequently, attends services weekly, and gives away 20 percent of his income to charitable causes. I remember an Islamic (Christian) scholar once telling me, “everything you think about Muslim life is inaccurate.” My neighbor reminded me of these misconceptions in our conversation about his faith. When he asked about Episcopalians’ prayer life and what I knew about it, I told him most people tell me they pray when they are in the car or during a crisis, sometimes grace at meals and I know a few who actually get down on their knees before bed at night. When I finished my outline describing the practices of Episcopalians, I felt a dagger enter my heart when he observed: “Episcopalians seem to live like atheists.” 

Sometimes it is people outside of our faith that can give us the greatest insights into our own. You may remember some years ago when Rabbi Arnold Fink was on our staff after he retired from Beth El Hebrew Congregation. He mesmerized people in the Meade Room talking about Anglicans from the Jewish point of view. This neighbor of mine unveiled the same truths. He was speaking, of course, from the perspective of his faith that made clear and defining demands on his faith life, but left him wondering if Anglicans had a rich life of sacrifice, daily encounter with God, and the shape that brought to their faith. 

This year, during the season of Lent, we are exploring the use of Christian practices as guides for the deepening of your faith and commitment. They connect us to God and each other in vital and spiritually invigorating ways. There are many practices you can choose from, but the key to understanding whether they are contributing to your spiritual health and the flourishing of this congregation and all God’s people, is whether your practice of choice is demanding enough to reshape you spiritually. This is why Christian practices are best explored within classes or groups. Think, for instance, of the number of times you let a New Year’s resolution important to you and your life drift away like a snowflake in April. Exploration set within the guided meditations of a class with conversation and real life experiences has a way of creating the necessary Velcro for a practice to be really practiced and therefore integrated into your life. The other difference between New Year’s resolutions and Christian practices is resolutions usually focus on yourself whereas practices provide guidance and training for the flourishing of a community, indeed the whole human family.

The practices we are offering this year include service, caring for creation, honoring the body, prayer, and how we deal with money. Join me in learning to practice one this Lent.