What is a Christian Practice?
Excerpted from www.practicingourfaith.org.
“Christian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather, they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God." — Craig Dykstra
Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time to address fundamental human needs in light of and in response to God's grace to all creation through Christ Jesus. When we live the practices of Christian faith, we join together with one another, with Jesus and with the communion of saints across time and space in a way of life that resists death in all its forms - a way of life that is spilling over with the Life of God for creation, for our neighbors and for ourselves.
- involves us in God’s activities in the world and reflects God’s grace and love;
- is a complex set of acts, words and images that addresses one area of fundamental human need
- is learned with and from other people;
- comes to us from the past and will be shaped by us for the future;
- is thought-full; it implies certain beliefs about ourselves, our neighbors and God;
- is done within the church, in the public realm, in daily work and at home;
- shapes the people who participate in the practice, individually and communally;
- has good purposes, although it often becomes corruptive;
- comes to a focus in worship.
12 Christian Practices
Honoring the body
The practice of honoring the body is born of the confidence that our bodies are made in the image of God's own goodness. As the place where the divine presence dwells, our bodies are worthy of care and blessing and ought never to be degraded or exploited. It is through our daily bodily acts that we might live more fully into the sacredness of our bodies and the bodies of others.
The need for shelter is a fundamental human need. None of us ever knows for sure when we might be uprooted and cast on the mercy of others. But how do we overcome our fear in order to welcome and shelter a stranger? The Christian practice of hospitality is the practice of providing a space to take in a stranger. It also encompasses the skills of welcoming friends and family to our tables, to claim the joy of homecoming.
Good economic practice - positive ways of exchanging goods and services - is about the well-being, the livelihood, of the whole household. In the face of great economic and environmental challenges, the Christian practice of household economics calls on us to manage our private homes for the well-being and livelihood of the small planet home we all share.
Saying 'Yes' and saying 'No'
Tough decisions and persistent effort are required of those who seek lives that are whole and holy. If we are to grow in faithful living, we need to renounce the things that choke off the fullness of life that God intended for us, and we must follow through on our commitments to pray, to be conscientious and to be in mutually supportive relations with other faithful persons. These acts take self-discipline. We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and yes to a way of life that makes space for God.
"I'm so busy... I just don't have enough time to complete all my work." Do you need a break, but doubt you have time for it? What about those who don't have sufficient work to sustain themselves? The practice of keeping sabbath helps us to resist the tyranny of too much or too little work.
In testimony, people speak truthfully about what they have experienced and seen, offering it to the community for the edification of all. The practice of testimony requires that there be witnesses to testify and others to receive and evaluate their testimony. It is a deeply shared practice - one that is possible only in a community that recognizes that falsehood is strong, but that yearns nonetheless to know what is true and good.
Christians believe we are not alone in the midst of uncertain insights and conflicting impulses. Discernment is the intentional practice by which a community or an individual seeks, recognizes and intentionally takes part in the activity of God in concrete situations.
The shaping of communities is the practice by which we agree to be reliable personally and organizationally. This practice takes on life through roles and rituals, laws and agreements - indeed, through the whole assortment of shared commitments and institutional arrangements that order common life. In one sense, then, shaping communities is not just a single practice of its own. It is the practice that provides the choreography for all the other practices of a community or society.
The practice of forgiveness is not simply a one-time action or an isolated feeling or thought. Forgiveness involves us in a whole way of life that is shaped by an ever-deepening friendship with God and with other people. The central goal of this practice is to reconcile, to restore communion - with God, with one another and with the whole creation.
The practice of healing is a central part of the reconciling activity of God in the world. Healing events are daily signs of the divine mercy that is surging through the world and guiding it toward its final perfection. This is true whether they take place by the sharing of chicken soup, the performance of delicate surgery or the laying on of hands in a service of worship.
Death is a frightening prospect, for the specter of death destroys any illusion that we are in full control of our lives. How is it, then, that some people are able to die with the assurance that death is not the final word? In the Christian practice of dying well, Christian people do things with and for one another in response to God's strong love, translating into concrete acts our belief in the resurrection of Christ and of ourselves. Dying well embraces both lament and hope, and both a sense of divine judgment and an awareness of divine mercy.
Singing our lives
What we sing and how we sing reveals much of who we are, and entering into another's song and music making provides a gateway into their world, which might be much different from our own. Something is shared in singing that goes beyond the words alone. This something has taken shape over many centuries in a practice that expresses our deepest yearning and dearest joy: the practice of singing our lives to God.