We practice because we value a skill and we want to do it more efficiently or smoothly. We repeat something over and over so that it becomes second nature. Once the mind and body can internalize the lesson, it becomes a reflex. By repeating a task, it becomes not just familiar but owned.
So how does practice relate to spiritual growth?
I recently had the opportunity to visit Iona off the west coast of Scotland. This island is a pilgrimage site for many faithful who wish to see where St. Columba arrived from Ireland in 563 to share the good news of Christianity.
I had time to walk the tiny island and take in the natural beauty of pristine beaches and verdant fields that were dotted with sheep. As I read the historic markers and toured the little museums, I considered the lives of those who were faithful in past centuries-- their courage, their persecution, their witness, and their persistence.
And, I had the privilege to stay in the Abbey with an ecumenical community that is committed to the practice of faith. In fact, their mission statement names this as an aspiration:
- The Iona Community is an international, ecumenical Christian movement working for justice and peace, the rebuilding of community, and the renewal of worship.
- The Community is convinced that the inclusive community it seeks must be embodied in the community it practices.
This attitude of inclusion is evident in the way that the paid staff, the volunteers, and guests form a team of equals on a first name basis. Everyone participates in some way and each contribution is valued. The community shares in tasks that benefit the whole-- whether it is lighting candles in the Abbey church, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, or doing light housekeeping in the halls.
The practice of forming a welcoming community extends to worship which frames each day at 9 am and 9 PM. Staff may arrive wearing work aprons and community visitors and tourists show up in hiking boots and rain gear. Leadership is shared by all: you might just as easily find one of the housekeepers as an ordained clergy person standing at the lectern. Guests are invited to ring the bell to call people to gather, read scripture, or serve communion.
Congregational singing is a hallmark of Iona. In order to help congregants participate fully, the music leader takes a few minutes to teach the tunes before every service. Simple songs are lined out by hand using a call and response method. Their belief is that everyone has a voice to share and that singing is an important way to pray and glorify God.
Services are simple and informal, yet they are prepared with great attention and care in order to create a sacred encounter with the Holy Spirit. The “cloud of witnesses” is present and powerful in the high stone walls of the Abbey.
My trip to Iona was a wonderful week to enjoy a balance of routines-- both praise and service, quiet and conversation, rest and action. I was grateful to participate in this vibrant community that practices worship and hospitality with such intentionality.
Prayer: Loving God, help me to practice my faith so that my spiritual muscles are stronger and more nimble. Let me create routines of prayer and praise so that kindness and generosity are my natural reflexes.
Wild Goose Publications and music of Jon Bell
Debby Kirk serves as leader of the staff team that provides resources for the work of nurturing disciples of all ages in the local church. Her area of focus is youth ministry. Contact her for: Faith Formation Communities of Practice Confirmation ...