Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's a Chariot of Fire

"You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?" is a common-enough phrase, often directed at folks who's actions seem a bit shy of the ideal that their speech suggests. I heard it most often when I from fans of a (winning) basketball team who felt that the "smack-talking" of their opponents didn't match their playing capabilities. I've heard it somewhat less-often directed at those pundits who demand that followers engage in some sacrificial act that they (the pundits) themselves won't do. The concept of deeds and motives being consistent with one another is something we expect; "hypocrisy" is the phrase we often use when we see the inconsistency.

I was challenged earlier this week to think about the reciprocal nature of deeds, or practices, and the spiritual life. I was attending a conference that had, as part of the agenda, a speaker who was encouraging the attendees to look at their spiritual practices. She correctly pointed out (at least to me) that most of equate "spiritual practices" with things like worship, prayer, daily rituals, silence, retreats, fasting, etc. And she pointed out that, in her experience, many people with whom she works don't feel that they "pray enough" or "worship enough" -- that is, that their spiritual lives are somehow deficient.

She then asked us to pair up and talk about those things in our lives that make us feel fully alive, or make us feel like we are close to the Divine. The answers that arose to that prompt were all over the map: "cooking", "gardening", "knitting", "cycling", "hiking", "listening", "bird-watching", "baking." And, of course, as we started sharing those favorite, life-giving, practices, it became clear that the speaker's agenda was to get us to consider that these endeavors themselves are spiritual practices. We simply need to change our perspective.

And I was reminded of the movie -- now 30 years old -- "Chariots of Fire". It is the story of two runners: one, Eric Liddell, a Christian who runs for the glory of God, and the other, Harold Abrams, a Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. In the course of the film Liddell tells his sister "I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure." Running became "prayer" for Liddell, and he understood his passion in that light.

I've returned home from that conference with a new perspective on some of my passions, such as cooking and, of course, cycling. Are they solely about physical health, or to attain some endorphin-related sense of well-being? Or are they equally spiritual practices? I suspect the answer is "either or both". The key is my intentionality.

But when I get on my bike this weekend, it may become more than a two-wheeled conveyance, or means to anaerobic "bliss". Perhaps it will become a chariot of fire.



1 comment:

  1. This point is often repeated to me by my fellow practitioners of Nichiren's Buddhism. I removed myself from most activities since January in order to more fully dedicate myself to graduating this year. Upon my return this last Sunday I was told by numerous members that it's all a part of the Buddhist practice. Everyday life is not outside Buddhism, and our spiritual routine. It's nice to hear other faiths tapping into that line of thinking.