by Julia Seymour–

It has been said that one needs 10,000 hours of practice to truly develop a skill and be considered an expert in one’s field. Let’s say that we don’t need to be faith experts, but we want to be proficient at demonstrating our faith traditions and talking about the shape of our trust in God. Perhaps 5,000 hours is enough for that.

If we attend weekly worship 50 times each year, for an average of an hour a service, we will have acquired 50 hours of practice. Let’s say we attend five to ten other services a year, about an hour apiece, and we will round up to 60 hours in worship every year. At that rate, we will be “proficient” at worship at the age of 83.

Consider that in any given year, we will say the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed about 60 times, slightly more than once a week. We may sing some hymns more than once, but others will rarely be in use. The Scriptures in the lectionary (a three-year rotation of selected readings that many congregations follow) will mostly only occur once each. There are a few exceptions, of course, including Psalm 23, certain festival texts and John 1.

THE MARK

While faith certainly can be practiced in settings outside of worship, and none of the things listed above specififically define our faith, the ability to recognize, recite and draw on them for strength is important for the sake of a faith-filled life. “Practice” is most often associated with sports and music. New Testament Greek offers us the word hamartia (ha-MAR-tee-uh), an archery term used for “missing the mark.” In Scripture, hamartia is the word that we often translate into English as “sin.” Thus, to sin is to miss the mark.

In order to reduce our hamartia, we practice and develop the muscles of faithful living. Missing the mark often hurts others and the world that God has made, so improving our spiritual aim is essential. Considering this also brings us to the amount of time we spend with others in our faith communities, as well as our individual devotional work, which hones our trust in our Creator.

Archery requires equipment maintenance, aiming, physical strength, patience and repetition. In order to be a successful archer, whether for hunting or target shooting, one must know how to check arrows for straightness and soundness. Bow tension must be tested. Quivers must be prepared. One’s bow arm must be in good shape and steady, as well as the arm that draws back the arrow. Hunting and safety regulations must be familiar. Repetition in all these things, through practice, creates both habit and ritual.

Anyone who has spent time around very young children knows about repetition. As a parent, I often feel I could be replaced by an electronic recording of certain phrases: “Please don’t touch people who don’t want to be touched.” “No means no.” “Where do shoes belong?” “Have you done your job?” “Are you helping or hurting?” “Softer voice inside, please.” In order to reduce missing the mark in instructing our children, we repeat, ad nauseum, the lessons we hope for them to learn. We check the arrows, string the bows, and aim—again and again—in an effort to help our children become proficient at striking the bullseye of social, emotional, psychological,

THE “WHATS” AND THE “WHYS”

Since our physical time in church is limited, we must put extra energy into developing the muscle memories of faith practice in community. Just as the practiced archer stretches back an arm toward her quiver without thinking, we want habits of worship to be automatic and meaningful. For this to occur, we must first break down the shape of our rituals so that understanding forms. For children, indeed for most of us, all “whats” need “whys.”

The archer no longer thinks about the “what” of her arm movement to grasp a new arrow because she has already come to understand the “why.” A quiver keeps the arrows in their true shape, handy for reaching and convenient for carrying. She knows the why, and so the habit takes shape.

What do we want our children to do? When you approach the pastor for communion, make a little open boat with your hands. Your side-by-side hands or cupped palm make a manger for the body of Christ, the bread, to lie in as the pastor tells you that this is for you. If we understand why we extend our hands to receive the bread, it makes the “what” easier. This means that when we come to communion,
at best, we are thinking about the manger where the infant Jesus, God in the flesh, was laid. We are holding the truth that this was for us and for all people.

We are aware that we do not grasp Christ for ourselves, but that his body and blood are given to us by grace—not by our own reaching or clasping.

What seems like a simple act of receiving a bite of bread is actually a deeply powerful act, enriched by the symbolism and teaching of our faith tradition. Even if you attend a church where the bread is passed around in a loaf or on a tray, we still know what to do as we receive it. There are “whys” associated with all our community practices. If we remind our children of the “whys,” the “whats” sink in more and more deeply.

Why do we say these words? Because this is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, and we are disciples too, so we pray with his words.

Why do we stand up so much? Standing up on our feet or sitting up straight in our seat is a way to honor the words of the Bible or the hymn or the prayers. When we say, “Peace be with you,” why do we shake hands with people? Because it shows our love for them. We are helping people see that we want to be at peace with one another, that we come to Jesus’ table as a family in God, without hard feelings or resentment.

If you do not know the “whys” yourself, ask your pastor. Look at Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms. Explore your denomination’s documents around worship, the sacraments, the Bible and worship spaces.

The more we teach our children and ourselves about the “whys” of our faith, the more able we are to live each day faithfully. The choices that God would have us make become available in our spiritual quiver. The Spirit strengthens us to draw back our bow of living as baptized children of God, enabling us to hit our mark, or close to it, for Christ’s own sake and for the sake of the world he loves.THE “WHATS” AND

THE “WHYS”

Since our physical time in church is limited, we must put extra energy into developing the muscle memories of faith practice in community. Just as the practiced archer stretches back an arm toward her quiver without thinking, we want habits of worship to be automatic and meaningful. For this to occur, we must first break down the shape of our rituals so that understanding forms. For children, indeed for most of us, all “whats” need “whys.”

The archer no longer thinks about the “what” of her arm movement to grasp a new arrow because she has already come to understand the “why.” A quiver keeps the arrows in their true shape, handy for reaching and convenient for carrying. She knows the why, and so the habit takes shape.

What do we want our children to do? When you approach the pastor for communion, make a little open boat with your hands. Your side-by-side hands or cupped palm make a manger for the body of Christ, the bread, to lie in as the pastor tells you that this is for you. If we understand why we extend our hands to receive the bread, it makes the “what” easier. This means that when we come to communion,
at best, we are thinking about the manger where the infant Jesus, God in the flesh, was laid. We are holding the truth that this was for us and for all people.

We are aware that we do not grasp Christ for ourselves, but that his body and blood are given to us by grace—not by our own reaching or clasping.

What seems like a simple act of receiving a bite of bread is actually a deeply powerful act, enriched by the symbolism and teaching of our faith tradition. Even if you attend a church where the bread is passed around in a loaf or on a tray, we still know what to do as we receive it. There are “whys” associated with all our community practices. If we remind our children of the “whys,” the “whats” sink in more and more deeply.

Why do we say these words? Because this is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, and we are disciples too, so we pray with his words. Why do we stand up so much? Standing up on our feet or sitting up straight in our seat is a way to honor the words of the Bible or the hymn or the prayers. When we say, “Peace be with you,” why do we shake hands with people? Because it shows our love for them. We are helping people see that we want to be at peace with one another, that we come to Jesus’ table as a family in God, without hard feelings or resentment.

If you do not know the “whys” yourself, ask your pastor. Look at Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms. Explore your denomination’s documents around worship, the sacraments, the Bible and worship spaces.

The more we teach our children and ourselves about the “whys” of our faith, the more able we are to live each day faithfully. The choices that God would have us make become available in our spiritual quiver. The Spirit strengthens us to draw back our bow of living as baptized children of God, enabling us to hit our mark, or close to it, for Christ’s own sake and for the sake of the world he loves.

The Rev. Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, Alaska. Julia lives with her husband, their two children and their dog.

This article is from the May 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.

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