Do you remember this – 844-1212? When I was a kid, it was the phone number we called to get TIME. If your watch had stopped, your clocks gone off because of an outage, or it was daylights savings time… you called in and got a recording. “At the tone the time will be 8:14 and 20 seconds BEEEEEEP!” When our clocks or watch were out of whack – and potentially ourselves too because of it – we called TIME to get reset. It was an ongoing practice, this checking and resetting, ensuring that the ‘local authorities’ on time that dwelt on the walls of our homes or that we carried around on our wrists were synced with the ‘ultimate truth’ – Greenwich time, to the second!
Long ago I came across an etymology of the word faith or belief – literally to engage in the action of faith is “to set one’s heart”. Our hearts – what is most core to us – have the frequent possibility of going a bit (or a lot) off course; becoming out of whack, out of tune, in need of correction or realignment. We are like fragile, complex and fickle clocks whose time-keeping gets jarred easily. We need some re-booting now and then, and perhaps even a little tinkering with our inner workings if we are in need of more repair. That to which we set our hearts is not Greenwich time . For the Christian, it is to the ‘content of faith’ embodied in the Gospel – the God revealed to us in Jesus – and the relationship and mission we are invited into living fully in cooperation with and embraced by the Trinity. This is the truth to which we set our hearts. And we set our hearts by the practices in which we engage.
Heady stuff, huh?
What I’m most interested in, as Lent approaches, is this dynamic of HEART-SETTING. I believe it is an essential practice for people of faith.
The power of practices has been written about from a number of different starting points. Here’s what I know. What we practice is important. Engaged in over time, doing certain things and training ourselves to think and behave in certain ways and patterns forms more than habits. Practices form and shape our desires.
Vincent Miller in his important work, Consuming Religion, used this basic example. Reading the Sunday ads every week for an hour may be a weekly practice. In some ways, this behavior trains us. It affects what we hope for, wish for, dream about, desire. It may impact how we judge our success or achievement, our relationships. This does not mean don’t read the ads – but it does speak to being aware of the power of habits that become practices.
Practices are more than habits – they are activities we may even look forward to, once they are part of us, with a degree of hunger. The day – the work project – the conversation – is not complete unless I engage in this practice. Saying something positive in every conversation, saying “I love you” to a family member at the end of any phone call, writing a thank you note every day to someone, counting our blessings each night – these are simple, but formative examples of practices that can shape our perspectives. They are expressive of some truth and shape us. Habits which become practices are like clothing we put on that becomes skin. They become part of us, and they influence how we perceive the rest of life and with what sensitivities.
As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”. Our practices deepen in us a certain way or perspective about life or values, and can impact our choices because they give shape to our desires. So, it should be obvious that we need to pay attention to the practices we have developed over time, and be deliberate about the ones we want to shape us.
So, for Lent, I invite you – with me – to engage in actions that may become habits that may become practices that set our hearts. We have rich examples of many of these in our Christian tradition, and you and I probably have some we have developed on our own journeys that are particularly helpful. But I think Lent is a time especially to give attention to the actions we take to set our hearts on the WHO who loves us first.
We DON’T engage in heart setting practices in order to earn God’s love. Heresy! We are already lovingly created and held in being, uniquely and particularly as ourselves. In many ways, heart setting is for us, not for God. We are happiest and whole when we work in accord with the way our loving Creator designed us. Engaging in heart-setting practices helps us remember and get back and realign so that we can breathe and live more fully as who we most truly are. And, when we do, we are also able to best engage in the mission of God in the world – to do our particular part in being light and life in the world for and with others, and serving them as God would wish. If we “keep time well” by being well tuned, we can help others get back on beat too.
So let’s consider what practices you and I might initiate or be more faithful to that function as ways to set and sync our hearts to what is true – to WHO is true. In future posts, I’ll explore categories for these practices, as Ash Wednesday approaches. Key questions for these next two weeks that may help in preparation for a Lenten attention to Heart-Setting:
- What do you notice about what you desire?
- What actions, habits, practices reinforce these desires?
- What is a desire that gets drowned out – not given enough play – that you would like to feed and grow in your life?
- What actions, habits, practices might feed this desire?
- What is God inviting you to?
We may find there are practices we engage in that are SO life-giving and SO heart-setting that we just want to celebrate them. We may need to pay more attention to the good that already exists, and be grateful and reinforce what is happening. Or perhaps these wonderful practices need more room or space in our lives, and our Lenten journey calls for redistributing our resources in time or focus so that there is more space for this good. And we may find that there are practices we have that are already part of our skin that do not serve us well, are not expressive of what we want to be or become, or that are at odds with what we say we believe. We may need to shed that practice that has become like skin to us, which is difficult. Like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we may have become something we hardly recognize – in Eustace’s case, a dragon, due to his greed! And we may need Aslan’s (Christ’s) help in separating that dragon skin from us. What a powerful image of the invitation to conversion and new freedom – and Christ’s joy and ours! (See the book for more richness here than the movie!)
So, dial in. Don’t call 844-1212. Try prayer and reflection and silence as the ‘call-in method’. See if considering HEART-SETTING is part of what might be a Lenten invitation to you. There will be reflections here that feed this. Looking to Jesus and the practices that were his “skin” will be important. Looking to the saints and Saints who are our special friends and witnesses will also inform. But most, sink down deeply within and let the Spirit speak to your heart. There you will find courage – couer-age – HEART – for the journey.