Dear Pillar community,
Even during Lent, I confess my mind is on sports. I was raised in a sports-loving family, so my soul has been shaped by long loyalties and entrenched memories. Chief among them are Hope-Calvin classics and fall college game days at the Big House. More recently in graduate school, I witnessed the ritual that is Duke basketball at Coach “K-Ville” in Cameron Indoor Stadium—playfully known to seminarians as the “largest church in town.” My siblings and I were also encouraged by our parents to be all-rounders, so we participated in various sports for the different seasons.
The approach of the all-rounder, moreover, turns out to be useful in the realm of relational ministry! The highlight of this semester for me has been participating in a “Beginning Tennis” class with 20 other Hope College students. The original thought was to play a sport I enjoy while connecting with a whole new crew. Yet it’s also invited me to go “back to the basics” of lessons I learned a long time ago, improving the quality of my overall play. It’s amazing what a grip change can do for a groundstroke.
Likewise in the Christian life. The good news of God’s grace is known and felt in going back to basics—Word and sacraments, Scripture and prayer, worship and community. Lent is a time that commends a particular set of basics: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving being the historic, catholic practices. They are designed to reorient us to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, and ultimately, call us to join him on the adventure.
Where, then, to begin? Here is a tried and true way, a prayer that Jesus offered in his Sermon on the Mount: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name…(Matt 5:9) N.T. Wright has three good tips for praying Jesus’ words:
- Pray clause by clause, as a framework for daily prayers (e.g., “your Kingdom come” prompts prayer for the war between Ukraine-Russia, “give us this day our daily bread” prompts prayer for gratitude for the food we eat and the farmers that grow it, etc.).
- Try repeating the prayer several times, slowly, with the rhythm of your breathing (e.g., inhale, “Our Father in heaven”; exhale, “hallowed be your name”, etc.).
- Take one clause per day, allowing it to be a lens through which you see the world (e.g., Sunday: Our Father in heaven, Monday: Hallowed be your name, etc.).
If you’re still not convinced, consider the following claim: “Truth is not a set of propositions about the world; rather, truth is Jesus Christ. We know truth by coming to know this person and we know this person by learning to pray as he taught us.” (Willimon and Hauerwas, Lord Teach Us)
The person, work and words of Jesus dictate the shape of our witness to God’s kingdom come and will be done as a whole way of life. Praying Jesus’ words help us to follow him in bold, compelling, and even surprising ways on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Lent is not strictly a time to be “perpetually solemn”, in C.S. Lewis’s words, “we must play.” Commitment to basics gives us the skill to “play in ten thousand places” (Hopkins), in our witness to the kingdom, and the power, and the glory of Jesus Christ.