Engage Practices for Self Awareness & Authenticity


Be careful not to use the spiritual practices as a photo op
Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 CEB
 

After the hedonism of Mardi Gras, it's that time of the year when the spiritual practices will soon be in vogue. Again.

The reading from Matthew 6 is a reminder that the practices are really nothing in themselves. After all, prayer, giving, and fasting are practices embedded  in  many religions outside of Christianity.
 
If the practices buttress my spiritual accomplishments, they are just another occasion for hypocrisy and pretense. Anything we do in the name of faith can be subverted by our own ego, our need to say, along with Little Jack Horner, "what a proud boy am I." It's too easy to present ourselves in way that is overblown- where the image we project goes far beyond where we're actually living. Others can see through the pretense, and Jesus called that hypocrisy.
 
According to Jesus, God doesn't really seem to care that we pray or give or fast if it is ego-driven: done only to feel better about ourselves, to check off a box, or to prove how spiritual we can be.  In fact, it might be better to not engage them at all if I start the journey unaware of what is pushing me in the first place. Without self awareness, our natural default is the affirmation and acceptance of others. The glow of empty praise lasts for how long? A few minutes?

There are the updates of folks trumpeting their fasting by showing us their empty plates, or of churches asking you to stand up and tell everyone that you give generously. (If you read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, you may see that this church practice has a negative NT precedent, suggesting that the burden of proof is on substantiating exactly why followers of Jesus should be declaring their generosity before others).  I try to post photos of our service days at the Houston Food Bank. If I never did that, would it take anything away from our experience? On the contrary, it might add something to our spirits.
 
Richard Rohr, in his recent Dancing Standing Still (2014) has this to say about what most Christians consider a core spiritual practice, worship: "Jesus clearly taught the twelve disciples about surrender, the necessity of suffering, humility, servant leadership, and nonviolence...The men resisted every time, and so he finally has to make the journey himself and tell them, "Follow me!" But we avoided that, too, by making the message into something he never said: "Worship me." Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk-free; following Jesus would change everything."   
 
Go through the motions unaware and my default is driven by ego and the acceptance of others. Engage the practices as a means for self awareness, and I can receive in the secret place- my depths- God's Spirit of love and peace, the locus of true change.

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