Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1)
THE WAY There’s an old story about a couple who were on their way to a concert at Carnegie Hall in Philadelphia. They were from out of town, and unfortunately lost their way. As they drove around downtown, they saw a sidewalk musician standing along the sidewalk playing a violin for whatever few coins someone might toss in his open case. The couple pulled up alongside the curb and asked the man, “Excuse me, but how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without missing a beat, the busker replied, “Practice! Practice! Practice!”
The Psalmist in the scripture reading at the head of this chapter contrasts the “way of the righteous” with the “way of the wicked.” One might legitimately ask, “But how can I be sure to walk in the way of the righteous?” And the answer from Jesus could well be “Practice! Practice! Practice!”
Now, it is significant as we talk about the Jesus Path for the 21st Century to talk about “the Way.” One reason it is significant is that a journey is usually taken along a road, or a trail or path of some sort. Bushwhacking is okay for trailblazers, but for most of us, a well-trod and trustworthy path is preferable. But the word “way” has another meaning as well. It can also refer to the manner in which we do something. So it can refer not only to a path, but also to how one is to take the path. A spiritual “way” usually means both things simultaneously.
We read in the Book of Acts, Chapters 9:2 and 19:9 & 23 that from the earliest days, Christianity was referred to as The Way. In fact, this is probably what it was called at first. This may bear some allusion to the reference in John where Jesus refers to himself as “the way, the truth and the life.” When Jesus proclaimed that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he was urging all who followed him then and all who have followed since that time to listen to his teachings and learn from his actions. His Way leads to the transformed Life, which is grounded in Truth. Faith and belief in Jesus are not simply intellectual exercises or matters of opinion. Jesus is not a fad to try or a bumper sticker sentiment. He is a spiritual presence and reality that accompanies us and leads us on this Jesus Path for the 21st Century. So, what are the features of this Way of the expanded consciousness of metanoia?
TRANSFORMATION First and foremost, the Way of Jesus is a journey of transformation. I have used that term, “transformation” repeatedly in talking about the Jesus Path for the 21st Century, but just what do I mean by “transformation?” The notion of “transformation” implies the change or development of something from one form or state to another. Sometimes transformation can involve a simple change of status, such as when a student graduates from one grade to another or at the completion of a course of study. Another kind of transformation has to do with a change in appearance, such as when a house is redecorated and repainted, or when a person has a “makeover” of their hairstyle and personal appearance. The work of transformation of persons by the work of the Holy Spirit refers to an inner change of attitude, belief and commitment that results in an outer change of behavior and habit. Christian spirituality involves the transformation of human persons through the experiential presence of the love of God as taught and lived by Jesus and mediated by the Holy Spirit.
PRACTICES The Way of Jesus involves a number of what we can call “spiritual practices” that set up the physical conditions whereby the Holy Spirit can do its work within us. I use the term “practice” deliberately. Whenever I have been in a theatrical production, I have spent a good deal of time in rehearsal. In order for any actor to be prepared for an actual performance, they must run through their lines and movements on stage over and over again in order to memorize their part. This is called “practicing.” Similarly, athletes on a team practice together as a team over and over so that they develop their skills and learn how to work as a team. They have certain “plays” that they need to know as a team in order to compete in a game. In order to compete well and effectively, these plays must be so well-rehearsed and practiced that they are second nature to each player and to the team as a whole. In essence, through repeated practice and rehearsal, actors and athletes each internalize their lines, parts, routines and plays to the extent that the actor fully embodies their character such that they seem to actually be that character, and the athlete executes their plays so well that they seem to have been born to the game, or such that they are football or baseball itself.
DEVELOPING OUR CAPACITIES Now here is the important consideration. In the same way that most human beings are born with the capacity to walk but require specialized training and development in order to become dancers or professional athletes, so also the spiritual capacities latent in every person need to be developed and disciplined. They need to be practiced. Just as baseball or football players in their spring training engage in a series of drills, agility exercises and weight training, so those who want to follow in the way of Jesus must engage in those spiritual drills and agility training of the heart that are necessary to become proficient as a player on Jesus’ “team.” This is how it is on the spiritual journey. We may have a sudden, life-changing experience that forever alters our direction and priorities. But in order for this change to have lasting effects, we must find ways of acting that are in accord with this new direction. We must redirect our thoughts and attitudes along lines that are in concert with this new direction. What we need to do is to adopt a set of practices that serve to reinforce our new life and to help establish the change as permanent.
THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICES OF JESUS Jesus was a practicing Jew in first-century Palestine. The spiritual disciplines for which we have evidence that he practiced include the following:
The way of Jesus is holistic. If you take these practices together, you can see how they work together in a holistic and synergistic fashion. (“Synergy” is a word to describe how it is that when you get several forces to work together, the effect and outcome is far greater than if you simply added up the individual effects.) All of these spiritual practices work together as a path, a way we can travel, as well as a manner of traveling on that path. They are well-trod path, and a well-tried and proven Way. Click on each of the practices listed above for a closer examination of what they entail, and how they work together to create is us Bigger Minds and Bigger Hearts.
[Click on the items in the list above to read more about each practice.]