Not long ago, I heard a speaker question the reigning popularity in churchy circles of “practices.” For over a decade now, practical and pastoral theologians have been trying to recover for mainline and evangelical Protestants the value of things like fasting and contemplative prayer as vehicles for Christian spirituality. Books, sermons, and retreats have proliferated, much to the good.
This speaker, however, was bothered by the stability assumed by a focus on practices. “Sure,” she said (and I paraphrase), “Centering prayer is good and valuable and all that when my life is well enough in order. But when the wheels are falling off, it’s nearly impossible to find the energy required by practices.” Also, it’s easy for a focus on practices to over-deliver on expectations that keeping them up is a buffer against struggle or misfortune.
Instead, she suggested strategies. Life is hard. The Struggle Is Real. Spiritual traditions and communities like Christianity hold out strategies for dealing with the needs of the day fruitfully and with hope. Prayer as a strategy rather than a practice?
That talk was a few years ago, but it’s coming back to me this week as Lent gets underway and people are asking me what Lenten discipline I plan to undertake or what I plan to give up. I’m actually itching for a Lenten strategy.