When I was in the tenth grade my feeble mind for mathematics simply could not grasp geometry. My intentions were good. I believed it to be in my best interest to get decent grades in geometry, but I didn't have the skills necessary.
But I had an uncle who was a math teacher in another high school, and so two afternoons a week I went over to his house to be tutored in geometry. I worked at it, and my uncle got exhausted trying to help me, but at the end of the year I passed geometry — barely. To this day I still don't know what a proof is supposed to prove, but my practicing paid off.
I perform in a folk music trio called "Pastor Prime and the Good Examples." A few years ago we were pretty busy. We played about once a month. We rehearsed and performed so much we got to where the music poured out of us naturally. We could even anticipate what each other was going to do onstage.
Now, however, we perform very infrequently, and though I remember much of the material I'm amazed at how rusty we are when we get back together. The sharpness is gone. We have to concentrate just on getting the notes right and the words correct. We're out of practice, and it shows.
When I was a student in seminary my Hebrew language professor spent the first few weeks of the year teaching us enough
grammar and vocabulary to start translating the Old Testament. And that's what we did for the rest of the year. Day after day we translated portions - sometimes entire books - from the Hebrew Bible into English.
Then one day in the student center I overheard two students from another Hebrew class with a different professor studying together for a test. They were quizzing each other on grammatical rules I had never heard of. Then I realized the rules they were quoting to each other were routines I had been using all along in my translation. Though I couldn't quote the rule, I knew it because I had been practicing the language.
Language is a skill. It requires practice. Music is a skill. It requires practice. Geometry is a skill. It requires practice.
And I am increasingly convinced the same is truth of Christian faith. It's a skill that requires practice. Like anything else, lack of use results in poor performance.
The approaching season of Lent is not a time to castigate ourselves and feel guilty for being lousy human beings. It is a time to evaluate our skills for being Christian. Those skills that we do well need to be practiced until they are finely honed. Those skills that could do with a bit of improvement need practice as well. We need to work at them until we sort of get them right.
Join me on this Lenten journey, and I will join you. We can practice together.