Good habits, like religious rituals, keep us on the straight and narrow, whatever straight and narrow we've chosen for ourselves. It's no use saying I want to be a generous person if I don't develop the giving habits that make it so. Good habits are, in a way, the domestic version of religious rituals. They help remind us of who we are and of where we're going--but at home, where no one sees.
Disgusted by the public displays of piety of his day--hypocrites praying loudly on the street corners (like the "Hot Dogs for Jesus" guy across from Calgary's City Hall, passing out free food and preaching at passers-by through a megaphone)--Jesus said, "You want to pray? Go do it in your closet, and shut the door behind you!"
It's at home, in the patterns we adopt for our personal lives, that the rubber hits the road on our spiritual journey. And likely, we can name a few of those patterns right off. Like, saying grace at meals. And sending cheques off to worthy causes. And shovelling the snow for our elderly neighbours. Consciously or not, we're already narrowing the range of our behaviours to better reflect our values, which in turn reflects who we are.
But what other good habits are pulling at us? I know I'm a happier person when I get some exercise in my life. But since my last back attack, a few months ago, I've parked my daily morning routine, fearing re-injury. As well, since my retirement, I've pulled back on my charitable donations, fearing a cash flow problem that hasn't actually materialized. Time to step up again, on both counts. Who do I want to be--a scaredy cat?
Reading good books puts good ideas into our heads, the very ideas we were looking for. The rituals we observe, publicly or privately, take those good ideas and put them into action, the very actions that make us the people we want to be. That's why we need both words and rituals on our spiritual journey. Otherwise we drift, not knowing where we're going. And if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there!
But with all these considerations--the company we keep, the books we read, the rituals we observe--the journey is ours alone. No one else can tell us who we are or where we're going. We're each on our own Hero's Quest, with our unique callings and challenges and things to figure out. Because--and here I manage the transition to my next set of blogs--we are our own spiritual directors.
Next Week: No More Gurus
Visit me on my podcast, The Mystic Cave, where I'm reading from my memoir, "Lost Rites: Leaving Church Land."