Don’t Just Study It, Practice It

I’m deep into another book. It’s a class on taking a spiritual journey from a different perspective. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

Devoted as they are to the scholarly appreciation of art, most academics find the beast intimidating when viewed firsthand. Creative-writing programs tend to be regarded with justified suspicion: those people aren’t studying creativity, they’re actually practicing it! Who knows where this could lead?

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Once I had a bright idea. Going to the senior pastor of my church, I proposed teaching a class on prayer. Actually, the idea was not to teach about prayer; it was to teach and lead to practice the varieties of prayer. The students were not to view it as an intellectual enterprise where they would learn the types of prayer–intercessory, praise, complaint, or whatever–but they would become pray-ers.

The pastor was OK with it. Half-a-dozen people signed up. They all, each one, wanted to study about prayer.They did not wish to practice it. I never tried the idea on other people again.

I’m reminded of a scene in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Robert Pirsig, the author, has been accepted into the Ph.D. program at The University of Chicago to study philosophy. He proposes to the department chair that he focus his studies on rhetoric. “That is not a substantive discipline,” the chairman replied. And thus ensued the beginning of a long-running battle between the two.

You see, you practice rhetoric. You don’t study it like, say, Aristotle–the chairman’s favorite.

The ancient philosophers? As much as anything, they taught how to live.

The Bible–both the Hebrew and the Christian? Oh, you can spend your life intellectually parsing through the thing getting hundreds of ideas. You can develop inane theologies, philosophies, cults.

Or you can follow what Jesus’ brother James said, “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.” Or, Jesus as quoted by John, “Those who have my commandments and follow them are those who love me.”

I went to graduate school to study political philosophy (OK, that was a mistake, but well, I was young and stupid). We graduate assistants developed a phrase, “Operationalize your Eschaton!” In understandable terms, “Get off your metaphorical butt, go out, and do.”

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