Professionals train and sacrifice countless hours to perfect their craft. It doesn’t matter if the area of expertise is in the arts, entertainment, sports, engineering, medicine or public service…the individual that betters themselves will be prepared for the most extreme challenges when it comes to their prowess. When firefighters work out, and keep their body fit, the point is to build strong muscles, so they are ready in case an unfortunate circumstance occurs, and someone needs rescued. These men and women perform repetitious exercises to not only build strength, but to build consistency and familiarity in a variety of tasks. Sports players do this same thing. A baseball player will swing their bat hundreds of times in a row, so that their mind and body is in sync. Actors are no different. These folks meditate over their lines until they are performing them in their sleep. In whatever situation, this idea is called “building muscle memory”.
Ask just about anyone on the street if they think that building muscle memory is a good thing, and most would agree that it is prudent. These same people may even recall a favorite moment in their discipline of choice and tell you how that person who hit the game-winning home run or the violinist who performed the flawless concerto inspired them to be better in their profession.
As great of an idea this concept is, for some reason, there is still significant backlash regarding this practice in our spiritual lives. People praise the soccer player that scores the winning goal but often look down on the Christian who has embraced ritual and tradition. It is so tempting to look at the life of an ancient early Christian or Jewish believer and dismiss their daily rhythms as archaic and meaningless. Sure, they may actually be meaningless, but that is not the fault of the practice, but perhaps the practitioner.
When we look in scripture, especially the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), we see countless commands given by God to His chosen people. Some of these seem so foreign to the 21st Century believer, and for those who feel “deeply enlightened”, they may even seem counter intuitive. The fact is, God used ritual and tradition to build muscle memory…even though some of it may not have made immediate sense. This memory developed over many generations, not to keep His people busy, but to prepare them for the personification of holiness that would eventually come. He wanted to condition them to respond to His leading…to learn to step out into territory that felt unnatural. It was no different than learning basic motor skills as a child, and putting them all together as an adult to become a contributing citizen.
The more I read and think about building a life of ritual, the more I am drawn to the fact that our ancient mothers and fathers had it absolutely right. Perhaps, we do not have to mimic their every move, but I think, to be healthy we must develop a life of consistent rhythm. You can shake your fist at me, and yell “legalism” all you want…but it seems like we don’t even bat an eye when it comes to developing habits that are unhealthy for us. Do you have a habit or struggle that you go to regularly for comfort or solace? Get my point? How about developing habits of praise and worship? How about setting up things in your life that will be a reminder of God’s faithfulness? What about Holy repetition?
To be honest, whether the religious ritual is weekly worship, daily prayer, or sacred personal reading…the point is not for us to be entertained or stimulated. The point is to be reminded, and to put ourselves in a position in which obedience comes more naturally.
Now…in the name of Jesus…Go and be His disciples. Train and remember where he has brought you from.
Speaking of “where He has brought you from” …Do you ever forget about that? If you do, it is possible you really misunderstand what it means to grow…In my next blog post, I am going to explore that…stay tuned.
…to be continued.