Tom and I are just back from Victoria B.C. where we have celebrated our 20th anniversary. It has been so good to look back over these years and reminisce on the joys and struggles of a growing loving relationship. We are more in love now than we were 20 years ago and I thank God for the wonder of this relationship.
Part of what I am very aware of as I sit here this morning is that for any loving relationship to grow in depth and meaning it must be lived into with intentionality and desire, something that is very necessary too in the development of our love for God. It seems appropriate therefore that I am also currently reading Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith.
This is a book about Christian education, but it is also a book about love Smith contends that Christian education is a formative process that should redirect our desire towards God and God’s kingdom purposes. Worship and spiritual practices should be designed to train our love towards this desire. Desiring the Kingdom is a great book for anyone involved in Christian worship. Its academic language sometimes put me off – why I wonder do we need to make things sound more complicated than they are? However I soon got beyond this and found the ideas thought provoking and important.
As Smith says: we are fundamentally desiring creatures. We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends (p40). He goes on to say:
we are attracted to a vision of the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons. It is not primarily our minds that are captivated but rather our imaginations, that are captured, and when our imagination is hooked, we’re hooked.(p54)
It is our habits that constitute the fulcrum of our desire: they are the hinge that turns our hearts, our love, such that it is to predisposed to be aimed in certain directions. (p56) Habits are inscribed in our hearts through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends.
One of the challenges we all face is that our image of the good life of love – be it for our spouse or for our God – is often shaped by bad habits and misleading stories. Lust and sex shape our images of love for others, self centredness and individualism shape our images of God’s love.
So what kinds of practices do we need to move us forward into the love of God or into a deepening loving relationship with our spouse?
- Practicing for God’s kingdom of love begin with rhythms and cadences of hope. The future we hope for – a future in which justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream- hangs over our present and gives us a vision of what to work for in the here and now as we continue to pray “Your kingdom come” (p158)…. The practices of Christian worship over the liturgical year form in us something of an “old soul” that is perpetually pointed to a future, longing for a coming kingdom and seeking to be such a stretched people in the present who are a foretaste of the coming kingdom. (p159). Any loving relationship must be pointed towards a hoped for vision of what that love can look like.
- Practicing for the kingdom is an invitation to be human – the call to be remade in God’s image, to become a community like that envisioned in Revelation 5:9 “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” That is what true worship is meant to be about. In the act of worship, and I want to add, in all our spiritual practices we come to renew our covenant of love with God and with our fellow worshippers so that we can be renewed, restored and empowered to live into our hope for the future.
- Practicing for the kingdom of means accepting the welcome and the blessing of a God who has graciously bound us to himself with a covenant of love. Learning to love means welcoming and accepting the love that has already been given to us. This may sound obvious but is not always easy, partly because of those false images of love that have been fed to us. Sometimes we have trouble recognizing love for what it is.
- Practicing for the kingdom means practicing the order and freedoms of the kingdom. We are only truly free to love and to flourish in that love when our desires are rightly ordered, bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. (p 176). Freedom is not permission to do what we want, it is an invitation to follow the laws that guide into the good life of God. Part of learning to love is learning to be liberated from our own selfish desires.
- Practicing for the kingdom means recognizing our brokenness, confessing where we have gone wrong and accepting forgiveness. The good news of the gospel is that our forgiveness comes as a gift, the overflowing of Christ’s work on the cross. Our brokenness and violence are met by the grace and love of God just as our brokenness in a loving human relationship is met by the grace and the love of our beloved.
- Practicing for the Kingdom means learning the language of the kingdom. Smith calls prayer the language of the kingdom but he is not talking about prayer that is a shopping list of our own desires he is talking about intercessory prayer, in which we articulate the vision of justice that is at the heart of God’s kingdom vision. So we pray for healing, protection from abuse, exploitation, and violence.
- Practicing the Kingdom means Renarrating the World. When we read the scriptures we are re-enacting the story of God and reminding ourselves of what the future is meant to look like. Stories, images, words, they all form memories that stir our imaginations and give us hope and confidence for the future. Looking back over our wedding photos, and our shared memories from the last 20 years was for Tom and I a special part of this year’s anniversary celebration that helped reaffirm our love and commitment to each other.
- Practicing the Kingdom means sharing supper with the king. The taking of the Eucharist together is central to our faith. It is in fact the solidifying element that cements our entire worship experience. Special meals shared together in special moments are always important elements of any loving relationship. Now I don’t want to belittle the importance of communion here by comparing it to shared meals with those we love, but there is a part of any shared meal that gives a glimpse into the banquet feast of God which the practice of communion foretells. Love without shared hospitality lacks something important whether it be human love or God’s love.