I am a month into my studies in the Master of Accounting program at Univ of NE at Omaha. So far the experience is akin to learning a new language. This semester I am learning to speak Accounting, Economics, and Statistics. At this point, my conversational and writing skills in these foreign languages are minimal. I am at the Greetings and Introduction level, the equivalent of “Hello, my name is Laura. How are you? I am fine” stage of communication.
All I can do is practice every day and try to become more familiar with this new vocabulary, try to understand what it means, attempt to use it to express myself, and endeavor to translate things back into my own words.
Years ago, my French professor taught me that trick. She advised spending an hour every day practicing French, and the effort paid off for me. I tried the same approach when teaching myself Greek and again found it very helpful. Perhaps something about consistent repetition enabled my brain to absorb the new.
With the new things I am currently trying to absorb, my goal is not fluency in the language of business; my goal is comprehension. I want to understand my professors’ lectures, take what they are teaching, and use it as tools to analyze what is happening in the economy.
Is spirituality another example of learning to speak of foreign language? I spend at least an hour a day reading and studying and trying to understand. In so doing, I am learning to speak the language of Christianity. I sound more and more like a native speaker the longer I practice. I can express myself in Christian terms, it is easier to translate concepts into my own words, I am confident in my level of comprehension.
I realized this morning that these things, my comprehension, my fluency, my ability to pass as a local, are not the goal of spirituality. Practicing spiritual disciplines does not enable me to speak God’s language. Practicing spiritual disciplines in order to learn Christianity so that I might then analyze the world from that perspective should not be the goal.
I am at prayer or studying scripture or reading a devotional writing, and something captivates my attention. Sometimes it feels like something is in my blind spot. Sometimes it feels like something is inside me. When my attention goes there I feel calm and at peace, and I relax and expand into that presence.
My intention is to take that experience with me into the day and allow it to influence how I behave. That good intention does not last. Something else always captures my attention, and I get caught up in that life drama.
And then I’ll re-attend to the calm, peaceful, expansive presence. And I’ll get distracted. And return. And get side-tracked. And so on and on. The pattern is so predictable. You would think I would know better by now after all these years of practice.
This is why I say that for me spirituality is not the same as learning to speak a new language. Becoming fluent in the language of Gospel has not translated into consistently living out the teachings of the Gospel, which is exactly what the calm, peaceful, expansive presence wants from me.
When it comes to spirituality, I am at the mimicry stage. Mimicry in the sense that I am trying to copy what I see the other Person in the gospels doing. My actions are uncoordinated and jerky; however I have hope that if I keep practicing by doing and imitating, I will improve. My behavior will become more consistent, more native to me. I will extend myself on behalf of others just as I see the other Person doing. And I will know, in any given moment, in any given situation, how to extend myself in ways that are loving. These goals seem a more appropriate fit to the practice of spirituality than do the goals of the spirituality as learning a new language analogy.