Practicing the Better: Goodness Chosen

Practicing the better is not a pure thing (100% all the time) after the fall.  But it is still possible–and possible as it always is, by grace.  Now it is not grace operating naturally, but grace operating by consent.  Practicing the better is a choice.

Frederick Buechner has written a lot about this, and his latest book focuses on it.  Entitled ‘The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life,’ he shows how the invitation/opportunity to practice the better comes to us in the everyday routines of our lives.  Whether we do so depends on our attentiveness to life that is going on all around us moment by moment. [1]To do this, he notes, we must root ourselves in the ordinary things, not the extraordinary ones.  

And right there, a lot of contemporary Christianity goes off the rails, falling prey to the hellish mantra that “doing big things for God” is what it’s all about. It is hellish because size and quantity mean nothing to God, who makes sacred the smallest particle and the largest planet.  It is the ego which makes “bigger is better…more is better” a mantra, a slogan, a mission statement.

 I think this is why the main question at the judgment is, “When did we see you?” (Matthew 25:37-39, 44).  As soon as we lose sight of the sacrednesd of the ordinary and focus on “the big things” (things we always name, not God–another expression of egotism/ethnocentrism), we lose sight of Christ, “who is in all” (Colossians 3:11).

We practice the better by taking Buechner’s counsel to stop, look, and listen (that is, slow down enough to notice), and as we do, we have what Jesus wanted us to have, “eyes to see and ears to hear” (Mark 8:18). If we choose this way of ordinary holiness, we soon find that (to use Macrina Wiederkehr’s phrase) every tree is full of angels! [2]

[1] Frederick.Buechner, ‘The Remarkable Ordinary:’How to Stop, Look and Listen to Life (Zondervan, 2017).

[2] Macrina Wiederkehr, ‘A Tree Full of Angels’ Reprint Edition (HarperOne, 2012).

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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