Advent begins next Sunday! At this time of year, there’s always a bit of excitement to begin something new but also a bit of worry that it might not work out.
This post is going to be a little different because I’ve been asking the question “What is the difference between a spiritual practice and a spiritual discipline?” The problem with the question is the first thing people think of with “practice” is the verb, so it’s something they do to get better at something. Then there are negative feelings about being disciplined as children that carry over so we don’t want that.
So, “a practice” is a noun that usually refers to what you do or the process you use. My friend Mike commented that it is a “tool for spiritual development.” You may find you connect with God when you pray or sing or dance. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed using lectio divina at a retreat or workshop. Or a creative exercise like collaging your spiritual journey. You did it once or during weekly gatherings. But when you’re done, you’re done.
A discipline is a practice done on a consistent basis. Perhaps with a higher purpose of encountering God. Perhaps with a framework or structure that encourages spiritual development. My mentor had a discipline of sitting in the sanctuary every day for a certain period of time. My friend Eric prays daily. I began with daily journaling, then adapted for daily writing to include poetry, then shifted to weekly creation of art and quilt blocks.
I think we get intimidated by the word “discipline,” but I also think it’s the only way to truly grow in our relationship with God. That said, I love Advent because I commit to a discipline for four weeks and then look at how it’s going. During Christmas season I can adjust, then fine-tune during Epiphany so by Lent I usually feel like the kinks are mostly worked out.
I also give myself permission not to finish a particular project. I have to start it, but if it’s not working I can put it aside. Well, file it away. And that’s OK because my mind may have been seeing something I couldn’t yet accomplish. Maybe in three years I’ll be better at a technique and can finish it then.