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Sampling during Lent

On occasion, I like to revisit one of my several commonplace books. I use that term (rather than, say, journal) because it best fits what they are and what I put in them. A commonplace book is a descendent of the Italian “hodge-podge” notebooks of the 15th century, used to record everything from famous quotes to recipes. They became all the rage by the 17th century. John Milton had one.  So did Thoreau and Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes (see “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter”). If you read the books in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, you’ll recall that Klaus Baudelaire kept a commonplace book and it was quite useful. If you maintain a blog, what you have, essentially, is a virtual commonplace book.

As I was saying, I was flipping through one of mine and I came upon a clipping I’d saved from an essay by Tom Ehrich (www.morningwalkmedia.com). The part that caught me was his connection of stopping by the many sampler tables at Costco and the life of faith:

It is possible to approach faith as if it were a sampler. An hour of worship, a Lenten study group, a morning’s Habitat duty, an evening committee. Each sample has substance, each is offered as an invitation to go cheaper, but in the end, a circuit of sampling stations leaves one unfulfilled. . . . Seeking more proves to be a vexing quest, not because real food is difficult to find, but because sampling is so tempting—a lark, no cost—and staying longer so disturbing.

We’ve been invited during these weeks of Lent to sample, as it were, several spiritual practices, from reading the Bible to praying ten minutes a day to joining a small group. I’m sure many of us will commit to these several practices. At least for a few weeks. And I’m sure some of us will stay in one or more of these practices (surely we can manage worship!) for much longer. But what exactly did Tom Ehrich mean when he suggested that “staying longer” is disturbing? He meant this:

Serious mission work can render one unfit to resume normal life. Sustained study of scripture can confuse one’s religion. Anything that renews faith changes life. A sharing group will illuminate hidden corners. Intense prayer calls everything into question.

Faith as sampling is very tempting precisely because there is minimal risk involved. Faith as practice might well change us into, well, God’s people on mission in our world. Risky business.

Back to my commonplace book. I’d like to offer it to you as, at first, something to sample. But let me suggest that the regular practice of clipping quotes, jotting down thoughts and comments about what you read or hear during the course of a day, recording prayers (yours or others’), cataloging joys and surprises, copying Scripture verses, can become, over time, a useful way to hold yourself accountable to growing in Christ. For me, it serves two roles: as a way to talk to myself (through on-going theological reflection) and as a way to see myself (as through a mirror that reflects an honest image). For me, it is a practical practice of faith.