Practices, James KA Smith and Christmas cards

I’m whetting by appetite for my next big read on worship – James KA Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” – by listening to his 2010 lecture at Calvin College in the US where he summarised the ideas from his book. His main idea is that humans aren’t primarily shaped by head knowledge but by their desires and longings for what they believe is “the good life”; therefore cultural forms in our world (such as malls, stadiums, and universities) are actually liturgical structures, strongly formative and able to shape our thoughts, affections and worship. It’s pretty heady stuff.

Early in Jamie’s talk he made this observation:

“Practices are not just things that you do. They do something to you. Practices are not things that you go through the motions; when you’re going through the motions, they’re also doing something to you.”

So how does all that relate to me right now?

Well, Cheryl and I have been in the midst of writing Christmas cards. In between work, family, church, sleep, sickness and so forth, we probably get 1-2 cards written per day. Some days none. And there’s been plenty of days I could certainly relate to Peter and say that card-writing “really was the last thing I felt like doing.”

But as I listened to Jamie Smith explain his book, it dawned on me why, despite the cost, time and effort, I’m excited about finishing the 50+ cards still left to write.

It’s because as we go through this Christmas-time liturgy – looking up a family, praying for them, crafting and writing a message, addressing it and sealing the envelope – these practices are (just like Jamie observed) doing something to me.

The cards I write gradually shape my desires, and draws me to love the people I’m writing to. It stokes in my heart a greater concern for them. It spurs me to pray for Christ to transform them. All things I wouldn’t have done had I given up on the Christmas cards.

Likewise, habitually praying to God moulds and shapes my understanding of, and desire to pray. Each time I take the Lord’s supper during communion, this gospel parable etches a deeper love for Jesus and His sacrifice. And it was only once I started cycling regularly that I began to “want” to cycle regularly.

So although it takes time and effort, I’m starting to see writing Christmas cards as not just a chore, but an opportunity to kindle my affections for friends and family near and far, and to prompt me to pray for those I love more.

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