I was probably about thirteen when my parents decided to find me a new piano teacher who might inspire me to go to the next level of competence. I had been taking lessons for about four or five years at the point and both my former teachers had told my parents that I had a talent that should be nurtured. So every Wednesday afternoon immediately after school my Mom would drive me over twenty miles each way so that I could have the benefit of this teacher who had shaped the music careers of more than a few professional pianists.
From the very beginning he was not certain about my commitment, probably for good reason. I loved all sports; I loved riding my bike in the hills that surrounded our home; and I was discovering girls. Practicing the piano was no higher than forth or fifth on a long list of things I wanted to do with my non-school time. After nearly a year of wrestling with the teacher over my commitment, with my parents over my priorities and my own guilt, I knew that things were not going well. One day while I was playing my assigned music with my teacher sitting next to me on the piano bench, he began banging his hands on the keys and yelling “If you don’t practice, practice, practice you will never know what it means to be a musician….”
Over the last five decades as I have searched for a meaningful spiritual path that might bring purpose, fulfillment and peace to my life. I have often reflected on that experience with mirth and awe. It must have been a funny scene fit for a Woody Allen movie. But the truth is I know that my piano teacher was right. He touched upon a truth that goes beyond piano lessons. We will never discover what it means to become something meaningful unless we practice and practice-until it goes from our thinking to our being. This is especially true if you want to become something that takes unique skills whether it is a surgeon, a teacher, an electrician and yes, a musician.
I often wonder as I look out over the religious landscape in our world today how many people who call themselves a Christian actually practice being one. I don’t mean by going to church every Sunday, or memorizing the Bible or wearing an obvious cross around your neck. It does not mean honing a tight absolute argument about what one has to believe about Jesus to be a Christian or blindly reciting creeds. I mean when someone gets up in the morning do they start the day by actually practicing being a Christian based on the teachings of Jesus.
You do not have to have a Master’s degree in Divinity or a perfect attendance record in your local church to know what that means. You don’t have to create a long list of things you are not supposed to do or live in fear of eternal damnation. You simply need to practice living the teachings. It is the music score that Jesus gave us for this dance of life in which we are all participating. It is the path to an experience of the Realm of God. These teachings really are not that difficult to discern and I believe there is little debate about their authenticity. We may miss a couple of them and we might not be able to do all of them all of the time. But what is important is our willingness to practice, practice, practice!
Here are seven teachings that certainly will give you a good start. Practice compassion; practice trust; practice forgiveness; practice non-judgment; practice generosity; practice thankfulness; and practice joy.
As simple as they are to list, we all know that they are often difficult to do, just as a piece of classical music is hard to play unless we have practiced and practiced. It is a big step to go from talking about these teachings, to practicing them.It is an even bigger step to go from having to think about them while we do them, to just being them. I often wonder, with some sadness, if Jesus the Teacher returned to earth today and looked at the religious landscape if he would not have the same frustration that my former piano teacher had. Would he want to yell: “Practice, practice, practice if you want to know what it means to be a Christian!”