Want to know what sort of person you’re becoming? Look at the rituals in your life. “The way to the heart is through the body…” JKA Smith
— Ryan Anderson (@akaRyanAnderson) September 11, 2016
Having read James K.A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love, this quote, that the way to the heart is through the body, has been on my mind after seeing it in the tweet above. It sums up a very vital point: the habits and patterns in your life, what you’re filling your mind with via the eye and ear on a habitual basis, what activities you participate in, what you read, are not something you merely control, external to you, but rather, they are actually forming you. They are shaping the direction of your life, your heart.
This gets into what John Owen has written of in regard to sin (albeit much more eloquently): you are never merely standing still in the faith, as if setting spiritual things on the back burner were just that. You are either progressing or backsliding. There is no coasting or standing still.
Much of this progressing or backsliding comes down to rituals, in terms of what you’re actively pursuing, either in an idolatrous way, the things of the world (some of which isn’t inherently sinful, some of which is) or the things of heaven, concerning salvation. If for instance, you’re filling your eyes with pornographic images and videos, as studies are showing, you’re neural pathways are actually (literally!) being shaped. And this, therefore, affects the way you see women as well as men, your familial relationships, as well as acquaintances.
In others words, you’re affected in deeper and broader ways than you even know by what you’re taking in and participating in, what habits you’ve taken to. And it actually shapes the direction of your heart. Same goes for what you’re reading, who you’re surrounding yourself with, or not. Again, many of these things aren’t bad in themselves, but can merely turn your attention away from the One deserving honor, thanks and praise.
In our community group, we’ve been going back through a series on spiritual formation that our pastor Brian Davis did earlier this year. And the main thought that must be posed to all of us, including and especially myself, knowing the propensity of my own heart to stray, is the same as above: Want to know what sort of person you’re becoming? Look at the rituals in your life.
Religious practices and habits have fallen on hard times in the West. What is in is being spiritually minded but not religious, which comes with it a lack of organization, lack of intentionality, and a lack of good, biblical habits. Many well-meaning believers have shrugged off having consistent, repeated practices on the assumed fear they will become mere rituals with no heart, a sort of legalism. But the problem isn’t with the rituals, it’s with the heart of the person participating in the rituals and in my view, not seeing the ultimate goal of the practices.
“The way to the heart is through the body.” – James K.A. Smith. If this is true, then what we read and how often, what we view in terms of television and internet (this goes for news, social media, as well as pornographic imagery), what we spend our free time on, how often and when we pray, all matters in terms of shaping the direction of our hearts toward Christ, who is the ultimate goal of all practices of the faith in the first place. And this is precisely why these practices are so vital. Incorporating prayer, scripture reading, meditating, silence and solitude, and rest in the daily rhythms of life are essential to the Christian life. And not only this, but also frequent fellowship with other believers both in weekly corporate worship and in normal life is imperative. Without these, as John Owen has said concerning backsliding, you will not grow in the faith but will rather digress.
“Grace is opposed to earning but not to effort.” – Dallas Willard. I would add that grace is precisely the fuel for effort, knowing you’ve been accepted, knowing you’re redeemed by His blood, knowing deep down in your heart that you’re His child. In pursuing these practices and structuring your day in such a way that you incorporate these things, the effort and intentionality put forth will result in fruit, because He is already at work in you who believe.