A Sportive Spirituality?

While I lived at Taizé, we never used the term “spirituality” to talk about what we were doing in prayer or in our witness as a community. In an early writing, frère Roger did speak about a “sportive spirituality” (Vivre l’aujourd’hui de Dieu, Les Presses de Taizé, 1964) that inhabited the community’s life but this expression never really caught on in subsequent literature or self-understanding of the community. I’m not a fan of the term, to be honest, but I want to reflect a little more on what brother Roger was attempting to describe.

A “sportive” spirituality is rooted in prayer. It is rooted in daily prayer. Prayer, however, is not exactly the place we go to when we think about being sportive or exercising but this is precisely the expression Martin Luther uses to describe prayer. Prayer – individual or communal – is one of the ways that we “practice” our baptism (see Luther’s writing on baptism in the Large Catechism, The Book of Concord, page 461). In the Preface to the Large Catechism, Luther describes prayer as the “holy water and sign that drives the Devil away and puts him to flight” (The Book of Concord, 381).

The definition of daily prayer in Luther’s Large Catechism is large: it is meditation on the Word, it is occupying oneself with the commandments, speaking, singing, thinking about them. This prayer, however, does not have as its goal a centered, balanced life, a sanctified life or growth in spiritual perfection. It is not a “practice” that leads to some form of perfection. It does not fit into the mold of what we might call today spirituality as if we were “saved” through such a practice. Daily prayer, for Luther, is more down-to-earth. Daily prayer, in Luther’s words, defeats the Devil. Or put differently, daily prayer “rehearses” the Paschal Mystery – dying and rising with Christ.

Luther uses the metaphor of baptism to describe daily prayer. Daily prayer – this holy water and sign – drives the devil away. Parsing this expression further out, I would say that daily prayer drives the darkness away, breaks the gates of hell, opens the gates of trust. This practice of daily prayer is sportive! As a baptismal practice, it is a continual remembrance of the displacement and replacement that God continually works in our lives. The displacement or rupture or disruption that the Holy Spirit through prayer effects in us engages us in what frère Roger called a “dynamique du provisoire.” Yes, rooted in the truth of the Gospel, yet not stagnant or immobile! Perhaps “rooted” or “anchored” are not the best metaphors. We are immersed in running, in living waters that carry us forward. Through the Holy Spirit, we are agile athletes, not clinging even to earlier manifestations or intuitions that the Spirit has shared with us but always looking ahead, asking what the Spirit is saying now.

Individual prayer obviously draws us into this workshop of the Holy Spirit. However, I would also like to stress that communal prayer has a particular potential to train us! Together in communal prayer, our voices, our bodies witness to a reality that none of us can embody individually. In communal prayer, we encounter the mutual admonition and consolation of the community and in that encounter the walls of division, animosity, distrust that tend to dominate a lot of societal interaction (politics, media, race issues, etc.) begin to break down. If only we could find ways, within our parishes or faith communities, to engage and support these prayers, this simple yet actual enactment of the liturgy of the hours. There’s more to the worship life of a believer than just going to “church” on Sunday!

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2 comments

  1. Thanks Dirk! Nice to see you on here. Anything we can do to promote the communal practice of the Liturgy of the Hours in parishes is great! I am, of course, reminded here of the great understanding of the Office voiced by St. Benedict, that is, it is the Office which is the “Opus Dei,” because within it, according to the Rule, Christ is most present (RB 19:1-2). A workshop of the Holy Spirit, indeed!

    Max

  2. Max… thanks for the response! I just posted a response to Anthony’s question about Lenten practices about a Lutheran congregation in Minneapolis who is taking communal very seriously! Let’s move it beyond just Lent! I’m intrigued by the quote from St. Benedict… is “presence” understood in the Rule the same way it is understood sacramentally?

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