"Practice is paying attention to God. Most concisely and broadly, this is its central purpose. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, the relational vision of life with God is analogous in an important way to a human relationship: it grows and deepens to the extent that we pay attention to it. It involves attending to the relationship, spending time in it, being intentional and thoughtful about it, valuing it, and, ideally, enjoying it.
"Paying attention to our relationship with God matters because we as selves are ultimately relational. It is not that we first become selves and then have relationships. Rather, we are constituted by our relationships; they shape and form us. So also paying attention to our relationship with God will shape us. . . .
"Practice is about the formation of Christian character. Character the kind of person we have been shaped to be is the foundation of ethics. How we behave is a function of the kind of person we have become and are becoming. Character and identity are closely connected: the internalization of a deeper Christian identity shapes character.
"The shaping of character also happens through deeds of compassion. Such deeds are not only good in their own right, but also contribute to character formation. We become what we do. The formation of character through practice will also involve internalizing the classic Christian virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and love. Character and virtue go together.
"The process of Christian identity and character formation leads from a limited identity to a larger identity, from a limited self to a larger self. The self with which we begin is the result of what has been given and done to us, the wounded self, the false self, the small self of culture. Our character is shaped by entering into a larger identity and larger self through life 'in Christ.' Practice is the way this happens. The Spirit of God works through practice.
"The result will be a growing 'counteridentity' to the one formed by culture. Or, if 'counteridentity' seems like too aggressive a term, an 'alternative identity.' The character and values given to us by our culture are very different from Christian character and values. Christian formation leads to an identity in God as disclosed in the Bible and Jesus, and not in culture. Even more compactly, one's identity will be increasingly be 'in Christ' and not in the self or the world. Christian formation thus intrinsically involves transformation of character.
"Practice is about nourishment. Practice is not simply something we do. Rather, it nourishes us. This happens in collective Christian practices such as worship as well as individual devotional practices. To speak for myself even as I reflect on the experience of many, Christian worship nourishes me. Daily prayer nourishes me. Daily devotional time with the Bible nourishes me. Retreats and pilgrimages nourish me. Paying attention to my dreams and journaling nourish me. We are fed by practice. And we hunger and thirst, to use one of the Bible's central images of the human condition. Even as practice is about paying attention to God, it also nourishes and nurtures us.
"Practice can become a 'thin place' sometimes so thin that we never forget the experience. At other times, we may not be aware of anything 'thin,' but practice nevertheless has its effect. The Spirit works in us even when we are not aware of it. Practice is a sacrament of the sacred.
"Practice is about compassion and justice. Compassion and justice are the primary ethical fruits of the Christian life. They are central to paying attention to God, which is not only about loving God, but about loving that which God loves and becoming passionate about that which God is passionate about. Practice is about becoming more compassionate and doing justice.
"In short, practice is about living 'the way.' The aim and purpose of practice is the twofold transformation at the center of the Christian life: being born again, opening the heart, dying to an old identity and being born to a new identity; and becoming passionate about God's passion, the life of compassion and justice in the world. Practice is about paying attention to God and living the Christian path."we are constituted by our relationships; they shape and form us. So also paying attention to our relationship with God will shape us.