Naaman and Spiritual Practices

There is an unfortunate side of my personality that, when approached with a simple challenge or exasperatingly easy problem, I think to myself, “that’s stupid, I’m not doing it.” As if when something isn’t challenging, it isn’t worth my time or effort. When I’m faced with a difficult problem or a complex, interpersonal issue with many facets and sides, this is great; I’m ready to tackle the tough stuff. Give me the metaphorical shoe string that has been knotted over seven times, and not only will I untangle it, I will love every minute of it.

But when it comes to the more mundane issues that arise in life, this is less of a benefit, and, in truth, most of our lives are mundane. It is more of a challenge for me to spend two simple minutes resolving a simple issue than it is for me to spend two hours working on a complex one.

In the reading from the Hebrew Bible this morning (2 Kings 5:1-19), Naaman comes to the prophet wanting to know how to be clean of his leprosy; the prophet tells him to go and wash seven times in the Jordan and his flesh will be restored. This, seems to me, is a fine solution; ritual washing commanded by the power of God through the prophets generally leads to good things, but Naaman is not about it. Naaman is hot. How dare this prophet command something so simple, and in such a simple river as the Jordan; surely Elisha would come and give more complex, personal instructions for his healing. His servants, likely somewhat timidly, said, “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean?” Naaman took that good word from his servants and followed the simple command and was made clean; he came back to Elisha and made his proclamation of faith in the God of Israel. Thank goodness his servants were there to help him see the ways in which he was overlooking the power of simple, purposeful actions.

Spiritual disciplines are kind of like washing ourselves seven times in the river; they are generally simple actions and choices that lead to big changes in our lives, simply because they orient us toward God and toward each other. In my rule of life, I have a set of spiritual practices I try to do every day; there are periods of time where these are easy to do and there are times when carving out time to read scripture or to pray at my set times seems inconvenient. Those challenging times are when I most crave a complex problem; it’s when I want God to require our spiritual life to be constantly difficult and challenging, rather than continuous and mundane.

A vibrant spiritual life doesn’t come from being amazing at solving spiritual crises or problems; it rarely comes directly from a prophet, with complex and challenging aspects. A vibrant spiritual life, rather, comes from showing up, day after day, praying our prayers, reading our holy scriptures, and living our lives in cruciform manner. A vibrant spiritual life is not the result of glamorous spiritual adventures, rather it’s getting up, and following the command to do the simple action that will bring about big results.

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