Thursday 21 July 2022

You get where you're going with practice

There doesn’t seem to be any universal understanding of what exactly is the difference between perseverance and persistence. Even folks who claim “the dictionary definition” can’t agree on a dictionary or a definition. The best I can do is suggest to you that I think the difference maybe, might possibly, perhaps, be that persistence relates more to repeated action and perseverance to dedication to a belief or cause. I might throw in that persistence is more focused on the goal to be achieved, whereas perseverance is about the journey. Oh, and persistence tends towards shorter periods of time and perseverance to longer periods of time. But those are just my thoughts.

To be honest, I think they’re related anyway and I’m not sure that there’s that much difference in how we use them, particularly over the last few years of pandemic and now, in the world of its aftermath. I wonder if that isn’t because we almost invariably use persistence and perseverance in the context of what we need to overcome, the roadblocks and opposition that we see in our way.

Stick with it, keep calm and carry on, one foot in front of the other, we’ll get through this - there’s a host of encouraging words and slogans that we use. Encouraging, but still seeming to focus on the obstacles in our way, the hard experiences keeping us from “getting through.” Even little orphan Annie reminds us that “the sun’ll come up tomorrow … come what may.”

What if we could see persistence and perseverance in a different light?

A musician learns skills and techniques, but it’s only by putting them to use in constant practice that music is made. Similarly with artists, dancers, actors, writers, athletes in any sport. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything where constant practice doesn’t lead to something greater. 

But practice isn’t just repetition. It’s not just hammering away, sticking with it or getting through. Practice requires intention and engagement, a sincere desire to learn, a passion for what you practice and a willingness to go where the practice takes you. Obstacles aren’t battled, overcome or defeated, but engaged, embraced and incorporated into our journey, leading to a deeper and more wholistic life.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus encourages his followers to be persistent in prayer. In response to a request to teach them how to pray, he offers them words we recognize as The Lord’s Prayer (we know it from Matthew’s version). But, as often as we share them together or offer them in private prayer, I wonder if we’re engaging them each time. I wonder if Jesus might ask if we’re just repeating the words or practicing prayer.

“First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament” isn’t a literal translation of scripture, but a new telling of the story in keeping with the oral traditions and cultural imagery of indigenous people. In Luke, the translators share that Jesus encourages his followers to keep “dancing” their prayers: “answers will come to the ones who ask, good things will be found by the ones who search for them, and the way will open before the ones who keep dancing their prayers.” More than repetition and movement, dance requires intention, engagement, an awareness of self and context, passion and spirit. It’s more than just a beautiful image or ritual, it’s a practice that invites the connection to the journey prayer takes us. However you dance, be persistent and see where it takes you.