The following is a devotional rumination on Christian spirituality originally written for the leadership council of Anderson University, adapted here for the reading pleasure of others interested in Christian faith and thought.
I have a crazy idea, but we have to define two terms really quickly. Ready?
The first part of this is a phenomenon called “semantic saturation.” That’s what it’s called when you say a word over and over and over again until it starts to sound weird. You might think you’re saying it wrong, or maybe it just begins to sound meaningless. I remember the first time I experienced this, it was with the word “soldier.” Soldier. Soldier. Soldier. Weird word. That “j” sound doesn’t seem like it belongs.
The second cog in our wheel here is the idea of “muscle confusion.” Since I work at a university, I still get to take advantage of the campus facilities, and I took that opportunity last year to start learning what to do in a gym. I am not an athlete. At all. But I wanted to be well! So I watched someone do a workout on whatever muscle group and copied what they were doing, and then I would repeat this every visit. It wasn’t until I went with a friend that I encountered this aforementioned muscle confusion. We did a bicep lift like usual, but he showed me a different method. I didn’t lift any higher weights, but I found myself so much sorer than usual! Just a little adjustment hit tissue I’d been missing before and “confused” my muscle to develop differently, helping me get stronger.
Okay, so there are two concepts here on the table, a sweet little blend of linguistics and exercise science. What do they have to do with each other? Not much actually; but both ideas have helped refresh my spiritual framework this year.
A lot of us in the postmodern church have been Christians for a long time. I grew up in a church (quite literally) with my pastor father. His dad was a pastor, and his mom was a church leader as well. They all went to Anderson University, a hyper-conservative bastion of the Church of God movement. We know the story of Christ. We know the story of church. For those of us who identify with the Christian faith, our experience with this system is so engrained in our lives, at times, it begins to become semantically saturated. Christ. Christ. Christ. Am I saying that right? I’ve literally been on stage before singing, playing, and leading a congregation in worship and simultaneously been actively thinking about Chipotle. We do this stuff so much and so frequently, sometimes it ceases to mean anything at all to us.
If this resonates with you, here’s my humble advice: confuse your spiritual muscles. Forget about getting whipped up into a hand-raising spirit fervor when the bridge of “With Everything” drops just because that’s the emotional cue. Stop using a rote prayer before lunch. When you reach out to engage the Spirit, think about what you’re doing. Even in the banal parts of your day. Question why exactly you’re making that move anyway. Is it because that’s how you were raised? Cut it out. Your relationship with God is between you two. If we can squelch these automatic tendencies, we can actually find communion with Jesus in slightly new, ever-so-subtly different ways and hit tissue we never even knew existed before. It just takes a little introspective effort.
One last thought: Star Wars is awesome. I’ve seen those movies more than any other single franchise. I knew that story backwards and forwards. Have you ever watched a movie you love with the director commentary on though? It’s a wildly different experience. I already knew the narrative arc of the Skywalker family, but suddenly, I was learning why it was the way it was. It gave a whole new dimension to my understanding of the story, of the characters, of the thought processes that brought everything into motion. I was hearing from the story’s creator why he wrote the story that way.
Consider approaching your spiritual life with the director commentary on, even if only for a little while. Let the author tell you about why he wrote the story the way he did. Don’t allow your spirituality to feel weird in your mouth. Confuse it. It’s the kind of confusion that actually helps things make sense.