“Discernment is a discipline; it requires time, effort, trust, and practice.” – 2013 epistle.
The internet assures me whenever I look it up (which is frequently but not quite often enough, as those who have to mark or proofread my work will tell you) that practice is a noun and practise is a verb. (In the UK. Americans get away with using C for both, which one of the reasons I’m perpetually confused about it.) In this post I want to talk about both – our practice, noun, the things we do, and how we practise, verb, and how they relate. To some extent this is a matter of walking the talk – actually getting on with it the way we’ve said we will.
We have our practice written down for us, in Faith and Practice – or so you might thing. Actually, we update Faith and Practice frequently, with small changes every year to reflect shifts in our situation, habits, and circumstances (for example, the law) and a big change every generation or so when we ask a Revision Committee to go through the whole lot and sort it out, bringing in any new material we need and taking out that which no longer speaks to our condition. Obviously, this can’t happen if we haven’t gone around practising – and experimenting and making changes to the ways in which we practise – in the meantime.
Practise makes perfect, says the proverb. (There seems to be no general online agreement on whether practice or practise makes perfect, for which I blame the Americans, but I feel like the verb makes more sense.) Are we striving to move towards perfection? I would say yes – we might be surprised by what perfection looked like if we found it, but the Kingdom of God (debate about alternate naming deferred) is what we’re aiming for. Someone said to me recently that we should let pieces of vocal ministry go, even if annoyed some people, if it wasn’t actively harmful, and I said no: we should be aiming to help all our ministers, everyone, to give the best ministry they can give. It might still annoy or upset some people, but I want to think of it as a continual effort rather than an occasional problem.
If you want to be good at something, anything, you don’t sort out a little problem and then ignore it for ages, going on playing tennis or whatever without ever taking a lesson or reading a book about it. You can play tennis for fun and if you’re not injuring yourself it doesn’t matter what you do, but if you want to win games or show your friends what you can do or get better at it, you need input – casual tips from fellow players or formal coaching from a professional. That’s part of having a well-rounded practice.
In just the same way, I think we need to keep trying to be better Quakers. I’ve been a Quaker for years, I know the basics, but I can still get better; it isn’t only newcomers who need inreach. (Inreach is the opposite of outreach – if outreach is telling other people about ourselves, inreach is sharing what we know about Quakers with other Quakers. It often turns out that we know different things.) We don’t have professional coaches for most Quaker jobs, and for some – like vocal ministry – our fellow players can be very reluctant to offer pointers.
How do you improve your practice? Do you think more explicit sharing about our ways of practising would help? And do you have a mnemonic for when you should use s or c?