When I was a boy, my parents used to enjoy a comedian named Ronnie Graham. One of his jokes was, “The other day a cat came up to me and said, ‘How do I get to Carnegie Hall?’ and I said ‘Practice, man, practice.’ This other cat came up to me and said, ‘Meow.’ He was a real cat.”
We talk a lot in our movement about spiritual practices. But why do we practice?
Ernest Holmes said that a central concept of our movement is “Perfect God, perfect man, perfect being.” Jesus tells us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
But unfolding the perfection that we are takes practice. Holmes tells us that “one of the great difficulties of the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice.”
This teaching is a spiritual practice, and it requires practice, to learn and unlearn and relearn, but the greatest thing about this teaching is that it is an internal classroom, augmented by what’s happening on the outside. The mirror of the external is always pointing at something within. As above, so below; as within, so without. As Yogi Berra might have put it if he were a metaphysician, “Out there is all in here.”
We are continually unfolding the perfection of who we are in God. We continually expand our awareness of all the good that God has for us. Our spiritual practices of scientific prayer, positive affirmations, and meditation, among others, help us to do this.
Suppose you want to play the piano or be a ballplayer or whatever you are called to do. How do you go about it? First, you know that in God, it is done. As Richard Bach tells us in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “Begin by knowing that you have already arrived.” But then you have to learn it by doing it.
Often in New Thought, we say that it’s about being, not doing. That’s true. But it’s by doing that we unfold the Truth of our Being. To quote the late, great baseball executive Branch Rickey (who brought Jackie Robinson to the major leagues and integrated baseball), “There is no substitute for experience.”
Ernest Holmes says, “There is only a certain amount that can be taught; the rest must be learned through the doing. Every man must discover God in his own way, but always within himself.” That is the practice of our perfection. We do it because we are it, and we do it so we may more fully be it. We keep doing it until we embody it.
How do we do this? What kind of practice will help us to express the purpose for which we are here?
In A Course in Miracles, it says, “In your practice, try to give over every plan you have for finding magnitude in littleness. It is not there.” We must practice our greatness, practice with the vision of what we must do, what we must be, in mind, and release any obstacles that may block that expression. That is the way to richer living.
This principle is talked about in Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Jonathan’s prime pupil, Fletcher, has just flown into a rock, making his transition to the next world. Jonathan brings him back to continue working with the flock and they attack him. Bach narrates:
“Would you feel better if we left, Fletcher,” asked Jonathan.
“I certainly wouldn’t object too much if we did…”
Instantly, they stood together a half-mile away, and the flashing beaks of the mob closed on empty air.
“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?”
In Illusions, Bach talks about choosing a different future and even a different past. This is a great example of the power of thought. His character, Richard, says to his friend Donald Shimoda, “I don’t know how I can learn this stuff.”
Shimoda answers, “Practice. A little theory and a lot of practice.” He seems to be saying the same thing that Holmes said. Shimoda goes on to tell us, “Believe you’re a master and you are.” Mastering life is all in the practice.
Several years ago, I was in a class where someone asked, “If treatment works, why do we have to move our feet?” Many people tried to explain it to him, but it was my wife’s observation that finally turned the light on. “You can treat all you want to win the lottery, but you still have to buy a ticket.”
So where does this leave us?
A former minister at [Celebration Center], Reverend Noel McInnis, used to say that “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” Rev. Bernette Jones says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes automatic.”
Both of these statements resonate truth. Where they come together is a place of great wisdom: We practice our perfection until our perfection is automatic. And by doing so, we live the fulfilling life that God intended us to live.