Humans are tool-making and tool-using creatures. Our opposable thumb and finger grasp strength provide the springboard to create and use machines as extensions of our bodies and brains.
We are also tool-purchasing creatures. Tools to cook, tools to communicate, tools to study, tools to build, tools to create, tools to clean, tools to repair, tools to heal, tools to build muscles and increase stamina, even tools to help us relax and have fun. We really do like ‘em.
Last spring I saw what a tool-wonder New York City is for my two-year old grandson. A north-south avenue near his house is undergoing reconstruction for a subway extension. Giant, noisy, smoke-bellowing tools provide constant entertainment for an enthralled little boy.
Take a talented cook into a high-end cookware store and the same sense of enthrallment will take over. Or an enthusiastic do-it-yourselfer in a yet unexplored hardware store. Or someone with a new craft project into a hobby supply store . . . and watch the bank account empty.
Whenever I go to the State Fair, I am a sucker for the areas where slick salespeople offer skilled demonstrations of their mops, knives, and cleaning solutions. This year, it was the steamer that emptied my pocketbook—oh my, was I awed by the way it did clean. And probably would still, if I would get it out and use it!
Yes, we do love our tools. Each one promises, “This is the one that will make your life easier and will magically make your dreams come true.”
That is, of course, the siren song. “Buy me, and you will get what you want with so little effort! Twenty minutes a week for the ideal body! In days, the perfect home-make-over! Clean up is a snap with our super-duper pots and pans! Speak your thoughts into your phone and that great piece of literature shall easily appear!”
So, I’m wondering what kind of tools are available to magically transform and fast-track a spiritual infant into a well-functioning, spiritually grounded adult.
Yes, we can now access hundreds of electronic biblical texts and condense formerly months-long research tasks into seconds. Commentaries by erudite scholars and messages and Bible studies by the most famous of pastors reach us with the click of the mouse.
And while I asked my church members to actually show up at an Ash Wednesday service and make an intentional and solemn entry into the Lenten season, a number of clergy were offering a drive-by imposition of ashes, instant repentance, so to speak.
But lasting spiritual growth can’t be implanted or manufactured or show up within seconds.
It doesn’t happen in ten easy steps or in deciding your purpose or in declaring boldly that you are living your best life now. There are no spiritual steroid supplements to create the muscles needed to live richly grounded in the love of God and willingness to expend oneself generously for the love of neighbor.
There are no short-cuts here. No spiritual equivalents exist to combines that can harvest in minutes what used to take days of back-breaking labor to achieve or to ice-makers that regularly pop out perfectly formed ice cubes with the flip of a button. The steps to spiritual maturity are rather more like laboriously cutting large blocks of ice from a frozen lake and then carefully storing and watchfully distributing those precious blocks during hot and dry weather.
Our tools? The spiritual disciplines: communal worship, fasting, prayer, study, giving, serving, confession, repentance, forgiveness. Once learned and practiced, they shape profoundly good and well-functioning human beings who carry the light of God with them everywhere they go. Everyone is called to this kind of spiritual depth.
Only a few reach it. Simply too much hard work. Only a few . . . but those that do change the world.