Bound Together in Faith

January 1, 2024 by Rev. Dr. Amy E. Steele

I have begun a new race. When Beth A. Richardson, Dean Emeritus of The Upper Room Chapel, handed me the baton recently, it reminded me of my days running track in junior high school. Those stories are not triumphant. I was not a strong runner! But I loved the coaches, my teammates, the thrill of competition. And I ran hard with the baton in my hand. If history remembers, it will note that, though usually behind the other runners, I never gave up. I always showed up for practice. In practice, the coaches helped me understand the strategy of a relay and how to care for the brutal pain of shin splints. And in practice, I learned that though winning my events mattered, track was ultimately a team sport. Despite my lack of natural ability, our team was usually very successful. 

The spiritual practice of the regular reading and study of scripture is also a team sport. While carving out personal time to read, pray, and wrestle with ideas is important to us individually, our practices bind us together in faith. They expose each of us to religious language, like covenant, exile, transgression, oppression, supplication, redemption, and forgiveness. The regular spiritual practice of study and prayer forms us in a story that we are a people, ancient and set apart. Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Mary, Amos, Micah are our people, a part of our spiritual identity, our religious heritage. I remain grateful to my mother, father, aunts, and uncles for inspiring me to listen to these stories. I learned to sing, read, pray, color, quiz, and perform these stories because I knew them through family devotion, Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, lectureships, youth conferences, baptism, Communion, choirs, revivals, and through my own prayer and study time. Those stories and those names became as near to me as Harriet, Sojourner, Coretta, Martin, Malcolm. 

I am fresh from an Academy for Spiritual Formation retreat (Academy 42), and I can say that spiritual practice remains as important to me now as it was in my formative years. In fact, now I am more intrigued by communal life and what it might mean for us to have a common ethical vision rooted in the beatific vision of a liberated, just, and peace-filled eternity. The practice of reading the lectionary and listening for divine truths as they were revealed through a covenantal exchange, listening for divine truths through the prophets, the Wisdom Literature, the parables, the Letters, and now through devotional writers, artists, theologians, and poets, I recognize that the field of spiritual practice is alive. When we contribute to the field of knowledge, when we read or listen to it, when we engage in spiritual disciplines, the Spirit of God is at work renewing us and redeeming the earth.  

Resources like The Upper Room Disciplines provide us a guide to daily practice that shapes us individually. Following the Revised Common Lectionary gives us the opportunity to be shaped collectively, to journey together through the Christian year. As we read together, may we once again note the mystery of our existence and the way in which God’s grace beckons us to remember that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1, KJV). We belong to God. And our race, less about winning than about running and playing, calls us to prioritize our ends—unrestrained loving for the healing of the world.

Rev. Dr. Amy E. Steele serves as Executive Director of Programs and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel.

This reflection was adapted from the foreword of The Upper Room Disciplines 2024 (Upper Room Books, 2023) and was also featured in the January 2024 issue of The Upper Room Journal, a monthly newsletter to support you in creating daily life with God. Subscribe here.

Journal Prompts

How do you experience spiritual practices drawing you closer to God? What is it about these practices that bind you more firmly to the divine and your community of faith?

What spiritual intentions have you set for yourself this new year, and how can these practices contribute to your personal growth and that of your community? 

How do you see the wisdom of the elders in your faith community impacting their lives and communities? How can you carry that baton into your own life?

Share your responses with others in the comments below!

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