I’ve been reading a very insightful book written by Bruce and Marie Hafen called Faith Is Not Blind.
I’ve spent many years and a lot of energy putting things into my mind, willing facts and figures to stay put and not fade (and yet they all do) and maybe not as much energy on practicing a way of life like our Savior. I’ve thought and taught a lot about “becoming” –we are human beings, not human doings. I know all of that, but something about the Hafen’s arrangement of words got it just right for me.
Practicing. Practicing is different than just living and hoping you get it right (which has been my way, my approach to being Christlike, hoping for the best). The Hafens give examples of things like playing the piano that can’t be taught intellectually, they have to be practiced. There is no other way for us to become what we need to become, other than practicing over a life-time. You can’t study music theory and stare at a keyboard for a lifetime without touching it, then sit down in Carnagie Hall to play a concerto, even if you’ve intellectually memorized every single note. It simply is not possible. You must practice with your heart, your mind and your hands over and over and over again, perfecting each note, each nuance, each sound.
Here are parts of 3 different pieces of music my daughter Claire learned and performed. I’ve heard every note in each of these 100s and 100s of times as she sat practicing them. I have the sound of them memorized, but is there any chance I could play them? Never! My hands were not the hands practicing them.
It’s not so different from hearing the good Word from the pulpit every Sunday for my entire life and not practicing it. Hearing alone gets me nowhere.
Here is an excerpt from chapter 10 that I will be thinking about for a long long time, like the Rest of My Life:
Learning from experience teaches us in ways nothing else can. In designing His plan for our mortal experience, God consciously took the risk that some of His children wouldn’t come back. Didn’t He have the power to touch us with some kind of wand that would give us the capacity to live with Him in the celestial kingdom? . . . What is it about experience that is so essential it’s worth the risk that we may not come back?
Salvation and exaltation are not just abstract goals. Those terms describe an entire process that requires growth, development, and change. Central to that growth process is mortality’s unique opportunity to let us learn by experience–by practice–which is the only way we can develop capacities and skills. We’re not here just to learn facts and absorb information. There is something about forcing people to be righteous that interferes with, even prohibits, the process that righteousness in a free environment is designed to enable. Righteous living causes something to happen to people.
There are two very different kinds of knowledge. One involves such rational processes as gathering information and memorizing. The other kind of knowledge we might call skill development–like learning how to play the piano or swim or take a computer apart, learning to sing or dance or think. The process of becoming Christlike is more about acquiring skills than it is about learning facts and figures. And the only way to develop those divine skills is by living His teaching. Even God can’t teach us those skills unless we participate fully in the process, with all the trials and all the errors that are inherent in learning a skill by practice, . . . Some things can be learned only by practice.
European scholar Michael Polanyi has identified “skills” as a unique field of knowledge. He writes that often the essence of a skill can’t adequately be described, measured, or specified. So the skill can’t be transmitted by written descriptions and instructions intended to be memorized by later generations. “It can be passed on only by example from master to apprentice.” Therefore, “an art which has fallen in to disuse for the period of a generation is altogether lost” and “those losses are usually irretrievable.” . . . .
It follows, then, that we can learn a skill only by imitating the skillful performance of one who has mastered the skill–even when the teacher whom we imitate cannot specify every detail of the art. There is a close analogy between this fact and the central gospel concept that emulating the Savior’s example is the ultimate way of internalizing the gospel, a way that transcends merely following specific commandments and detailed doctrines. . . .
The idea that exaltation results from a process of skill development may help explain why there is a veil. Faith and repentance and knowing God are processes and principles of action, understood not only by defining them but by experiencing them. God is a great teacher, and He knows the patterns and the principles we must follow-and practice–in order to develop divine capacities. He can teach us those skills, but only if we submit to His tutoring.
Much of the substance of Christ’s gospel can’t be fully measured; it can’t all be specified, except as it is understood by experience. But that is no reason to value it less. We can’t totally explain our most significant experiences–our love for our families, our testimonies, our feelings of gratitude for the Lord’s love and mercy. To reduce these essences to a content that we can communicate fully to other people may diminish their sacredness. Like beauty and joy, they are too important, to nuanced, to be totally specifiable.
There is a veil between our world of mortality and God’s world of the eternities. It can become very thin at times. But for most of us the veil remains, for He has placed it there to help us learn how we must live, and who we must become, to live with Him someday.