By practices, we mean do-able habits or rhythms that transform us, rewiring our brains, restoring our inner ecology, renovating our inner architecture, expanding our capacities. We mean actions within our power that help us become capable of things currently beyond our power.
He goes on to make the (key, I think) point that this is a very difficult quest to embark on alone. With any skill or character transformation, we do much better if we are among people who are on the same quest. I'm going to quote a rather large chunk of what McLaren says here because I just love his combination of insight and simplicity:
So, for example, I'm incapable of speaking Chinese today. But if I find a social group of fluent speakers, and in their company I begin practising a single new word or phrase or series of phrases day by day, I will one day be reasonably fluent myself. I'm incapable of running a marathon today. But if I find a group of runners who can teach me a time-tested training regimen, I can start with a half-mile today. Then in six months, following their regimen, I will be able to run all twenty-six miles. I'm incapable of playing the violin today. But if I find a master violinist and join her circle of dedicated students, with some months or years of practice, I will someday be able to contribute to a band or orchestra and play an Irish jig or Mozart symphony.I think that last paragraph sums up a major part of what really excites me and what I want my life to be about. I want to play my part in establishing and growing communities that embody these practices by which God works in and through us, transforming us more into his likeness. Alongside this, though, I hope to develop my own life with God. I've seen it written in a few different places that you can't take people places (spiritually speaking) where you haven't been yourself...
Similarly, I may be incapable of accepting an insult without retaliation today. I may be incapable of remaining grateful in the midst of fatigue. I may be incapable of receiving attention for successful achievements without becoming conceited. I may be incapable of loving my enemies, or seeing things from their point of view, or overcoming discrimination, or resisting the urge to consume or pollute, or remaining patient under stress. I may be incapable of remembering that God loves me and knows my name, or that God graciously accepts me apart from my performance, or that God loves and knows 'the other' no less than me.
But what if there were some practices by which what is now spiritually impossible for me could actually become possible? What if there were practices that made space for the well of living water to flow, for the wind of the Spirit to blow, for the stone jars in my life to be filled with a nobler cause and a more meaningful, joyful purpose? What if there were communities focused on embodying those practices, and what if they were ready to welcome me to learn among them? Would I want to learn those practices, and enter into those communities?