Right before my professor left the class she said, "Draw what you see and I will give you a grade at the end of the week." The door closed and the eleven of us sat in a circle facing our individual easels while looking at the collection of fake flowers on the table in the center of the circle. Then we began to draw. At the end of the week, a new set of objects would be on the table, but we were given the same instructions - just draw what you see.
I hated it. I was intimidated to draw and my cowering was only amplified because I sat between people who seemed to be the descendants of either Di Vinci or Walt Disney. For most of the class I thought about how I am a human being and that I can entertain the great philosophies of the world in my mind but somewhere out there is a elephant that can do what I cannot do: put lines on a page so that those lines resemble a universally agreed upon image. It is a humbling day when you realize "Dumbo" can AND draw better than you.
My self described inability to draw has limited my willingness to pick up a pencil and draw, regardless as much as I want to be able to draw. I am not confident in my current level of drawing and I am not comfortable holding a pencil and while I should be able to power through and "just draw", I am deflated before I even start. If my drawing instructor's goal was to squelch any small fire in her student's desires to draw, she succeeded with me.
Over the past several days I have engaged in following the book You Can Draw in 30 Days (free PDF for everyone!) This book lays out how to draw simple objects and most of the time you are just copying what the instructor tells you to do. Over just a few lessons I have been drawing spheres. The other day, I broke out and drew three eggs in a nest. I would have never done that had I not had the confidence and comfortability in the basics of drawing.
Having confidence and feeling comfortable are what is needed in those who are just beginning any process. The best teachers know this, video game designers know this, Khan Academy knows this, but we clergy in the church tend to overlook it. We tend to be an institution that says "just pray" or "just read the scriptures" or "just meditate" and our expectations are like those of my drawing professor's - just by doing the practice the person will get better at it. And while there is some truth in this idea, it overlooks that beginners in the spiritual life need what I need to learn to draw - confidence and a comfortability with what to do.
And so I wonder if it is possible to break the spiritual practices down into small components that are easy to do and progressively build on one another. Break the practice of prayer up into small lessons so that when you are done with the first lesson you are not expected to be able to pray on the spot in front of a crowd with great imagery and flow and with poetic language that echoes Maya Angelou. Rather the first lesson is just to read traditional prayers such as the Lord's Prayer or the Prayer of St. Francis. Then, when one is confident and comfortable perhaps the next lesson is to have 'Mad Lib prayers":
Gracious God, you are __(strong adjective)_ and __(soft adjective)__. __(Verb)__ my heart so that I may __(stative verb), through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The goal is not to teach people exactly what to pray or how to be perfect, but rather to give people the confidence and comfort to be able to expand on these practices on their own.
I know that faith formation is not linear. I know that it is not a step one then step two then step into Christ-like ability. However, perfect does not have to be the enemy of good. Just because a step by step process is not perfect does not mean it is not good. Before you are an artist you are a doodler.
Before you can pray like this:
You have to pray like this:
Or you might end up praying like this: