The nativity pageant with the most laughs per minute is told by John Irving in A Prayer for Owen Meany. If you have chuckled from the back pew as children in bathrobes with towels on their heads battled in a mock sword fight with their shepherds’ crooks on the way to the manger in the church chancel, you will appreciate finding this chapter and reading it during the holiday season.
I recently reread — actually listed to an audio recording — of Owen Meany, and it became a far more meaningful book.
“Faith takes practice” is a mantra for Owen Meany. The book is narrated by a self-described Joseph of the nativity, a guy who is a bystander by nature instead of the little Owen Meany who orchestrates much of the action. Owen Meany and the narrator practice a basketball shot over and over again, until it is muscle memory, almost perfect. In The Last Dance documentary, Michael Jordan demonstrates a similar obsession with practice and working out, showing his genius was not mere talent but getting it right over and over again, and pushing and dragging his team-mates to supporting obsession.
The discipline of practice is both assuring and daunting. It is helpful to know that achievement is not granted without great effort; it is also frightening to rely on one’s own discipline for achievement. Owen Meany, and Michael Jordan, and most of us cannot manage great things alone. We need partners, we need faith in them and ourselves, and we need practice.
Faith needs practice — whether that is faith in oneself, or in another, or in whatever spiritual sense is part of our journey. In this dark season, of both extended night and world outlook, I need to practice faith. And I need to find hilarity in faith, as laughter is a key part of our practice, those wise cracks that let the light in.