She said God is not in that church.
They say they don’t understand the standing and sitting, the rote prayers, a service that is emotionless and meaningless. They say that God transforms through people, not ‘empty religious rules and rituals’. And they built a church on that premise, and for many other reasons, I am there.
But the first 3 weeks of Advent found me sneaking off to our local Episcopal church, hoping to find God in the rituals. I wondered if I would find him in a place he supposedly was not.
“All habits and practices are ultimately trying to make us into a certain kind of person. So one of the most important questions we need to ask is: Just what kind of person is this habit or practice trying to produce, and to what end is such a practice aimed?” – Smith
Unsurprisingly to me, I found God in the middle of the history and tradition, not in spite of it. I struggled to find the emptiness in weekly communion, in the hands that give and the voices that repeat, “Body of Christ, Bread of heaven. Blood of Christ, cup of salvation.”
My spirituality craves this intention, this commitment to sacrament.
And then there was the creed and the prayers. Oh, the prayers. These words I quietly whisper to myself in stolen, quiet moments at home, this quirky evangelical desire of mine to use the BCP, made common here.
Repetition allowed, said aloud with others.
I struggled to find the emptiness in praying every week, aloud, as a body, for food donated to the local pantry, instead of just quickly dropping off our donations at the table as we do in ours.
Yes, it’s a ritual, but isn’t it a good one? I daresay our church would like the idea of praying for food we give, but I also think we are so conditioned to think anything done week after week must be bad, and so we let our fear of liturgy keep us from embracing some valuable habits. (Never mind that we evangelicals have our own form of liturgy.)
I see how one might think it a little unwieldy, switching back and forth between the hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer, and I can understand how written prayers can seem unemotional. But oh my soul, I loved it. (Also? How is it that I heard this new written prayer on christian radio? I thought written prayers weren’t acceptable.)
But even traditionalists can be spontaneous. My last Sunday there, they did an impromptu praying in the aisle for a member facing surgery, complete with personal prayer and even the anointing of oil. (See, they can be evangelical, too!)
But the practice I found most disconcerting was that of passing the peace. Because I have read L’Engle, Winner, and Tickle, I’ve heard of the term, and I thought it was just a fancy way of saying ‘stand and greet your neighbor.’
They actually pass the peace. You stand, and walk around, shaking hands while you say ‘Peace’ or ‘God’s peace’.
It might sound weird, and to this INFJ it was a little overwhelming. But to have person after person walk up to you and say, ‘God’s peace to you’ is an overwhelming experience of what our life should be about.
I may not literally need to say peace to everyone I see, but is my life speaking Peace, true peace, to people?
Not the peace that is simply the absence of conflict. But the Peace that enters the tension, enters the mess, and tries to bring healing, compromise, redemption.
This ritual reminds me of life. It speaks blessing, and requires me to speak life to others.
It’s a ritual, yes. A habit born out of hundreds of years of history and tradition, one that binds people together. Relationships and ritual are not necessarily two opposing forces.
I prepared for Christmas this year by participating in Advent, that traditional, historical church time, loaded with symbols, meaning, ritual.
My thoughts and attention were more focused, and for me, Christmas became more meaningful. After waiting for 4 weeks for Emmanuel, when it finally came, I was not ready to just end the season the next day. Now I understand the 12 days of Christmas. I want to keep celebrating the arrival of Jesus.
We’ve been talking about being more intentional with our kids. If we want to counter the traditional messages they’re getting from the culture, relatives, and church, we have to actually counter them. Every Sunday for Advent, we paused to prepare together, as a family. We read poems, verses, and sang carols. Even though it was something out of the ordinary for us, it wasn’t as weird as it seemed it would be.
I hope we can continue to say, it’s Sunday, so can we light some candles, pause to sing and read together, and talk about living the way of Jesus?
“Being human takes practice – and implicit in those practices is a social imaginary that orients, guides, and shapes our desire and action.” - Smith
I want to take some of these practices and continue them. I don’t necessarily need to change churches in order to reach out and embrace the beauty that exists in different traditions.
No matter where I spend Sunday mornings, I need to ask myself, how am I being formed? How are my children being formed? Are we being formed in the way of Jesus?
Because ultimately, passing the Peace isn’t merely a ritual limited to 5 minutes on Sunday morning.
What about you? How was Christmas meaningful to you this season? Have you ever tried out a church that was so different from your own? This is our final week in the Advent Blog hop. Check out the other posts by Emily, Katie, and Brenna, and join us! Powered by Linky ToolsClick hereto enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…