I grew up in a bare bones church, as puritan as they come.
Although we celebrated communion every week and held occasional dramatic baptisms by immersion, there were no other mystical rituals. Our worship focussed on the written word, read, spoken, prayed, sung and preached. Nature, the human body, and the arts were mostly ignored. Even as a little girl, my starved imagination yearned toward those exotic Catholic churches with their red glass candle-holders and spooky statues.
In adulthood, I converted to feminism, so I was not tempted by the Roman rite, but found, instead, a home in Anglican worship. There is comfort, both physical and spiritual, in the routines of kneeling on special benches, reciting unison responses, and standing to honour the Gospel reading. Community and meaning are heightened by these actions. Traditional church seasons like Advent, Pentecost, and Lent enrich the intangible sense of connection with generations long gone.
I enjoy attending services where the Holy Spirit candle hangs glowing from the rafters, the strong smell of incense fills the air and tiny bells chime. Some congregants bow and cross themselves. There can be a shivery feeling of reverence.
Although Christian faith respects the intellect as God-given, life's humbling experiences teach us to submit to Mystery, even as our confidence in a loving Creator can deepen. In contrast to systematic theologies, the strange rituals of praxis mirror the "otherness" of the One we call God. These suprarational alternatives can feed our spirit when preaching and study group analysis dissipate joy.
But then there’s that priest who played soulful music, bowed low to painted icons, and incensed enthusiastically in the moody, darkened sanctuary right up until the day he ditched his wife and disappeared with the church secretary.
On the other hand...
On the other hand...
sometimes our sensual delight in ritual becomes itself an idol. Delicious aesthetics trump private disciplines of confession and self-denial. Personally, I’d way rather walk around with oily ashes on my forehead than give a welcoming smile to someone who’s interrupting my day's agenda. Let me light another candle instead of trying to listen patiently to that droning committee colleague.
Don’t misunderstand; I could not denigrate inspired devices like icons or labyrinth walking. They are sacred to me.
However, this year I surprised myself by skipping the Ash Wednesday service. I have no plans for 40 days of ritualistic abstinence. So far, I’m reading the bible book of 1 John, caulking gaps around the new basement ceiling, and trusting that the Holy Spirit of God will continue Her merciful, catch-you-off-guard tutorial.