When I couldn’t find my way through the clutter of praise and worship, I found Jesus in the silence and in the liturgy. When I couldn’t go into a megachurch, I could sneak into a small chapel and light a candle. When I had no worlds to pray, the Book of Common Prayer gave me back the gift of prayer. When I couldn’t sing along with certainty, I could hold a gym book and simply listen, let the voices of others carry me. When I was consumed with my own life, blinders on, the liturgy reoriented me to the real story — to redemption, justice and confession and to worship and community. (Out of Sorts, p. 142-3)
Several years ago Chris, Trevor & I attended a youth ministry conference in San Diego. During one of the times between speakers, we spent some time wandering around an area set up for prayer. It was full of candles, prayer stations, reading areas and art.
So much of this was new to me at the time. These things were not used in my religious tradition, so I found myself lost in new experience. So much so that I did not realize I had lost track of the other guys, so I set out to find them.
They talked about the raw humanity of the wound in Jesus’ side. How Jesus’ hand was not pushing Thomas away, but drawing him closer. The look on Thomas’ face that expressed apprehension and curiosity. The way the other disciples (who don’t get “doubting” attached to their names) were leaning in to see as well.
In those moments I felt that for the first time I really understood a story from the Bible that I thought I had a pretty good handle on.
This painting has become special to me over the years for that reason. (I think I’ve talked about it a time or two her before). It sits on the wall in my office. It’s going to be tattooed on my arm in the very near future. It still speaks to me and helps me understand my own journey.
Art has been used for centuries by the Church to tell God’s story and enrich our spirituality. I’m kinda embarrassed that it took me this long into my Christian life to experience it. But now it’s one of the most powerful ways I enjoy connecting with God.
Since that time there are many other spiritual practices that I’ve come to discover. I haven’t connected as much with each one, but they all have a richness and depth that I love to explore. Lectio Divina and body prayer and silence and fasting and praying the hours that Sarah writes about and candles and the Book of Common Prayer and the Liturgical Calendar.
One of my issues with my spiritual tradition (Churches of Christ) is that we sometimes like to act like we rebooted the Christian experience in the 19th Century. Like we restored the “real” Christian way that got lost somewhere early on. I think it comes from a good place. It’s just people trying to reclaim a simpler way that feels more authentic.
But I grieve the fact that we are often disconnected with this long, beautiful tradition of God’s people and so many of the ways that people have connected with God and each other over centuries. I wish that I had been exposed to them earlier, but I’m glad I’ve found so many of them.
Many times I have felt on the outside of our Western Evangelical expression of Christianity. So much of it is centered on praise and joyful worship and feeling triumphant or victorious. And while that describes my faith at times, there are many others where it does not. When I have felt lonely or in the dark or anything but triumphant.
It is those times when these ancient practices give me grounding. They welcome me and give assurance that I am still welcome at the table. They center my soul and call me back to my community of faith. I am so grateful for the many brothers and sisters who have passed these practices down to us through the years.
And I’m thankful to be a part of such a long, beautiful tradition of faith.