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Posts Tagged ‘Ritual’

She bounded past the ancient oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, rounding up the walkway, vaguely hearing a fountain gurgling in the courtyard beyond. Like a rebellious child arriving late to school, she came tripping past the heavy doors which stood open facing the busy avenue. The doors were, as she was taught in preschool, purposely shaped like hands clasped together, praying and pointing Heavenward. They were also ominously dark; she was grateful they were welcomingly wide open. Had they been closed, she might have turned away.

She sat in the very back of the cathedral, the very last pew. For once she wasn’t late, but nonetheless was still the last to arrive and did not wish to be conspicuous. Everyone occupied the rear pews…no one sat in the first several pews. In fact, those in the “front” were still halfway to the back of the vast, echoey sanctuary. She was in good company; no one wanted to appear overly zealous to be repentant today, Ash Wednesday.

Making the sign of the cross as she genuflected, she quietly pulled the kneeler closer and obediently dropped down for brief prayer. As she caught her breath, she never got around to praying because the bell tower loudly proclaimed it was 12:00 noon. This proclamation took longer than she had time for prayer, and as soon as the twelfth bell bonged, the officiant appeared from nowhere and everyone abruptly stood. Rats, inadvertent noncompliance again. She quickly rose with the masses.

She noticed that the graceful trusses several stories high overhead sported a design of the Star of David. The stained glass at the front and around the sides looked ashy like the day outside, gloomy and humid. Warm, but dismal. Her eye was not drawn to the detailed pictures on the stained glass, but rather to the things that had nothing to do with why she was there: the creaky old hardwood floors, the sad reality that not enough bulletins had been printed for today because they didn’t expect as many as might should attend, and the discrepant accents of the officiants (one was notably Yankee with nasal tendencies in reciting the NeeCeene Creeeeed, the other drawled through the service with perfect Southern dialect, complete with a multisyllabic AH-may-yen).

They exhorted her to put away her thoughts and memories of days now behind.

They can make the entire float rock when they rock together in rhythm with the music...

It was a freak cold that night, but the next day was in the 70s. They keep the Christmas lights on the trees downtown through Mardi Gras.

Parades rolled night and day for the past month.

Dig the beer can on this dolphin's nose...

And don't forget the TaTas...

Secrets to catching the good stuff include holding an upside-down umbrella or hat, standing 2-3 deep (the maskers always tend to be looking into the crowd, not directly below in the front row of people), and having a handicapped child in tow.

Mardi Gras Booty (from ONE parade)

It was a drive-by service, to be sure – in and out in 25 minutes flat. There was even a monk-like sung Psalm – she at first thought it was piped in while they strode forth to the altar to receive a cross-shaped smudge of ash on their foreheads. But after she had been dutifully ashed and turned the corner to make her orderly way down the outer aisle to return to her pew, she saw it was an actual dude in a black robe up in the balcony holding the Book of Common Prayer, singing Psalm 51, just like the Psalms were meant to have been sung. Cool!

The hypocrisy did not evade her: she was painfully aware that the slap-quick service included, as is customary, an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading…which included the verses about Jesus teaching that we are not to appear as though we are openly fasting or suffering or giving alms or whatever it is we should do in secret to the Father…and the irony of receiving an ashen cross on the forehead, being sent forth for the rest of the day to bear this mark in public. LOOK AT ME! I WENT TO CHURCH MID-WEEK AND ENGAGED IN A HOLY ACTIVITY! DID YOU?! And yet, she has seen each denomination do some of the same thing in different ways, and each denomination find scorn in the other (smug one-upmanship). Or find comfort in the one that challenges them least, then they get stuck but think they are secure.

She thought, too, about how some denominations pooh-pooh the ritual in some churches, and likewise, how the ritualized churches pooh-pooh the loosely-structured, more casual worship of non-denominational churches. But they all do the same thing…basically. One cannot say that a ritual like, say, communion, is more meaningful when it is done less often, or that those who take communion each week have fallen into a meaningless routine. Meaningless routine can sneak upon us like a thief in the night, in whatever way we (WE!) think is best to worship Him.

She then thought of her spiritual journey which brought her from this very church at birth, to other denominations and churches through various phases of her life, and remembered that He hasn’t changed, His word remains as is. Man can create their variations of worship, but it all boils down to our relationship with God, from our hearts, and man is not to judge. There is no way he possibly can. God gives us His Word to go by…and in that we can know what He expects – and it is okay to worship this way or that way – it is our heart He sees, our intent. An ages-old ritual can be tired or fresh, depending on the participant…just as can the more modern, less-structured formats can incite zealous fire yielding to years of unhealthy comfort.

To her, it was old ritual seen anew, with refreshed meaning in the act of repentance…an exercise in evaluation the journey past, the current state of the heart, and the intentions for the future. The message was the same whether coming from an evangelical bent or a formalized, old-church ritual.

What’s old is new. And vice versa.

Man is naturally a hypocrite (Paul summed it up nicely in his exposition of doing what he willed not to do and not doing what he willed to do). As long as men and women worship Him in any fashion, there will be hypocrisy. It is the curse of human nature…unavoidable, and certainly no excuse to avoid Him.

She knew God was looking at her heart, though, and there was nowhere to hide. She had to take inventory of the ways she had erred to excess in worldliness, in sin, in indulgence, in thoughts and feelings and actions…and it was high time to turn the steering wheel back over to Him, to apologize and sacrifice. Those who don’t believe in God, surely find themselves in positions to do the same with those whom they’ve disappointed. It is only human to humble ourselves when we reach a point of over-indulgence in folly, and folly is never known until hindsight. It is how we little children grow and develop, and is quite natural, and good. He rejoices in our growth process.  It is how we draw nearer to Him. It is how even our stumblings are occasion to celebrate.

So what did she give up for Lent?

That shall remain between her and Him!

What she wants to know is, what in blazes (no pun intended) was burned to create the sticky ashes glued to her forehead?!

All she knows is it is Her privilege to sacrifice so little for what He sacrificed so greatly, for us all.

Are you stuck? Change! Move! Vamoose! You may move, but He won’t, so don’t be afraid.

He will be wherever you land, waiting for you, as always.

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