Friday, April 2, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 44 - Personal Rituals

-->Day 44 – Maundy Thursday
Personal Rituals

Ok—now, I’m aware that some people who may have had a bad experience of liturgical churches may shrink back from the word “ritual.” They say, “My worship has no ritual. It’s not done by rote. It’s all heartfelt.” But the truth is, everybody has rituals. We also call them habits. We get up, yawn, stretch, get a shower, brush our hair, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and grab our keys—every single morning before leaving the house. This is our morning ritual. We do it because it’s what works for us. You know as well as I do, that when you oversleep and have to skip or alter your morning routine, it throws you off for the whole day. The same is true with our religious or spiritual rituals.

“But I’m a member of ________________ church,” you may say. “We don’t have rituals.”

Oh, yes you do. Even the most laid-back, non-liturgical church has rituals. We tend to do things the same way every week, and often we have a reason. Like at our church, we sing the Doxology every single week after we take up the offering. If we didn’t do it, something just wouldn’t feel right. When I first arrived at Antioch, I suggested to our worship leaders that we do away with that part of our service that I call the “howdy-do.” That’s where we take a break during the worship service and greet one another. It took way too much time and actually detracted from the flow of worship. But when I tried to get rid of it, I discovered that the greeting really was part of the culture of the church. So we didn’t dispose of it—we just found a way to do it that was more appropriate to the flow of worship.

Whether it’s the order of worship or the manner of dress worn by clergy and choir, your church has rituals. How many hymns and praise songs do you sing? Are there certain responses to liturgy that everybody “just knows?” Does the sanctuary furniture have to be in just the right place? How would it be if these things were changed?

Just as all our churches have rituals, so we also have personal rituals. Me, I like to sit in the same armchair each morning before anybody gets up, and pray. If I don’t have that cup of coffee beside me, something must be wrong. I have a whole collection of Bibles, but I have one in particular that I like to use for my personal prayer time. Some Christians use prayer beads or burn incense or light candles when they pray. Others cover themselves with a prayer shawl, kneel in the same position each evening, or use the same devotion book for years. Some always use the same prayer form (A.C.T.S. or J.O.Y., for example). Rituals can give us a sense of connection or grounding. When someone crosses himself, he immediately and wordlessly ushers himself into God’s presence. By raising her hands in prayer, a believer invites God to lift her into His arms. These gestures, tokens, and prayer devices all have deep meaning to many believers. What prayer rituals bring you comfort and peace?

Now, what if they were taken away?

While it’s good to have predictability in prayer, and personal rituals that give a sense of continuity and comfort, it’s also important not to rely on them. It’s God’s Spirit that should ultimately give comfort, and not the lighting of a candle. While the burning of incense might provide a sweet aroma for worship, it’s God’s Spirit that makes your prayer time truly sweet. Every now and then, I find myself away from my easy chair and my favorite Bible—and I believe it’s good for me to do without them. While personal rituals are good, we can’t let them take the place of true spirituality, where we experience God in a personal way. Don’t mistake ritual for relationship. Seek His face. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8 ESV).”

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