What About Ritual

When I was much younger, and living out my spiritual immaturity, I felt fairly confident that churches who honored rituals were stodgy, uninspired and disconnected from the Spirit of God. If it didn't look like my charismatic, jeans wearing, grape juice communion experience of the body of Christ, it just could not be the RIGHT way. And, as we all know, I was constantly searching for the right way. I needed to know that I was doing the right things and worshipping God appropriately. I was so young, friends. I understand how narrow and small this thought process was. But, it was me, nonetheless.

In the buildup to my deliverance from my Pharisee life, I dated this one boy. We were eighteen and going nowhere. He was abusive and shaming. I was clueless and depressed. So, when the moment came to get out, I jumped - blind and terrified. But I got out.

I - who had never done anything on my own, ever - moved to the Pacific Northwest to live with my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin. I was a mess, friends. Ashamed. Scared. Exhausted. Confused. It took months before I stopped waking up with my heart racing, having dreamt that I never got away. I spent a lot of time alone, sitting by the water, watching my life pool at my feet. I tried to pray, but words wouldn't come. I can't say that I felt like God was absent, because he was never so present. I just didn't know what to say to him. I couldn't remember how to approach him.

I tried to go to the community church on the island. It made sense. Those were my peeps, the ones who were doing it right. But I was lifeless there. I was triggered and anxious from the moment I pulled into the parking lot. Then I went to church with my Aunt and Cousin. We pulled into the parking lot of their Episcopal church, surrounded by lush trees and soft grass. I sat down on a hard wood pew and sank into old hymns that somehow comforted me. I drank wine from a cup and cried when the priest blessed me. And, when I picked up that worn book and read the prayers that were already prepared for me, I soaked in those words like they were cool water covering my burned skin. I heaved with every exhale, relieved that I could pray without knowing how to. I found rest in knowing that other people had been praying these words for hundreds of years before me. It ceased being the wrong way and starting being a different way. This was the way to healing for me. This was my very first step towards grace. In ritual, where I had once seen only legalism.

My Aunt was gentle with me, friends. Very, very gentle. She listened to me cry and grieve and question. She welcomed me into her own experiences and gave me a lot of room to process. My room was filled with books. So many beautiful books. I found Jesus on those shelves. He came for me through Henri Nouwen, Brother Lawrence, and Richard Foster. I poured over their ideas on ritual and meditation and healing, completely surprised at how readily I soaked it up. I was a dry sponge and ritual was water.

My first yoga class was on that island. In all honestly, I was nervous. I was doing new things, discovering new limits and depths to myself. Yoga was something that seemed to resonate with me, but I didn't know if it was okay for a Christian to do yoga. I did it in faith that Jesus was bigger than the small house I had built for him, and from my first class, set my intention on Jesus. I've never stopped.

It would be very easy for us to revert to our old ways. For some of us we have come to believe that Jesus is ONLY in ritual. For some of us we have been taught that Jesus has LEFT ritual. I want to suggest that we're all right, and we're all wrong. Maybe he uses ritual to uncover our smallness and uses a free-flowing grace to uncover his greatness. One thing I am certain of, whatever church wounds still haunt us (and there are more of us than we realize), Jesus will heal us within the body of Christ. Maybe you find that healing on a wood pew with a priest. Maybe you find it on your mat, hearts blazing before him. Maybe you find it in a loud, exuberant church service. Maybe you find it over wine with a grace-aware friend. Just don't be ashamed of where you find it. Don't feel like you have to be right, or wrong. Embrace joy in learning that healing and redemption are gifts that exclude no one, and that perfectly fit everyone.

In the next few weeks I'm going to post about spiritual disciplines. I'm going to write about what has healed and shaped me. I'm going to draw from other broken people who have already written about it. I hope you will come to the table with a sweet willingness to be both right and wrong. I hope you encounter freedom from, or through, ritual. I hope you find rest for your spiritual weariness and comfort for your ache. Just come, friend.

Maybe this series will be your island experience, or maybe it will remind you of when you encountered Jesus in an unfamiliar space.

Just come to the table. There's room for you here.

*August 2013