Here’s a story from a few years ago: I have a friend, let’s call her, “Dawn”. She and her family don’t live in this town (Anderson, Indiana), they live in a smaller town in close proximity. She used to come to Anderson only to do her grocery shopping at our PAYLESS. So, if she wants to find anywhere else in Anderson, as happened a few weeks ago, she asks…
“How do you get there, from PAYLESS?”,
…because THAT is her point of reference; her “portal” to all the other wonderfulness that is Anderson.
It is a funny story and we all laughed about it…AND I told her that I’d be using it in an upcoming blog…because, what she is finding now that she travels to Anderson for other reasons (like attending a CHURCH FILLED WITH AWESOMENESS), she relies less and less on her “first frame of reference” and sees the relationship of places and neighborhoods within the town. Some of those places are actually easier to find and reach if you don’t start from the parking lot at PAYLESS.
There is nothing wrong with having a point of reference. Without it, Dawn would not have seen or found quite a lot…but now her mind-map is expanded, she has a clearer idea of the layout. Her point of reference is always there, and may help her in the future, but she is less reliant upon it…as a portal to the rest of the world of Andersonland, it has served its primary purpose…and now it has a secondary one: to be there when she needs help discovering something new and can’t find it using the other places she has discovered.
I know you’re all wondering where this is going, and what possible life lesson I learned from this. Well, there are probably many, but the one that keeps coming back to me is that PAYLESS is (for Dawn) to Anderson, what ritual is to relationship (for Believers & Followers).
When I was in college and running out of classes that I HAD to take, and looking for classes I needed, to fulfill credit obligations…I found a fascinating class: “RITUAL FOR ARTISTS”. This class, taught by a psychologist and musicologist, was all about the human need for ritual, and the places it serves us well. When I’m talking “ritual” I’m not necessarily talking about spiritual ritual, I’m talking about what we do as individuals and in groups that form a “comfort level” of sameness for us. For instance, most of us do the same things in the morning, to get ready for the day, in the same order as we have done them for years…with additions of pill-taking (for those of us grown-ups) and care items for others, it pretty much stays the same.
And what about “pew-sitting”? I know for a fact that most of the people reading this, who attend Central (and probably any other church) sit in the same place, approximately, every Sunday…these are individual and corporate rituals. Rituals are comforting because they are something we control, and because they don’t change…but they are not, at least in the church, anything more than a “portal” and “point of reference” for the greater things.
The positive point about a worship service that offers something new every week is “interest”, but when the liturgy (definition: a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted”) is taken away, people become so tense and uncomfortable that the new thing is often seen as something not of “interest” but of “danger”.
“Ritual” in the worship of God, is a doorway that leads us to a place where we can seek out what we need. As we find ourselves more and more comfortable with the places we’ve found, the new knowledge of God and how that connects each of us together…we find that our “point of reference” changes, and ritual (which is always there) becomes less and less important…or more precisely, becomes exactly what it should be.
The problem lies when the only place we go is PAYLESS. In other words, many churches rely so much on ritual that IT becomes the destination, not just the point of reference. Don’t be fooled, this happens in high and low churches. This even happens in churches that don’t believe they have ANY ritual. I grew up in a congregation that believed “ritual” to be a bad word…but we had our own ritual in worship, and people learned quickly how important it was, if it was ever strayed from: Pre-Service Music, Opening Prayer, Opening Hymn, Special Music, Pastor’s Prayer, Sermon, Closing Song, Altar Response, Postlude…in that order, every Sunday of my life growing up! It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I hope that I learned to look beyond the ritual and find the relationship with God.
Rituals – point of references – and portals are something all of us need. For those who attend worship, the rituals of Central Christian Church give us comfort, like a big front door, or a fire in the fireplace…but we are not defined by our rituals. All of them; the times and places of songs, scriptures, prayers, thoughts, communion, are only the points-of-reference to a greater thing, to more knowledge, to a larger community. They are doorways to the heart of God. Hopefully, we ALL take the journey from RITUAL to RELATIONSHIP.
A philosophy I follow says this, which I believe is Truth from God:
When one does away with God, one is left with goodness.
When one does away with goodness, one is left with morality.
When one does away with morality, one is left with ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith, and the beginning of chaos.
Therefore, God concerns Himself with the depths
and not the surface,
with the fruit,
and not the flower.
Thanks to Dawn, for her unwitting lesson in finding God’s heart;
from RITUAL to RELATIONSHIP…
…and all from the unlikely place of the PAYLESS parking lot in Anderson, Indiana.