Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Symbols, Rituals, and Traditions+ Meanings and Understanding

I had a great chat with a cafe client today that got me thinking about church worship rituals and traditions. If you look through any church liturgy (whether highly liturgical or very free form) you can see that people tend to get stuck in traditions. Traditions and rituals in and of themselves are not bad (In fact, I believe they are both necessary and inevitable), however they seem to be formed a little like this. Someone tries something new or creates a new symbol to help people connect with God and it works. People like it. They connect with God. Then the symbol or ritual is basically canonized. A group of people think, "Aha, this is the way to worship God correctly!"

Then, slowly over time the original understanding or meaning is forgotten and a people slowly begin to worship the symbol, ritual or tradition. When this happens it ceases to be worship of God and becomes idolatry. I am guilty of doing this in my own life and I have seen it happen varying degrees in every church that I have ever been a part of.

So, what can we do? I love the verse that says we should "worship in Spirit and in Truth". We have to engage both our mind and our heart when we worship. It should be full of both passion and understanding. And no matter what ritual, tradition or symbols we use, we need to keep reminding ourselves why we do what we do!

Let us remind our congregations, our children and (when appropriate) our friends. Christianity has a long history of deep, meaningful and powerful rituals, traditions, and symbols. Let's explore both the ancient and contemporary ways that the saints have connected and communed with our Lord. Let's be willing to try old ways and new ways, both full of understanding. Let's be willing to fast for a season from some of the traditions that we have set up as idols, so that we can return to them with renewed understanding and renewed passion.