I read something this week on my friend Gordon's blog which really resonated for me. It's part of his Beginner's Guide to Becoming Episcopalian series. Gordon Atkinson -- some of y'all may know this -- blogs these days at Tertium Squid; he used to blog at Real Live Preacher. Here's the snippet I want to highlight for y'all:
[H]ere’s the deal: do you really want to go to a church for the first time and understand everything that’s going on? Do you really want to walk into the most sacred hour of the week for an ancient spiritual tradition and find no surprises and nothing to learn or strive for? Do you really want a spiritual community to be so perfectly enmeshed with your cultural expectations that you can drop right into the mix with no effort at all, as if you walked into a convenience store in another city and were comforted to find that they sell Clark Bars, just like the 7-11 back home?
I do hope you’ll give this a little more effort than that. Because something wonderful can happen when you stop trying to figure out what you should be doing in a worship service. When you admit to yourself that you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll just sit and listen. Because that’s really all you can do. And that’s actually a very nice spiritual move for you to make.
Reading this, I found myself thinking: right on. I know that Jewish liturgical prayer can be opaque and distancing for people who don't already know what's what. There's a lot of Hebrew. Many of the prayers are very, very old. So are many of the traditions surrounding those prayers. Different communities have different practices: we sit, we stand, we bow, some of us shuckle / sway back and forth like a mother holding a fussy baby. Our worship can be incredibly beautiful and meaningful, but if you don't have access to what's going on, that can feel distancing. I know that.
And yet I love Gordon's point that when one walks into sacred space and sacred community, partaking in the worship of an ancient covenantal community, it's okay to not understand everything from the get-go. What a bummer it would be if entering into communal-spiritual life just happened instantly, in a flash, and there was nothing else to learn -- nothing else to master -- nothing else to strive for. Is that really what we want? Effortless spirituality, the microwave TV-dinner experience of pressing a button and being instantly fed?
Don't get me wrong -- it's important to have moments of immedate access to God and immediate connection with a community. But there's also a lot of spiritual richness in giving oneself over to an experience one doesn't entirely intellectually understand, and trusting that faith and connection and understanding will grow over time. Some things are worth investing time in. Relationships. Parenthood. Delving into a culture or a religious tradition. So it might take a lifetime: so what? What else do you plan to do "with your one wild and precious life?"
Sometimes I think we give our own tradition(s) short shrift: we're willing to have the experience of being unfamiliar, being in beginner's mind, when we travel to someplace foreign and far away, but in our own traditions we want everything to be easy. And yet there's a kind of gift, a kind of magic, which maybe only arises when we allow ourselves to be given-over to a liturgical experience we don't need to entirely understand. Anyway, Gordon says all of this beautifully. Read his whole post here: Let the big people say what needs to be said.