I slept so good last night. I don’t know why. I felt peaceful. It was a weekend of ups and downs. I was up because I did all kinds of adult things like taxes and cleaning and retirement. I was down because I failed to apply to any jobs out of fear and inadequacy, and then I was up again at the god-forsaken late undergrad mass at nine p.m. with the RCIA crew.
I went to church twice yesterday, like I do, and I felt little at the Church of Christ, and I felt awesome at Mass. Now, I know, it’s not all about me, but I feel bad disliking someone’s preaching style. This one guy at Brookline, I actually like his style, it’s great style, unfortunately it feels mostly just like, style, to me. Half of what he talks about is fluffy non-sense, and then there is some sort of challenge, or questions. He repeats the story from the reading. He affirms the congregation. He rarely teaches anything new, or even teaches at all. Occasionally, something inspired comes out of his mouth, but you really need to pay attention and sift out the overly poetic language.
Now, I’ve actually wondered if I am also prone to doing the same thing. I don’t know! Am I too fluffy without enough depth and meaning and organization? Do I use too much fluffy language? Do I not get to the point fast enough? I honestly don’t know. And this frightens me. Perhaps this preacher is sitting and thinking the same thing about me.
Anyway, the whole Sunday message centered around “the kingdom of heaven (God, etc), and being called, etc etc etc. Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 4-9, 1 Cor 1:10-18, Matt 4:12-23. At Brookline, I glazed over the readings. Yay call! Yay kingdom! Yay call and kingdom NOW (not later)! I felt no attachment or challenge or interest in it.
But at Mass, the first thing that the priest mentioned was how John the Baptist was always alone, but Jesus, as soon as John was arrested, went and got a posse, a community, the disciples. I don’t think I had ever thought about this before. Not only that, but the readings corresponded with the “Rite of the Catechumen.” Basically, this is a ritual in the liturgical season and the official beginning for adult preparation for baptism. Each Catechumen stands up around the Holy Water with their sponsor, and the priest says some nice prayers, and the catechumens respond, and their sponsors mark them with a cross all down their body: ears, nose, mouth, eyes, heart, head, shoulders, hands and feet. They get super blessed and then they are sent on their way.
I thought it was so cool the way it corresponded with the readings of being called. I mean, I should expect nothing less from the Catholic church. But it may not happen like that every year! I don’t even think that rite has to take place on any particular Sunday or at all.
If you must know, I did not get to partake in this Rite. I, am a mere candidate, not a catechumen. This means I have already been baptized. I don’t think it’s fair. I want to be a part of the catechumen ritual. I loved the liturgy.
I also know that lots of other churches who do confirmation (or some version), do it similarly. Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists all do it. That is a very large chunk of Christianity. I think Mormons even do some sort of form of confirmation.
I wasn’t raised this way, with seasons in the church, but I do love it. It adds to a certain united energy. Where we can all feel the same things, and focus our prayer together. When liturgy is about call, we remember our call. When it’s about fasting, we fast. When it’s about the anxiety of the new in advent, we’re anxious. When it’s triduum, we’re patient. When it’s ordinary, we let it be.
It’s awesome. That’s not to say that God can’t do something immediately or outside the lectionary, but I think the structure can be good in that it keeps us humble. I don’t get to just choose to be mindful of whatever I want to be mindful of. I might have to be mindful of someone else depending on the season. If I’m not anxious during advent, I certainly can pray for those who are.
It’s a thin line between being told exactly how to do worship with God and expect the Spirit to move within that. Its very different from having “open worship” where “anything can happen” and “the Spirit” can move in whatever direction whenever.
I would take Catholics to Evangelical church, and they would always be like, “I didn’t know what to focus on” or “It seemed chaotic.” In one place, people are putting their hands up, while some people are going to the front, then others are going to the back. Different people speak on the mic. Others randomly come and grab people to pray. Some pray in the pews, some on the side. Where are you supposed to focus? Ah. The Spirit does what the Spirit wants.
But, I’ve been attending church for a long time, and even when it seems chaotic, there is a formula. The same things happen every week, and someone may claim that the Spirit is “different” every week, but this is kind of a subjective phenomenon. Instead of the readings being different, or the seasons being different, the “theme” is different. One day might be just about praise, another might be about how unworthy we are, another might be about peace or patience or confession or quiet time. Then the same things occur— singing, praying, preaching, hands up, hands down, kneeling, baptizing, communing. Don’t pretend it’s any less ritualistic.