emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

Rituals? On the side, please.

After I withdrew from college, I spent a semester in a discipleship course with eleven other twentysomethings, learning to be a community. We spent every day, all day, together in classes, excursions, charitable activities, you name it. It was great. One of my favorite memories was every morning at 7:00 am, when we met for Matins. Named for the prayer service in Europe’s monastaries during the Middle Ages, Matins was our corporate morning devotional. We took it in turns to share, we sang hymns or simple worship songs, read prayers, read scripture, and prayed for one another. Then we began our day. Quite satisfactory.

One morning, our Fearless Leader Dave had us reading prayers he supplied. Many of them I now recognize as belonging to various books of prayer or ritual prayers from various denominations. I actually kind of love it. But the most loved of all of them was the one that I was to read out loud:

Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do,  direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I loved this prayer. I still love it. It has become for me my own ritual – it’s how I start my day. Sometimes I say it as I roll out of bed, and sometimes I forget and several  hours will go by before I pray it.

It is not, of course, the only way I pray. I often pray and talk to God as my dearest and most intimate friend. I cherish that. But I hold a soft spot for ritual and formal prayers because I think they serve as an excellent reminder that in addition to being my most intimate relationship, God is also the Holy One, the ultimate king, Creator of all things. And that position commands and demands the formality and respect that so many rituals offer.

But today I realized something when I began to pray my “matins prayer.” I totally wasn’t feeling it. I was a bit upset with Papa; a bit restless and not at all remembering or believing that he is who he says he is, and what that means for the totality of existence, let alone me. [Side note: in my more intimate conversations with or about God, I refer to him as Papa. Yes, I’m copying The Shack. No, I don’t care. Yes, I love it. Also, as the post will be very intimate from here on in, I’ll be using ‘Papa’ now.]

I stopped halfway through the prayer, and remained silent for several minutes, deep in thought. I began to speak aloud to Papa, talking through my line of thought, and letting the Spirit flow. It was pretty heavy, and kind of awesome. I kind of love it when this happens. In the words of my friends Bob and Joni, it was a “thin veil” moment; a moment when I felt as if the other side of eternity were just in front of me, blocked by a veil that if I could but push through, I would be in the throne room of the Almighty. Again, kind of heady, but so intense and powerful that I was having trouble standing.

I came out of the conversation with the idea that ritual cannot be allowed to override relationship. I have a relationship with Papa, one in which ritual can be a very effective tool to help me view my Lord with a perspective that involves respect that he is due. That is excellent. However, he is also my Heavely Father. In my interaction with my Heavenly Father, in the most private and intimate arena of my heart, I can be wholly his son.

As a son to my earthly father, there are times in our private interactions in which I need to give him respect and honor. Other times, I can approach him with raw emotion and passion. We have a relationship as father and son. Relationship dictates our interaction.

With Papa, the same applies. Today our relationship was in a place where I could just burst into the room, throw myself on his shoulder, and vent. Cry. Communicate. Then, after a time, listen. In such a place relationally, it was out of order for me to come through the door, stand fidgeting and staring at the carpet, and begin to mumble a formal address. My heart wasn’t it in. I didn’t mean it. Relationship needed to trump ritual in that moment.

As I pulled myself together again, I began to think of this particular ritual – my “matins prayer” I love so much – as a thing that Papa and I do… most days. Kind of like the power of a nickname, I suppose. I think that most mornings, praying that particular prayer will be a thing that Papa loves to hear me do, as it holds particular meaning for us. But not always. Because relationship will triumph over ritual, as far as I’m concerned.

At least that’s what I’ve come to believe in this season.

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