Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of A Punctuation Mark

Sometimes it is difficult to be an Episcopalian. It is especially difficult when we find ourselves in disagreement with one another, because we actually prefer unity to disunity. Nonetheless, even in the midst of turmoil we frequently come across a kind of “punctuation mark” in life that helps us remember who and whose we are called to be in our common life.

Mom, you are not going to believe what happened in school today.”

This was a radio spot I heard in the car. A little girl was talking to her mother. She was very excited as she recounted the event.
A Hopi Indian visited our class today. He showed us how he dances to pray and how he burned leaves to purify his soul. He showed us lots of other rituals. I wish I was a Hopi Indian.”

Her mother responded very gently, “Honey, we're Jewish – and we have rituals. When I was a little girl, my mother used to light candles every Friday night and we would sing special songs. Then on Saturday night, we would have a special meal to say goodbye to the Sabbath.”

Mom, why don't we do those things?”

Well, you know, we are pretty busy and you have lots of lessons and things. We just have a pretty hectic schedule to keep up.”

Mom, can we go to Grandma's house on Friday so she can show me the rituals you used to do when you were a little girl?”

This message was brought to you by the Jewish Federation. Come back, learn the rituals and participate in our programs.”

I am not sure I was able to capture all of it because I was in the car, but this is the essence of the message on the radio which surprised me recently. It made me think. It made me a little sad. It made me think again.

How difficult is it to be an Episcopalian? What are our rituals? How do they identify us?

This is your punctuation mark for today.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ritual? Telling worshipers when to stand, if able. . what page to turn to, if you are sighted. . . and the Church's position on almost everything which it is always able to do . . .

  3. Bishop Bob,

    Last Sunday I heard a United Methodist Preacher tell of spilling a cup of grape juice all over herself during communion and declaring that she was covered by Grace; bad sacramental theology turns rituals upside down.

    I too miss the rituals of well led corporate worship and the ceremonies accompanying the rituals.

  4. We seem to have erred on the side of the "informal" while not being inclined to teach good liturgy and practice. How can people "remember" when they've never been taught? Are new clergy taught Good Liturgy in seminary? What about our non-seminary trained clergy. What do they really know?

  5. Bob+ Well spoken! The lack of liturgy is only one of the many deficiencies of 'home schooled' clergy.

  6. Bob,
    This was great! We need to teach and experience our faith and parents do a great disservice to their kids when they let other schedules dictate their lives. It not just for the kids either - marriages and family life benefit.

  7. I am much more concerned about authentic sacramental experiences than rituals. We must be careful because an over emphasis on liturgy leads to a cultic culture as opposed to a spiritual community.

  8. There are two broad aspects of the rituals of the Jewish shabbat that stand out to me. One is that, as I understand it, it is a ritual largely presided over by the wife/mother (and so provides a sort of balance to the male leadership/prominence of the synagogue). The other is that the ritual is in the home. So, there is this lived reality that all people, men, women, children, have important roles to play, and that these beliefs are not something simply acted on occasionally in public, but rather form the fabric and rhythm of private and family life.

    I think the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics do a pretty good job with this second aspect (lived faith in the home). Every Orthodox home has (or is expected to have) an icon corner, a carefully prescribed sacred space within the home. Among Roman Catholics, I have read about and experienced personally the concept of the home as a smaller reflection of the community of the Church (e.g. husband/father as 'priest' of his home), and I think one would be hard-pressed to find a RC home that didn't have, to a lesser or greater degree, prominent images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, rosaries, etc. You know when you're in a RC home.

    I think this is critically important. No matter how vibrant one's church, I think it is very difficult to grow spiritually or to raise children in the faith without deliberately and sincerely implementing some level of devotion or ritual into ones daily life. My concern is that I fear we Episcopalians (as a whole) don't do this very well. If this is true, it's the more pitiable in that this concern to provide the laity with a simple yet rich pattern for a Christian devotional life was one of the guiding principles in the creation of the Book of Common Prayer. And, as a resource, our Prayer Book does this beautifully. In my home, we have an icon prayer corner, where we keep our Bibles, prayer books, and other devotionals. It's here that I pray the Daily Office (or attempt to with some consistency, at any rate), and where we have thrice-weekly family devotions, using a form of Compline modified for the use of little ones with short attention spans. These devotions include the ritual of candle lighting and incense burning ('let my prayer be set forth in your sight ...'). Again, I think such a living into our faith and traditions in a way that daily shapes us and models for our children the integral nature of that faith is vital. However, it was not primarily from my church family that I received such encouragement and instruction, but rather from my being raised by evangelical Episcopalian parents, and from the influence of Orthodox and RC friends.

    Wow, sorry to have written an essay in the comment section. But this is something that I feel strongly about and have wondered over often. I hope I'm wrong in thinking that we don't do a good job at this; maybe it's just my own limited experience. As Episcopalians, do we expect our people to have lives of daily devotion and meaningful ritual? Do we instruct and provide direction to that end? If you were in the home of a parishioner, would you know, without having to ask, that this is an Anglican (or even merely Christian) home?