There are those people who are simply the carriers of tradition but yet they don’t hold the heart of it. They are more interested in the rules and the rituals rather than the spirit.
They are the envelope,
but not the letter.
They are the vase,
but not the flower.
There the cup,
but not the wine.
These things need containers to hold them, certainly. How much of the awakening right now is because tradition has kept things going all along, held it in trust for us? It is as if our ancestors have saved up money for us all these thousands of years and now we are finally able to buy what they were saving for. Not only do we finally have enough saved up but finally what we need to buy is available. This is a time of ripening, of fruition, of opening.
The tradition bearers are confused when the younger generation has started to fill the tradition with heart and meaning. They think the tradition is more important – that it must be kept. They are afraid something will be lost in translation and that the unbroken (they think) chain of transmission will fall apart and the efforts of many generations will be in vain.
It is as if a family kept a house up for many years, cleaning it, repairing it, painting it exactly the same way it had been painted thousands of years ago. They have used the same materials that their ancestors used. But nobody lived there. It was a house, but not a home. Then a new generation comes in and says now is the time for people to live here, and the old generation balks. They are afraid the tenants will damage the house – not understanding the house was maintained for this very purpose.
The same thing is happening with faith traditions right now.
Some Pharisees and other Jewish leaders traveled from Jerusalem to question Jesus. They asked “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders? They don’t practice the ritual of ceremonially washing their hands before they eat.”
Jesus asked them “Why do you follow your tradition and break God’s commandments? You have made God’s commandments invalid so that you could preserve your tradition. For example, Moses said “Honor your father and mother,” and “Whoever speaks against his parents must be put to death”. But instead you say that people should give their gifts to the Temple instead of helping out their needy parents. You make it impossible for people to do anything for their parents. You have done away with God’s word by your man-made traditions. And you do many other things like this.”
“The prophet Isaiah spoke correctly about you hypocrites when he said ‘These people draw near to Me with what they say, but their hearts are far from Me. In vain they worship Me because they teach the rules of men as if they are My commandments.’”
MT 15:1-9, MK 7:1-13
I’ve come to see fear of anything as a lack of trust in God. If we think that we are in charge then we aren’t trusting that God is in charge.
Fear of flying is one example. If you won’t get on a plane because you are afraid it will crash, you are putting your life in your own hands and taking it out of God’s hands. You are not understanding that you will live as long as you will live only because God is in charge.
You did not cause your own birth. Likewise, your death is out of your hands. Your birth and your death and everything in between is in God’s hands.
Obsessive compulsive behavior is another example. In this behavior you are showing that you believe that your safety and well being is in your hands, and not in God’s. In this situation, you may think that if you turn off the lights a certain way, you will be safe. Or you may think that if you drink tea on Wednesdays instead of coffee, you will have a good day at work. It is all about ritual and not about faith.
And perhaps that is what is at the heart of the problem with church these days. Too much ritual and not enough faith.
I love the experience of singing “Silent Night” in the darkness. Every person has a candle that is unlit at the beginning. By the end of the song the whole room is lit up.
There is something magical and amazing about the symbolism of sharing candlelight. A couple of people light their candles from the Christ Candle – the center of the Advent wreath. They share the light with a few others nearby. Then they share with others next to them. The light spreads out exponentially. Within a short time, everybody’s candle is lit, all from the light from one candle, and the effort of one person at a time sharing with another person.
This is how faith works. A few people get lit up by the light of God, and they share it with others. It is shared by personal experience and testimony. It is shared person to person. This is part of what we mean when we say that we believe in an apostolic faith. We mean to say that we got it from someone who got it from someone who got it (and on and on) from an apostle, who got it from Jesus.
There is also something magical about watching the light spread in someone’s face when their candle lights. They are in darkness, and then the light gets to them and their candle flame is low at first, and then gets stronger. As it picks up strength, the light blooms in her face. This too is what faith is like.
Share the Light, my friends.