“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.” – Madeleine L’Engle
That quote might once have been my reason for becoming Orthodox. Because I was seeking more. Because I was longing for depth. Because the pat answers to my questions hurt too much. Because I found something more in Orthodoxy. I found belief in beauty. I found the importance of Eucharist. I found the tradition of the saints. I found kairos time. I thought I was brave back then. I was leaving the Old for the New (or, if you think about it, I guess it’s actually vice versa).
I used to worship in the midst of praise bands, raised hands, altar calls, and fevered extemporaneous prayers.
Now I worship in the midst of Byzantine chant, crossing myself, communion, and long-recited memorized prayers.
Once it was very, very important to me to tell everyone that I’d found truth. I’d found out what worship truly was: the work of the people. I’d found relief from having to constantly feel God. The act of worshipping him was enough. Sure, I still felt God during worship sometimes, but if I didn’t, there was no reason to feel guilty. Instead, I continued to do the work of worship; I continued to offer myself to God by reciting the creeds of the ancient Christians, participating in a communal confession, and revering the icons of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Every physical act had a spiritual effect, whether I felt it explicitly or not.
My newfound love for liturgy had me on a spiritual and emotional high. I wanted to take everyone else with me.
There was a day that I visited a church with a good friend. It was a high-emotion, high-drama church. People were shouting and singing and dancing in the aisles. My friend was excited and rejuvenated after the service. I remember telling her that it “wasn’t really true worship.”
It took me a long time to apologize for that.
No matter how much I like or believe in liturgical worship, it it not my place to judge someone for their way of worship. It’s not an act of love to condemn a group of people who love and follow Jesus.
I am learning that anything can become an idol. A worship style. A church. A piece of Scripture. Rules and expectations. Lists of “rights” and “wrongs.” Traditions that don’t make sense anymore. Even good things can become idols sometimes. All of the things that we preach and teach and do in church need to be means to communion with God and a deeper spiritual life, not ends in themselves.
If I take Madeleine L’Engle’s quote seriously, it means that I am brave enough to admit that I, too, have made idols out of such things.
Maybe I have even made an idol out of faith itself. It seems like all I do with my faith nowadays is hold it up to the light and turn it round and round in my hands to inspect it. I observe, I speculate, and I test it with all my poking and prodding. I hold it at arms length, analyzing it from afar. I But maybe I need to pull it close to my heart again. Maybe I need to remember that this – yes, even this – can become an object to be idolized, rather than a deep-soul understanding.
Maybe that more is not the certainty about a particular church or worship style, but the ability to see our own faults and accept God’s grace to move beyond them. Maybe that bravery is finding ways to love rather than to judge.
In the Nazarene Church I used to attend, we used to get into a circle at the front of the church for communion. At my Orthodox Church this coming Sunday, we will get in a circle of forgiveness for Forgiveness Vespers. Maybe that’s what faith should be: not an idol, but a circle, something we travel around and around, sometimes weary, sometimes exuberant, but always leading us back to each other.