Friday, February 23, 2007

Thin Places

“Standing in the temple we stand in heaven.”

I have spoken of the origins of the Christian temple in the experience of the “assembly as the Church.” We can now add that insofar as this assembly is undoubtedly conceived of as heavenly, the temple is that “heaven on earth” that realizes the “assembly as the Church.” It is the symbol that unites these two realities, these two dimensions of the Church – “heaven” and “earth,” one manifested in the other, one made a reality in the other.

--from The Eucharist by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000.

I always tell myself that liturgy is a hard sell. Many folks see liturgy as “empty ritual;” others see it as superstition, still others see it as boring, interminably long and irrelevent to their daily lives.

But I need ritual. I’d even go so far to say that we all need it – a connecting point with the Divine, a place to physicalize our spiritual longing. I’ve taken part in many spiritual rituals in my lifetime – passed the sacred pipe around, danced to the drums, sung Kum Ba Ya around the campfire, prayed inside a Sukkah, attempted yoga poses my body was not ready for. But specifically I have found that I need the Liturgy. I need it not just for the incense and the icons and the chant, not just for crossing myself and bowing or for the priest coming out of the altar all in gold – I need it because it connects me with a specific Story that resonates for me like no other Story has. The idea of the Divine becoming human and entering the human experience in order to co-suffer with me, with my friends and enemies, and with every torture victim, every hungry person, every abused child, every one of us who has ever felt lost and alone – that is a concept that will not let me go.

Faith in this Story is just that. Faith and nothing more. I can live with the possibility that it may not be true – that God may not have become incarnate and entered history. But I have decided to live my life as if it is true. I’m willing to be that foolish because the notion of Jesus the God-Man fills me with completeness.

The Celts spoke often of “thin places,” where heaven and earth came together. In Orthodox thinking, the Liturgy is such a place. When I forget myself, time stops and I am there in the presence of Christ, walking through the whole Story with Him. When I do not forget myself, I am focused on my singing, my children behaving themselves, the time, my rumbling stomach. But even then, He is there and the words stay with me all week long:

Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God, Who for our salvation willed to be Incarnate of the Holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, Who without change became man and was crucified; Who is one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: O Christ our God trampling down death by death, save us.

I’ve heard it said that life is really just about showing up. So this is where I show up on Sunday mornings, presenting myself to Mystery, allowing it to be bigger than I am, hoping that the co-suffering love of Christ will take ahold of me so that I can take it out into the world and do what I could not otherwise do.