In Defense of Tradition

I would like to think of myself as a creative person. My role with the CCO is to develop new ministries and have a vision for God to bring about new outreaches that have never been before. I get bored with routine and am energized by change. I share photographer Diane Arbus’s sentiment, “My favorite thing is to go where I have never been.” And yet I have found a home in the structure and tradition of the Anglican Church. How do creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand with centuries of sameness?

The dominant cultural narrative would say that they don’t. The message most young people are receiving is that freedom inherently means a lack of parameters and expectations. The goal is to be completely unique and unrestrained by anything that has come before. One of the best examples of this is ABC Family’s decision to change the name of their network to “Freeform.” Their promo about the shift says it all.

Free to be whoever you want however you want. There can be appealing aspects to this, and that message can also be deeply burdensome and overwhelming. That’s a lot of pressure to reinvent the wheel every day and astound people with your innovations. How might joining something bigger than our individual creativity enable us to experience a different kind of freedom?

When the Book of Common Prayer was compiled in England in 1549, it was in response to a church trend that had made prayer and scripture reading exclusive to priests. It was not considered normal or possible for the average person to access God in their personal lives or in their homes. Thomas Cranmer’s goal was to make prayer common, to teach people how to pray in their hearts and with their families. The BCP includes a lectionary of scripture readings to read each day throughout the year, and several prayer services and “collects” (themed prayers) to guide Christians into rhythms of prayer throughout their day. All of this was to draw people into community with one another and communion with Christ through prayer, scripture and worship. It was not meant to be restrictive or the end-point of prayer. Rather, a guide to focus our minds and hearts on the things of God and to lead us into further communion and worship.

Thomas-Cranmer

I came into the Anglican Church during a dark season in my life. My brother had been killed a year and a half earlier, and I was still in the midst of grief and depression. Much of the time I thought I would never feel whole again, and I felt abandoned by God. As a result, I had great difficulty praying because it didn’t seem like God wanted to hear from me. The liturgy was very new for me and at first seemed weird, but as I spent time with it the BCP gave me the words I hadn’t been able to generate myself but with which I desperately wanted to agree. It taught me to pray again as I repeatedly heard the Assurance of Pardon and the expression that God was for his people and not against us. Every time we celebrated Communion I was reminded, “The body of Christ, broken for you”, and “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” I heard that truth in my own heart and in the Lord ’s Supper was drawn near to Christ being made one with my brothers and sisters. I was no longer alone and adrift, but was part of an immediate church family as well as my historic/global community of faith.

The Global Anglican Fellowship Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. over 1500 people from 31 countries worshiping together

The Global Anglican Fellowship Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. over 1500 people from 31 countries worshiping together

Something else began to be opened up for me. Not only did I receive the peace and joy of Christ’s grace and mercy, but I started to hear God’s voice in new ways. In that peaceful space I was able to cultivate an attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit. For me personally (this is not true for everyone and that is 100% ok), I am distracted in worship services that are unpredictable. I tend to be on edge in those environments and am so worried about what’s happening next that it pulls me out of my focus on God. But the structure of liturgy created focus and peace for me that then opened me up to receive more from God. I experienced freedom and creativity in the rhythms of the prayer book and was drawn deeper into the life of the Spirit in worship. Tradition didn’t shut me down and limit me, it opened me up. Prayer and scripture became part of me in new ways that gave me fresh unity with Jesus. I grew in my faith, in my understanding of who God is to me and to the world, and in the knowledge that we serve an eternal God in whom there is no changing.

The historical church has certainly been guilty of misuses of the Bible to oppress people groups. I am not contending that tradition is flawless in every area. But the practices that have enriched and shaped the Church for generations do not need to be abandoned.  They can provide a beautiful opportunity to experience the peace and freedom of being guided into the presence of God. As we join with our brothers and sisters throughout the ages we’re primed to receive a new and personal relationship with our Savior. In being relieved of the anxiety of self-generated spirituality, we just might enter into God’s limitless presence.

Early Evening Collect

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

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