Blessed – how sacramental reality brings peace

Yesterday my house was blessed.

Friends gathered. The priest came with stohl and holy water. We walked through the house, prayed words, crossed ourselves. And the house was blessed.

After everyone was gone, leftover cheese wrapped tightly, dishes washed, chairs set back around the table — after it all, I paused. And for one moment I felt the old anxiety. Did I mean it enough? Did I feel it enough? Is my house really blessed?

I was 10 years old the winter I was baptized. I stood in the pool, freezing. Said yes to the pastor’s questions. Emerged shivering and wet.

I was 10 years old. The following years were chaotic. Again and again I was questioned: did you really mean your baptism? Or did you just get wet?

How was I to know? I was 10. I was scared of hell. I wanted to belong in church. I wanted to please my parents.

Well, did you have true saving faith?

I searched my heart, my soul. I couldn’t find the answer. I did want to be baptized. I did want to be a Christian. Did I believe all the right things? No – but who does? I’m sure I still don’t have everything right.

Had you repented?

Of what? How thoroughly? I still sinned – a lot. There were some sins I just couldn’t shake. But I tried really hard to be good. Did that count? Was it enough?

After fifteen years of being questioned, of questioning myself, I gave up. If I hadn’t really been baptized – meaning, if I hadn’t meant and believed all the right things at the time I was baptized – then, I was repeatedly told, I needed to be baptized. If I had been baptized . . . well, I figured getting dunked wouldn’t offend God too much. So, at 25 years old I stood in a much warmer lake, answered yes to the same questions, and emerged dripping and relieved.

A year later I walked into an Anglican church. I watched babies get baptized. I smiled as little children cupped their hands to receive communion. I witnessed adults renew their baptismal vows. I joined with the congregation on the feast days, renewing our vows, receiving the sprinkled reminder of our own baptisms. Slowly, deep peace settled in me.

Sacraments are real. All the introspective diligence of my earlier years is unnecessary. Communion, baptism – they are realities independent of me, of my changing emotions, thoughts, beliefs and moods. Did I have all the right intentions and beliefs when I was baptized at age 10? at age 25? On the deepest level, it does’t matter. I was baptized. Such comfort!

It is to that peace I now return. My mind wandered yesterday. My heart did not fully enter into prayer. I was distracted, tired, distant. But my house was blessed. Neither prayer nor holy water draws its efficacy from my mental state. The Lord hears.

Let this dwelling be made holy; let every unclean spirit depart, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ: May health, joy, and cheerfulness be given to those who live here, and may your divine Majesty ever protect and preserve them. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Year after Year

YOLO. You only live once: the motto of our hurried culture. There’s only one chance: one chance to do this thing, to understand this lesson, to see this scene, to meet this person. If you don’t take this opportunity, you’ve lost it. Grab the chance.

My first year in church time I lived this hurried grasping. I loved Advent, but I couldn’t absorb it before Christmas rushed in. Then there was Lent, so full of blessing. I never wanted it to end–how could I hold on to all this blessing?–yet I was curious and ready for Holy Week. But who can capture Holy Week? Who can experience and remember and do it all? Easter was barely over before I was longing for next Holy Week. Could we just skip Ordinary Time?

As I entered my second church year, the Lord calmed my frantic grasping.

When we teach children the liturgical year we do not teach them a series of events. Instead, we show them a great circle, a clock of sorts. There’s no beginning, no end. The seasons come in order, over and over and over again. Here, in this cycle of seasons, the Church lives Holy Time. And here, in this cycle of seasons, I merge my life with the life of Church and enter the abundance of Holy Time.

I still love each liturgical season. The anticipation of Advent, the quiet joy of Christmas and Epiphany, the opening grace of Lent, the intense journey of Holy Week, the uproarious joy of Easter, the cluster of Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays, the long growth of Ordinary time, the exclamation point of All Saints’–I love them all. But more than each season, I now love the rhythm, the cycle.

The liturgical year is Holy Time, outside the swirl and demands of the world’s time. When I enter it, I step out of our broken, hurried world and into the Kingdom of God. Here I live with hands wide open to the gifts of each season. And, as each season passes, I gladly enter the next, knowing the passing season will return again. Gone is the desperate grasping. Gone also is the sense that I determine my spiritual life.

Holy Time, with its feasts and fasts and ordinary times, rarely correlates with my present experiences. Instead, as I deliberately engage in the feast or fast, I’m drawn into the experience of Church. By living the liturgical year, I practice the truth that I am not alone, that I am a member of Holy Church. Together, as we enter the rhythms of the liturgical year, we proclaim Christ’s reign in this world. In Holy Time we live the truth of God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom marked by events more significant than any in this passing age, an eternal Kingdom where there is no need to grasp time.

Day after Day

It’s seven in the morning. Not quite awake, I enter the chapel. I dip my hand in the holy water and cross myself. The familiar words begin:

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness . . .

“Let us confess our sins . . . “

Why am I here again? Why am I repeating these words yet again?

I came from a church tradition that fears empty repetition, insists all prayer be spontaneous, and belittles ceremony. This service of all services, the morning and evening, day after day repetition of confessions, creeds, prayers, psalms—this service is the most foreign to my upbringing. Yet it is most familiar.

As a child I lived in Turkey and attended Turkish schools. There I experienced ritual, ceremony, and repetition. Every morning I stood at attention with hundreds of children in the schoolyard—with millions of children in schoolyards across the country—and recited The Oath. “I am a Turk! I am upright! I am diligent! . . .” Day after day, week after week, year after year . . . The words were woven into the fabric of my being. What began as a required recitation of uncomprehended words became the expression of my identity, in particular, of my identity as one of a People.

Holy Week 2013. In Vigil I would become a member of the church. As the disciplines of Lent opened my heart, I heard a drastic call: the call to shift my identity from Turkey to Holy Church. I wrestled with the call. My very identity was being torn out of me. Would I accept this death? Deep within I accepted, yet continued to wrestle. How would this new identity look? What was I being called to? How would Holy Church ever become the very warp and woof of my life, the People of my identity? As I cried and prayed my way through Holy Week, the Lord brought a gentle answer to my questions: daily office.

Through daily words and ceremony I became of Turkey; through daily words and ceremony I am becoming of Church. The Oath shaped my identity; the Creed and The Lord’s Prayer reshape my identity.

That is why I am here at seven in the morning. That is why I stand and kneel, say the words, pray the prayers, hear the Scriptures. Some days I stumble through, barely awake. Some days my lips form words I cannot say through my tears. Some days I feel nothing and my distracted mind wanders to trees and chores and intricacies of the HVAC system. Some days I am fully present, drinking in the beauty of God’s presence. I would love to experience all days fully present. But, in a way, whether I do doesn’t matter. Whether I feel it or not, whether I can focus on it or not, whether I can understand it or not, the ritual of the daily office transforms me through its sheer daily-ness.

I stand and proclaim, “I believe in one God . . . I believe in Jesus Christ . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy, catholic Church . . .” And I know: I belong in Church.