There are practices that appear to cross all religious systems and are near universal means for spiritual formation. Prayer is a human enterprise limited to no one religious tradition. Prayer is universal and even how one prays is widely similar. Now in these days a curious phenomenon has appeared. the secular rationalist and dismissive secular American. has begun to unconsciously fashion faux ancient practices. I got my first cue from Gertrude Muller Nelson in her book, TO DANCE WITH GOD..
SHE WROTE “WHEN THE CHURCH GAVE UP FASTING THE CULTURE TOOK UP DIETING.”
1. What is a diet, but a soulless fast? Now, consider the ancient practices with a corresponding secular invention.
2. What is a vacation but a soulless pilgrimage without purpose or focus. It is small wonder that people return home more exhausted than before. A pilgrimage is a journey to the holy, while a vacation is avoidance of the self.
3. What the Liturgical Year is the practice of faith, Civil Religion is to the culture. In the eyes of the ignorant they are the same, sharing Christian holy days. Think of it this way. Music in the West uses the same notes for all compositions. The notes sound the same even though as they are played in different keys. The culture rather likes the Baby Jesus (so long as he never grows up enough to meddle) and Easter is there but the focus is on bunnies and Spring rites. July 4th and President’s Day pass for saint’s days, and the flag, that civil totem is equated, even in the minds of some Christians, with the Cross. I love my country and I keep the flag as far from the altar as possible.
4. While constant prayer is a posture of faith, the call to continual communion with the Holy, the culture constructed a continual litter of stimulus important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody with red-flagged emails, all caps, demanding instant access.
5. Tithing, the re-gifting of some of the abundance we have received from God is an act of faithful gratitude. April 15th and taxes are the shadow of the economy of heaven. If tithing were not tax-deductible would it long endure?
6. The Sacred Meal of the Eucharist has as its counterpoint Thanksgiving, that yearly Festival of Civil Religion. It is wonderful in its way, has vague Christian trappings but is firmly civil Religion.
7. Sabbath is a time but more an attitude of getting quiet before God has as its opposite: the weekend. I don’t think I need say more. One is holy and the other runs us ragged.
Only when the church discovers it own ancient practices will we have anything to offer the culture. Until then the culture will go on making up unreasonable facsimiles of soulful practice. JWS