I grew up Catholic. Even though I’m not practicing today, I have a reverence for the rituals of the faith. They were imprinted on my soul at a very young age. In fact, if you look closely at my ultrasound pic, you’ll see me executing a picture-perfect sign of the cross in utero.
What’s interesting about ritual is that it can become so automatic that we miss its significance. That is, until we see it in a different context. Take, for example, the time we were teaching our son the Lord’s Prayer. We marveled with delight one evening at the dinner table as he made it through the first half all by himself. Then he said,
“Forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who pass trash against us.”
Even though he wasn’t perfect, we had to give him bonus points for coming up with a translation that is likely a more accurate representation of what Our Savior intended. Now that ritual has new life and meaning for me.
You’ve probably had the same experience if you have ever tried to teach your kids this famous prayer.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
This is hands-down, the most popular bedtime prayer in the history of bedtime prayers. Ritual. However, if your kids really listen to the words, there is a good chance they will NEVER. SLEEP. AGAIN. Think about it.
Mommy, who is this Lord and why is he hoarding souls as I sleep? Is my bed really some sort of death trap? Is someone really going to kidnap my dead body?
Sweet dreams, kids!
Recently, in an attempt to recapture the meaning behind ritual, I found myself listening intently to what is perhaps the most beloved children’s hymn of all time. It was being sung by an angelic, smiling child in church.
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak yet He is strong
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so
Simple words and a simple melody with a simple message. Beautiful and timeless. But I was struck by something.
For most of us, it’s just not true.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying Jesus dislikes children. And I’m certainly not saying we should remove the song from the hymnal. What I am saying is most of us don’t know Christ’s love because of words we read in the Bible. No. Christ’s love is something beyond explanation that we have experienced in the flesh.
And this is where I have noticed a troubling trend. Or maybe it’s always been there. But I fear that it’s slowly becoming a ritual.
We’re worshipping the Bible at the expense of Jesus.
Christians today, myself included, recite scripture to illuminate some truth that we feel deep in our bones, hoping others might feel Christ’s love leap from the page and capture their hearts. Unfortunately, when we do this, we lock Jesus inside the Bible. Forgetting that the Bible is a book full of words.
And words can be troublesome.
Consider these “inspirational” words from a religious book that shall remain nameless. These texts were behind the killing of thousands on our soil and overseas.
Make ready to slaughter [the infidel’s] sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants.1
Then I heard [God] say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.”2
Cursed is he who does [God’s] work deceitfully, cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood.3
As we read these words, our thoughts likely turn to 9/11 and the horrific tragedy that affected the world. Our hearts also go out to those in the Middle East tormented by ISIS. But there’s just one problem.
These scriptures are from our own Bible.
And there are hundreds more like them. Literally. Hundreds.
When I look to The Good Book for examples of God’s love and forgiveness, I also encounter words of God’s wrath and judgment. It’s confusing and contradictory. But no matter how hard I thump on my Bible, these scriptures just won’t fall out and leave only sunshine and rainbows behind.
The fact is, Christians throughout history have used the words of the Bible as a weapon to justify some horrible atrocities in the name of love. From the victimization of Native Americans to the Spanish Inquisition. And while only Christian extremists would justify such actions today, we also have to acknowledge that many of us, myself included, lift verses out of context to serve our own agenda. Leaning toward the side of judgment and away from the side of love.
But that’s when we must remember that many of the words we read today are the same ones Jesus pondered and prayed over. Ritually. And His life was a perfect testament to the idea that we should let words inspire and inform us, but when we are truly connected to God, it’s our actions that do the teaching.
Christ himself saved his wrath and judgment for the righteous. The ones who were caught up in living life by The Book yet ignoring the image of God standing before them in human form. Born of God, He understood the basic premise that humanity would never truly experience the love of God unless humans learned to give that love. Freely. Without condition.
Word made flesh.
The gospel of John tells us:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And later, the writer recounts Jesus’ arrival
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1-5, 14 NIV)
And here we have all the illogical contradictions of the Bible summed up in the most beautiful logic problem ever. The Word = God. God = Life. Life = Light And this light exists in all of mankind. Made real through the example of Jesus Christ.
And for most of us, this love isn’t the result of some lines in a children’s song or words in The Book. We know the love of Christ because some human, flesh and blood, filled with light, has shown us this love and light in our darkest hour. They have ventured out beyond what is reasonable to demonstrate to us that God is alive in each and every one of us.
So today my prayer is that I can create a new ritual. Bringing the Word to life by showing others the love of Christ. With uncommon compassion and selfless service. For the broken and blessed. For the sinner and the saint. Pouring out my life like a song until all God’s children know every word.
- Isaiah 14:21 NAB 2. Ezekiel 9:5 NLT 3. Jeremiah 48:10 NKJV
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