Growing up in an Evangelical, Pentecostal tradition, I was fairly focused on what people believed about God. How they lived their lives was important, of course, but someone who did good things wasn’t necessarily a good Christian, and even a Christian who did good things but didn’t believe everything he or she was supposed to was suspect. After all, belief is what saves us, right? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
As I’ve gotten older, orthodoxy, or correctness of belief, has become less important to me. I still believe that there are some sacred, inviolable truths, but they are fewer than they once were. Additionally, I’m increasingly willing to accept that it’s possible to believe something that I don’t, or not believe something that I do (even if that something is really important to one or both of us), and still have a legitimate Christian experience.
The idea of “orthopraxy” (correctness of action, often standing in opposition to orthodoxy as centrally important) was first introduced to me in my Intro to Hinduism class in college. As I have discussed previously, these classes were extremely challenging to my understanding of what it means to be a person of faith, who God is, and how humans interact with and make sense of the divine. While the Hinduism class was important to me in a number of ways, one of these was that it got me interested in Christian liturgy.
That’s right. Studying Hinduism got me interested in Christian liturgy.
I grew up in a tradition without a liturgy. In fact, I grew up in a tradition where it liturgy was associated with spiritual dryness or death. But Hindu religious expression seemed to have room for both the ecstatic experiences of Pentecostalism and the highly structured beauty of liturgical traditions. There was room for intensity and emotional buy-in and spontaneity, but also for tradition and ritual and candles and bells and ancient prayers. The practice of puja (daily devotions, includes things like prayer, candle-lighting, bell-ringing, sacrificial offerings of spices or milk, and incense burning) seemed sacred in a way that sitting down with my Bible and journal never did.
It was after that course that I bought a copy of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and began reading the evening prayers each day. I’ve since branched out into other forms of this practice, and I recently started attending a very traditional Methodist church. Embracing liturgy has helped me understand my faith in a completely different light.
Connecting with a liturgical tradition has helped me learn that sometimes “walking by faith” means going through the motions. Sometimes, it means honoring God in ways that aren’t comfortable. It means offering a sacrifice of obedience, of daily ritual, even on days when there’s no spark. It’s a kind of faith grounded in something other than emotional experience and rooted in millennia of brothers and sisters speaking the same words and doing the same actions, day in and day out.