I’m reading a book for my thesis work that attempts to help its readers better understand Jesus’ Jewishness. One of the authors describes her journey to Israel and mentions that some have called the Holy Land “the fifth gospel”, and I started thinking about mine. I thought about how very much I agreed. There is something about being in the place.
We’re told it doesn’t matter. In church, we hear things like:
“You can worship God wherever you want. You don’t need a fancy building.”
“You can approach your ‘quiet time’ however you want. You shouldn’t let anybody tell you when, or where or how long, or what way to practice your spirituality. The important thing is that it’s yours.”
“You can pray however you want. You don’t need anybody else’s prayers.”
“You can sing new songs even if the old people don’t think they’re very good. The important thing is that they’re yours.”
And I thought about trying to defend my feelings about being in the land where Jesus walked and taught and live and died and rose and ascended. I tried to think about how it “works”—about how God “uses” a pilgrimage. But I can’t think that the premise behind this way of thinking is fairly recent (Englightenment?) and false on its face (though with a kernel of truth).
What is necessary shouldn’t be the question. I didn’t need to choose a romantic spot to propose. Elise and I didn’t need to marry in a church building. We didn’t need to use a common liturgy with roots in a historic liturgy. We would have been just as married. But those things were important. Nobody questions a couple who returns to the scene of their wedding to renew their wedding vows. Nobody questions the value in going to the same place. Must a vow renewal take place in the same place—or another place of significance? Of course not. But whether or not I can prove empirically that these things result in a longer, healthier marriage is beside the point.
Place, time, rhythm, ritual, history—these are all intrinsic parts of being human. Why do we think there is value in ignoring them? Why is there so much pushback (mainly in Protestant churches and even more so in evangelical/conservantive/non-denominational/descendants-of-the-frontie- tradition churches) on many of these things? Why do we fear admitting that there can be value in kneeling (kneeling!) in a place where countless throngs have knelt before and prayed? I don’t think that’s magic, or superstition. I don’t think it needs to undercut the “essence” of worship or prayer or spirituality, if there can be such a thing. I think the premise that there is some essence we can reduce all things Christian down to, and that that essence is all that “matters” is foolishness. I think it’s destructive.
Yes, I think that attitude is destroying churches, families, the entire discipleship process.
I also think the attitude of a certain Church that there are laundry lists of requirements for certain things to be “valid” is also destructive. But that’s an easier argument to take on. Another time.