…points back to. The ripples point back to the rock, the cosmic radiation to the origins of the universe, children to their parents, the lover to his beloved, the heavens to the glory of their Maker; it seems self-evident. Perhaps this is why the South has always been so Christ-haunted. The great Northern cities that emanated from man and his money can only ever point back to money and man, while the slow, dusty Southern fields can only ever point back to their slow and dusty God. Not that there’s any real difference crossing the Mason-Dixie any more, outside of the sudden and shocking lack of sweet tea, but you take my point.
We need to understand this intricate step in the Universal waltz — this witness that comes from emanation — if only to pin down our own place in it. So often in our awkward relationships with the Creator of all things, we are of the belief that we must react, react and always react to Him. It’s a silly belief. Let me explain myself.
There are two ways to kneel. One is in reaction, the other in ritual. A man might kneel as the result of being struck by the power of a passing King, or he might kneel in imitation of being struck by that same power. The latter method isn’t bad, by any stretch. Our man would hardly be called out for not being struck with awe every time a King rolled by. Indeed, it’d be a poor, miserable man deriding himself for merely going through the motion of kneeling.
This is true of all reverence and gesture. As far as I’m aware, women do not refuse to walk through doors opened by men who lack a brimming love for women. We do not refuse to clap until we feel an innate desire to slap our hands together. We do not remain silent during the national anthem until we are struck by the greatness of our nation. We do not refuse our spouses a kiss until we are in awe of their beauty. (Well we could, I suppose, but then we’d be jerks.) In short, we do not disdain doing a thing in ritual instead of doing it in reaction.
And yet so much of modern Christianity is in the habit of promoting this very idea; reaction over ritual. We are to do as the Spirit calls us to do, we are to speak what the Lord puts on our heart, we are to pray spontaneously, we are — in short — to react to God. And of course, none of this is bad. In fact, it is very, very good! The problem comes when reaction is exalted and ritual damned as mere hypocrisy or scrupulousness. It is most often termed as such: “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing to Mass, what’s important is your heart. It’s not about how well you kneel, or fold your hands, or bow or genuflect; what’s important is your relationship with Christ.” It otherwise termed as: “Everything we do we should do from the heart. It is hypocritical to bow if we don’t mean it.” This is all well and good, but it begs the question: Well what if your heart is full of angst and dryness? Should you not then kneel? What if your relationship with Christ sucks? Should you forsake ritual, remain true to reaction, and lay on the floor?
We should dress nicely for Mass. We should fold our hands. We should genuflect. Not in recognition of our holiness, but in recognition of our sinfulness. For only if we are comfortable with reverence when it is mere ritual will be comfortable with reverence when it is true reaction; when we are urged, like David, to dance naked before the Lord.