Enriched by ritual

Enriched by ritual

I run into people from time to time who are very skeptical of religious ritual, things like liturgy or hourly prayers, practices like fasting or crossing yourself. If we discuss it, they usually tell me that they think it's deadening, that their spirituality is vital and free and that ritual would stifle things.I think I understand the resistance. Some come from families that just seemed to cycle through the motions at church. Some of those families were very serious and consistent, others … [Read more...]

Bonhoeffer’s blessed sign

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’ve been dipping in an out of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison and was surprised to discover that he used the sign of the cross in his daily prayers.In a letter from November 21, 1943, he says this: “I’ve found that following [Martin] Luther’s instruction to ‘make the sign of the cross’ at our morning and evening prayers is in itself most useful. There is something objective about it. . . .”Growing up, I always understood the sign of the cross to be empty superstitio … [Read more...]

Thanks for everything

Praying Old Man

Get this scene: A monk sits on a train. A fellow passenger approaches and offers him a cigarette. Monks aren’t much known to smoke, but this monk was once a soldier and gratefully accepts the gift.Holding the slender item, the monk suggests to his benefactor that they should make the sign of the cross before they smoke. The man is torn. Isn’t it, he asks, improper to make the sign of the cross before smoking?The monk answers that if an activity doesn’t square with the sign of the cross … [Read more...]

Making the sign of the cross

Mosaic of many crosses

There is a passage in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, that helps explain the physical side of being spiritual.In his fourth letter, senior demon Screwtape holds forth on the subject of befuddling a new Christian in his prayers. He starts by mentioning a line from the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge about how he prayed without “moving lips and bended knees.” Coleridge thought he nailed it well enough by merely feeling prayerful, a view that Screwtape endorses in the lines that fo … [Read more...]


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