A Sense of Reverence
I read an article recently about a man who had grown up in a conservative religious denomination, one that is quite prevalent here in the south. The article documented his transition from that beginning to the Greek Orthodox Church, where he will soon become a priest. His journey involved college and law school, nine years as a practicing attorney, and a slow, somewhat meandering change in his religious outlook.
How does this happen? Those of us who find ourselves in full-time ministry understand those first halting steps, then more and more assurance that we are being called as the train leaves the station and picks up speed. We’re aware of the doubts that continue even after we’ve made the decision, which often continue through the sometimes tortuous seminary experience. All the time we become more and more sure that this is the right path, that this is what we’re supposed to be doing.
Some of us fight it. “No, God, you can’t mean me. You don’t want me to be a pastor (preacher/minister/priest). You must mean the other guy. He’s much more holy than I am. Or maybe you’ve mistaken me for that woman over there whose name is somewhat like mine. She’s a much better speaker.” And we fight it, and fight it, and fight it until we give in, exhausted, finally realizing we can’t win this battle.
Most times our call involves staying in the denomination we’ve grown up in. That makes sense. The indoctrination process begins early, as we are taken to church each Sunday (or most Sundays, or some Sundays). We hear words that become familiar to us. We fall into patterns of worship that are comforting and comfortable. We sing hymns that become part of our musical subconscious. All of this is good and right and to be expected.
Sometimes, as with the man in this article, there’s a denominational shift. The shift can lead us left or right on the conservative/liberal scale, up or down on the liturgical scale, or in some direction on some scale I haven’t thought of. At some point there is a sea change. It may be quick and violent like a tidal wave, or slow and steady like a tidal pull, but we find ourselves adrift, then snug and safe in a new harbor, wondering what happened, but knowing we’re home.
What made this man change denominations? I should add that his sea change was huge. In this country only a small fraction of the population identifies itself as Orthodox Christians. What was it he found in Orthodox worship that made him feel at home?
About his first visit as a nineteen year-old college student he said, “I was really blown away. I didn’t understand a lot of things going on,” (the liturgy would have been far removed from what he had known growing up) “but what really struck me was the sense of reverence.”
A sense of reverence. The feeling that you are in a sacred place doing holy things. The experience of wonder in worship.
I’m afraid we’ve lost that feeling in many of our churches. I believe there should be a wide variety of worship styles so each of us can find God through the things that make spiritual sense to us. Still, I worry that our worship—like our dress code and our manners—has become too casual. It doesn’t seem to matter if we feel a sense of reverence, or that we are on holy ground. We’re satisfied that we’re in church, and whatever we do is OK as long as we worship somehow.
Perhaps that’s enough: but I can’t help wondering if God might appreciate it if we worshipped the Lord in the splendor of holiness, and trembled before God in God’s holy temple. Perhaps we need more often to experience our own sense of reverence.