Here’s one trait that is true for an awful lot of us in the Body of Christ: we’re sure our view of God is mostly right and other denominations’ view of God is slightly off.
It’s understandable, but you have to wonder how much of our view of God comes from simply never having being exposed to other Christian traditions.
At least, that’s how it was for me the first time I visited an Episcopal Church.
It wasn’t so clear at first how different things were. I mean, we all read the Scriptures, said the Lord’s prayer and drank from the same communion cup on Friday mornings. We were all of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Right?
Our emerging differences were made clear to me in one distinct moment. During my second or third Episcopal Eucharist service at Yale Divinity School, the community celebrated the remembrance of baptism through a ritual called “asperging.” For all of you Baptists and Non-Denoms like me, let me give you a glimpse into this practice. I’m sitting in my seat on the front row minding my own liturgical business when I look up to see a female priest picking up a miniature broomstick. It was the kind of broomstick my mom would put by our front porch on Halloween next to a wood cutout of a cartoon witch.
The priest takes the broom, douses it in a glass bowl of holy water on the altar, and flings the thing into the air drenching my classmates and me, shouting, “Remember your baptism!”
How could my classmates think that raising hands in worship was “cultish” or “freaky” but be OK with something like this? I felt like we were on completely different wavelengths, acknowledging completely different Gods.
The whole thing caught me so off-guard that I immediately rushed out of the chapel and into the bathroom. I stared at the face in the mirror trying to differentiate the waters of baptismal memory from my quiet stream of confused tears.
“How in the world did I get here?”
My divinity school friends now laugh at this story—actually they don’t laugh, they snort and howl. We laugh together because at some point or another we are all completely surprised by a fellow traveler’s experience of God. We all sit perplexed—wondering why most times these new revelations don’t invoke awe or veneration, but shock and defense.
So what do we do when our vision of God gets cut off at the knees leaving us in shambles? How do we cope with such a diverse and unique body of Christ?
I think we have two choices: We can retreat instantaneously into what we know. Or we can step into these differences and lift them up to try to see something bigger.
Friend, I truly wouldn’t blame you if you picked the first option. After all, if you open your mind up, how can you know that you’re getting the real thing? How can you be sure that you aren’t accepting something heretical—or maybe worse, something that might be rejected by the people you know best?
Maybe the risk is too much—and I’m not saying this haphazardly. Maybe people look to you to identify the answers. And maybe you’re terrified of the words, “I don’t know.” And maybe if you explored too much or stepped too far outside of the bounds that you trust, it would all come crumbling down for you. And maybe you would find yourself on the tiled floor of a bathroom exposed, confronted and alone.
And it might be in that place that you meet a God that doesn’t fit within the confines of your own mind.
But, perhaps you are willing to take the risk. Perhaps you are prepared to do a lot less talking and a lot more listening. Maybe you are ready to question—to poke, push and prod the God of your imagination. Like Jacob, you will wrestle before you see God’s face. It will require you to earnestly seek the one True God instead of safely trusting that everything you’re being told is correct. You’ll have to delve deep into the Bible to weigh your new experiences against what God has revealed. You’ll have to think. You’ll have to pray. You’ll struggle.
And you will leave the wrestling match some days mystified, doubting and disappointed… but you will have shown up.
We are the living body of Christ. We change, shift and bear constant growing pains. But it is worth it to do the work—to come to the table and hear from our sisters and brothers. Don’t be deceived, it is no easy task. We come to the exchange with our assumptions, but we may walk away different. I hope we walk away different.
I have to admit that asperging remains to be one of my least favorite ecclesial practices, and I’m OK with that. I’m learning and growing and hoping one day I won’t have to take two Advil before every worship service with incense.
The truth is that we don’t have to resolve our variations because we don’t have to be the same. We can unclench our fists and not hold on so tightly to our own liturgies, practices and images of God. We can open ourselves and believe that the God we all know is a Creator of glorious difference.