Allowing the Spirit to Do Its Work

Reposted from the Church Foundation’s Vital Practices. By Jeremiah Sierra on February 8, 2016

light_through_church_windowsWhen you write, you can’t control how others interpret your words. Not completely, anyway.
I was reminded of this after I wrote some reflections for Forward Day by Day. These are daily meditations on the lectionary that go out to Episcopalians all over the country. The responses I receive vary widely. Some people send me kind notes. Others use the reflections as a springboard for their own thoughts. After one mediation that briefly mentioned climate change, I received one long email questioning my belief that climate change is real.
Ultimately, you can only put your work out there and hope that others will find it meaningful or useful, even if the words don’t always come across as you’d intended.
This is true of every word we speak and our liturgy, as well. Take Ash Wednesday, for example. Some understand it as the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection. Some simply stop in the church to get their ashes before heading back out to work, a visible reminder of a deeply felt if not regularly practiced faith. Maybe they only go to church on Easter and Christmas. Others go to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist and will go again on Sunday, as they go every week.

Likewise, some people understand Lent as part of a larger cycle of the year, and others simply think of it as they time they give chocolate up.
We know that Episcopal liturgy is carefully considered. It is part of a long tradition and each element has meaning. The church should take that meaning seriously and do everything it can to teach people about what Ash Wednesday and Lent mean and help them use that season fully to deepen their spiritual lives. But ultimately there’s only so much you can do. Many people will stop by to get their ashes without fully understanding the tradition behind it, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t work with that. And if some people give something up for Lent and do nothing else, maybe their lives will be improved in some way.
The liturgy of the Episcopal Church, the prayers and songs and the theology behind them is a great gift that the church has to offer. Not everyone has the time or inclination to learn about the meaning behind our liturgy or participate fully. We can’t control how people experience and understand Lent, nor should we try. Ultimately, we can simply offer what we have and let go, and hope that others find meaning and hope in it. Occasionally, it helps to ask ourselves: Are we’re holding on too tightly to our traditions? Are we insisting that others understand them as we do rather than allowing the spirit to do its to work?

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