Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Piety or Superstition?

“Why are you going there? That’s too Catholic!” was the response a good Protestant friend made when he heard we were heading into the mountains to the town of Le Puy en Velay. It’s the home of a magnificent Romanesque Cathedral and cloister and the town where my favorite nun’s (Sister Kathleen-Patrice from Our Lady of Mount Carmel) order was founded.

Now granted, the Cathedral has an unusual “black Madonna” a three foot image of the Virgin Mary that was “blackened” with fire in the 18th century. It has a reliquary of body-parts of saints and it has a very tall statue of the Virgin Mary on top of a volcanic dome made out of canons capture by Napoleon and melted down to make the statue.

When I probed my friend further about what makes something “too Catholic” he said: “It’s too full of superstition.” I know what he means from an evangelical and protestant background. Genuflections, kneeling, rosaries, and gestures of devout piety towards an inanimate object can make us feel uncomfortable. We don’t worship with uniform gestures and using dedicated objects. We know that God is not found in special water, ornate statuary or venerated objects. We have radically dissociated God from stuff and objects as part of our Reformation heritage….or have we?

What is the difference between devotional piety and superstition? Are modern evangelical Protestants devoid of superstition and immune to its allure? Is superstition just a “Catholic thing” or the issue of primitive religions, or do we have it too? Is it not something common to all humanity at all times?

Here’s where I think we evangelical protestants practice our superstitions: we need certain types of music to foster and emotional mood for worship, we elevate certain contemporary pastors, authors and speakers to semi-divine status, we adhere to certain worship styles and vilify others, special words and phrases become essential to fulfilling worship. How does that rate as superstitious? When you find yourself strongly resisting change or substitution of some or any of the above-mentioned things, maybe they have attained the status of superstition. We tell ourselves that we “can’t worship without……” and it’s not Jesus or God, but other stuff.

Shifting to another culture for a while makes me very aware of what I have depended upon, become used to, and hardened into a fixed routine. I have been worshiping here in France in spite of being totally unfamiliar with all the music, unable to understand most of the sermon and struggling to make conversation with other worshipers. I open my bible to the text of the day, read it with the pastor, listen for key words I know, and reflect on who God is here and now.


At 4:18 PM , Blogger Isaac Johnson said...

I think most simply; anything that focuses our attention on God is good. Anything that distracts is not good. If the artifacts; paintings, domes, reliquaries, etc distract you from worship, then true - they are "superstitious" and shouldn't be incorporated into your worship; but if they make you think of God and focus your heart on him (even by way of Saints), then I think they have value. In other words, it's a per-person thing.

At 6:29 AM , Blogger PAD said...

Gotta watch those 7 am posts. "Out" Lady -- sounds like part of the sexual revolution. And then they melted down "canons" to make a statue? Sounds like a really wild bunch of nuns. ;-)

Anyway, I enjoy your musings immensely. Hope you're getting refreshed and recharged.

At 8:35 AM , Blogger Karen said...

or maybe they were really 'hot' nuns in order to 'melt' canons?....
Don, I think of your being in France the land of great coffee and boulangeries and you are where?!?!!! in a McD's???? bleah!! which is my generational response to a lot of the 'worship' that goes on. What happens when I want to scream 'Nooooo! I do not want to sing that line one more time. We've already sung it over and over already.' It has the same effect as fingernails on a chalkboard for any worship... but perhaps that in a way connects to what Isaac is saying. Perhaps I should take that fingernail scratch and get out of my 'worshipping' to say 'oh! Hi, Lord, You are here!'

At 7:07 AM , Anonymous Marie said...

Well said. We really must get past our own frail humanity and learn what true worship really is and it really has little to do with "my favorite" anything. We come together to worship the living Christ, not our our image of what that worship looks like. When people rail against certain forms of worship, they should stop and think about the fact that they're criticizing something which God Himself might find very acceptable. After all, in many places in the Old Testament we read of a sweet savour that came up before the Lord from the sacrifices that were offered. Never once does God reject a sacrifice based on style. If rejected or accepted, it was always about the heart of the one offering it.


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