Monday, January 04, 2010
Chalking the Door: Church Goes Domestic
I've never done this before. But over the past couple of weeks I've experienced an odd convergence of personal e-mails, Internet rabbit-hole meanders and readings that all seem to lead to discussions of this custom. "Hmmm," I thought. "Maybe the Universe is telling me something."
If this is an unfamiliar custom to you: In many countries households mark Epiphany by a general blessing of living quarters and, in some cases, by a ritual marking of main doorways as a means of blessing all who enter in the coming year. This idea of blessing resonates with me on any number of levels.
I was thinking about Epiphany anyway this weekend, and how at least in Lutheran circles, like so many other festivals that fall in mid-week, it's disappeared into the ether; and as a result laypeople lose opportunities to learn/refresh their memory of important Bible stories, history of the Church and major themes of Christian theology and worship. Yes, it's true; we're not in the Middle Ages, and the logistics of conducting worship services for all these special days, not to mention trudging off to them, simply isn't doable for most of us. But there is a means for preserving this wisdom and tradition: The so-called "Domestic Church."
I know that my more cerebral coreligionists are probably rolling their eyes right now. But I'm unabashedly riding this particular hobbyhorse this year. Just as we need more biblically literate laypeople in the ELCA, I think we need to inculcate a sense of everyday spirituality in our people -- ways to engage hearts as well as minds in our beliefs and heritage and practice. (Our Jewish friends are way ahead of us in this regard.) I believe that we are hardwired for ritual; and, to paraphrase one dog trainer, if you don't give people a ritual, they'll make up one of their own, and you won't like it.
I am also aware that some readers may have a difficult time observing traditional Christian holy days with questionable factual basis; who, for instance, respond to the issue of Epiphany by questioning the historicity of the Magi, sneering at the layers of folkloric embellishments to the biblical text, and so on. Well, that's okay; been there, done that. But maybe -- just maybe -- it's okay to turn off the historical criticism for a few minutes on any given day, and just play with the stories of faith, because they're our stories to tell to one another, generation to generation.
And if you'd like to chalk your door this Epiphany and ritually give the gift of blessing and goodwill to everyone who enters your home in the year to come, in Christ's name, here's how that works.