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Monday, Mar. 10, 2014
Sock TheologyPosted Wednesday, April 18, 2012, at 10:09 AM
Religious people from every tradition I know have to ask the question. People I know who are spiritual but not attached to a tradition still have to process their own answers and understanding.
How do you "know" when you are in the presence of something much greater than you, The Divine, or even the energies of the Universe? And, perhaps even greater in scope, do you "create" that sense of being in the holy?
Let me be very direct in my own responses. Every Sunday morning I'm expected to help others feel the presence of God. As a pastor of a congregation in the Christian tradition my "job" would be in jeopardy if that didn't happen for those sitting in the pews. Over the years I've discovered one central fact regarding whether or not I'm successful in helping this happen in other people's lives.
If it's not happening for me, it isn't happening for anyone else.
For several months I studied at St. Thomas Roman Catholic Seminary in Denver, Colo., (a Benedictine school that is now closed). I learned a great tool that helps me to separate the life I live in the world from the life I live with God. I was taught how to make the sign of the cross. As a Protestant I had to be shown how to do this! Yet this tool is one I still use 35 years later. I get grounded, I get centered, when I make the sign of the cross. I "feel" the presence of the holy when I let this tool unlock the door to my awareness.
Two years later I found myself in my intern year as an associate pastor in western Kansas. One of my duties was to preach in front of hundreds of people once a month; that eventually turned into sermon series of two to three weeks in length. I struggled with several things during that intern year. I especially struggled with my own leadership in worship. For instance, when was I entertaining as opposed to preaching, when was I performing as opposed to letting the Scriptures talk through me, when was I in charge as opposed to letting the Spirit move through me?
A retired pastor gave me the suggestion that I still use today nearly anytime I lead others in worship. He reminded me that all Pastors, Priests, Imams and Rabbis, have struggled with this same process. Those who come out of the western monotheistic faiths have a common Scriptural story of Moses and the burning bush. What was Moses told to do? He was instructed to take off his shoes and to stand on holy ground! So, for the first seven months I would take off my shoes and sox whenever I was required to preach in worship. At first the choir would laugh as I prepared myself and I had to explain to the congregation what I was doing. In the eighth month I bought a pair of shoes that became my preaching shoes. I would only wear them when I preached. I kept them in the pulpit area and, during the preceding hymn, would switch shoes to my "Moses" shoes.
You can laugh about it, but it worked! Indeed, as each pair wore out, I would purchase another pair of those special shoes. Then, over the years, my emphasis has changed from the right shoes to the right socks. Before I came to Greencastle in 2006 a good friend took me to an Ayres store and purchased eight pairs of identical socks for me as a gift. She told me that I would be uplifted in prayer each time I preached in those socks. And I have felt her "support" through the years. As each pair wore out from use I've replaced them from the same stack in my sock drawer. And now I'm down to my last pair.
How do you "let" yourself feel that you are in the presence of something much greater than yourself? "I Stand Amazed At the Presence" as the old Gospel hymn says. Some recite certain prayers (for instance, The Lord's Prayer or The Prayer of St. Francis). Some have particular beads that they wear or with which they pray. For members of the faith of Islam bowing in prayer toward Mecca becomes a power force. For members of the Jewish faith lighting the candle and saying the appropriate prayers is a tradition that still works well.
It is all right to have rituals in your life. They help with opening to experience. Maybe some people have unexpected visions of being in the presence of the holy. For the rest of us we simply find tools that help us in our awareness. And, even if you have had that mystical experience in an earlier part of your life, rituals allow us to remember and re-experience in part that which has given meaning to your very existence.
How do you "know" that the experience is real and not something you've created through a technique? I would trust a technique that allows you to be centered, filled with love and compassion, and able to do things that help others in their lives. I would trust a technique that allows you to stand in the holy. And, ultimately, the question isn't whether or not the experience is real. The question is what the experience allows you to accomplish.
Go out and do great things!
P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.