The dichotomy between "true" faith and religious acts of worship informed by tradition is something I keep hearing about. Though certainly not the first time to hear this, it seems to be bothering me more this Christmas. Maybe it is easy, with arrogant self-righteousness, to dismiss other Christian Communions in the world as not true believers since they follow a strange - yet familiar - liturgy. I am not so interested in hearing about it though.
Let me confess that the abiding Comfort which has relentlessly kept me close over a tumultuous couple of years was made known by keeping tradition, going through religious formalities when I could kindle no original acts of faithfulness from within my being. So please, stop dismissing religious practices which draw from ritual and form; that was all I had to keep me from falling.
Finding hope in model prayers or meaning through familiar benedictions . . the only peace I could find in the midst of knowing that when it seems that nothing makes sense and justice is far away, I can stand or bow or sing or offer a simple, quiet "Amen" because it was the right time, not because I felt like it. Do not cut this thin thread because it may be the only thing holding me or others above the depths.
I am thinking about friends who are experiencing a first Christmas after losing loved ones; travelers who are away from family because they found work far away; innocent ones who have crushed by the weight of life and find that kneeling provides just a moment of respite because their load is lifted; about beloved ones who have lost the joy of Christ's abiding Comfort; and even minister friends who find their personal melancholy subsumed by the demands of the season of hope and light.
Like the prophet who must have wept as he lamented the loss of all he knew, keeping an external form at least keeps utter loss and the resulting chaos at bay . . . and maybe just long enough to remember the way back to faith. "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end . . . great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3.22, 23)
In thanksgiving for the rite of remembering . . . Merry Christmas.