Around a decade ago, our community conducted a Life in the Spirit Seminar at a retreat house run by the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation. During the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a communal prayer in which we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit–which we received at our Sacramental Baptism–to be stirred up in us in a real and renewing way), the very hospitable sisters obliged when we requested for the Blessed Sacrament to be present for this activity.
Now, if you know what communal prayer means for charismatics, you’ll know that it is anything but silent. There is singing, raising of hands, spontaneous praising, speaking in tongues…people kneeling, standing, prostrate on the floor. Even back then, I understood that not everyone was comfortable with this kind of prayer, and no doubt some would raise eyebrows over the fact that this was how we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. Not wanting to offend the sisters who were our hosts for the weekend, I asked a fellow servant at that retreat to call the sister to come and bring the Eucharist out of the room at my signal. I wanted to make sure that when she arrived, we would more or less have settled down after the climax of praise.
But for some reason, things didn’t go as planned, and Sister entered the room right in the middle of high praise. There was laughing, crying, praising, singing–everyone was just drunk with the Spirit, with the Eucharist right at the center of it all. As the one leading the worship that time, I couldn’t help but glance sideways at Sister by the door: oh no, oh no, oh no, what could she be thinking? Finally, the praising slowly faded into silence, I led them in prayer, then in song, then we all bowed down before our Lord.
We waited for Sister to make her way to the center of the room, but she remained frozen where she was. I thought, Oh no, was she that bothered, that scandalized by what she witnessed? After a few more minutes (which seemed like eternity), she carefully walked over and reverently retrieved the Blessed Sacrament.
When the retreat ended later that afternoon, I made it a point to go and thank Sister personally for having us, and wanted to explain (although I didn’t know how I was going to do it) what happened during the Baptism. As soon as she saw me approaching her, she gave me the warmest smile and, to my surprise, gave me a big hug. “You pray so well! I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to stay there and listen to your songs. It was like there were angels singing!”
And I just hugged her right back with all my might.
One of the stumbling blocks to a harmonious Church, at least when it comes to liturgy, is the notion that one has to choose sides–those that champion a more vertical orientation (traditionalists, orthodoxy) and those that fight for a more horizontal one (let’s call them progressives). One reader, after expressing his opinion that widening the horizontal reach should be considered more important, in the same breath admitted that the Church would cease to be relevant if it neglected to point us to a higher standard. After vacillating to and fro, his conclusion was no conclusion–that this tug-of-war will ultimately hit a deadlock every time, and that the only solution was compromise (which he argues, isn’t really a solution as it entails some degree of giving in from one or both sides).
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. –G.K. Chesterton
I agree, compromise isn’t the solution. But perhaps another “middle-ground” word better fits the bill: BALANCE. To realize that both orientations are able to teach us something, to have that openness to the possibility that we may not have all the answers. To ensure that in every celebration and in every occasion for worship, careful attention is given to BOTH the vertical and the horizontal. No, not a vertical that alienates nor a horizontal that tolerates, but one that challenges and embraces, respectively.
To be so open to the Holy Spirit that we are able to see and recognize worship that is pleasing to our Lord. Whether it be this–
A Church that is both vertical and horizontal, teaching each other, and learning from each other. Giving the Father always what is best, what is true, what is sacred.