Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Warm Embrace of Tradition

I like traditions. I've been noticing lately that the world thinks so many things need to be new and improved as if any newness brings improvement. I'm all for innovation and creativity, but sometimes tradition and sameness hold value. They comfort us with a predictable, life giving reliability. They build community. Innovation is extraordinary. I don't want to discourage change and growth. As the world rushes past though, I want to remember to remember what is and was and can continue to be good - just as it is.

I like small traditions and predictable behaviors. Like, well a million things... I love the confidence I have that my favorite coffee cup is tucked safely away on the top shelf, just out of sight somewhere, when I come home to Michigan. I love that the sun greets me when I step out the door to start a new day. I especially treasure that night comes daily and quiets the rush of each day. I love that there are a few people in my life that are fiercely loyal and reliable - and a conversation (sometimes even just a voicemail) with them can center me entirely and feel like a safe, warm embrace - regardless of the distance or time passed.

I especially love uniting traditions. The kind that bring together a community over a collective experience. Little traditions like inside jokes amongst families (buttle up!, P.U., bmud/bweed), teams, classmates... And I treasure large, time spanning traditions like church liturgies that profess shared beliefs across centuries. I love having a weekly expectation of an opportunity to pray together with a group of friends. I like that holidays lend pause to our normal rush and bring families, friends, and friends turned family together for a meal, coffee on the porch, cards at the kitchen table. I like anthems, pledges, favorite hymns that make us all speak, hum, sing, sway in unison. I like team chants and colors. And on and on... (am I rambling? Good. I like it!)

In simple, repeatable actions (light a candle, hum a tune, salute, touch a doorframe, slap out a silly handshake, repeat a shared joke), we can say to each other: we are the same in this - an intrinsic mutual understanding of belonging. I need, often, to be reminded I belong and I don't think I'm alone in this.

I think most of my love for tradition comes from a childhood which included some startlingly unpredictable moments balanced beautifully by a church and school community that warmly embraced me with more tradition, predictability, and safety than I even knew to take note of at the time. This amazing place - community - wrapped me in encouraging consistency daily and I knew I belonged there. There were moments where people took dramatic actions at crucial moments and I'm fiercely grateful for those moments. More and more though, I remember the daily consistency of it all and I know it was just as crucial.
  • I remember a principal at the front door greeting us warmly by name every morning.
  • I remember daily devotions and music that brought truth and encouragement and a way to express our joy in it.
  • I remember a staff of reliable role models - human, but seeking to model Christ to me constantly.
  • I remember weekly chapel. Young voices uniting in liturgy, hymns, and the Lord's Prayer as Christians had for generations. And I remember the careful effort made to ensure that we had a clear understanding of what it all meant. I recall regular opportunities to not just to attend, but participate in, even help lead, worship. I recall early exposure to hymns rich with meaning that continues to unfold now.
  • I recall being encouraged that success was unquestionably within our reach. Messages declaring unique potential in each of us. Sound theology that we were fearfully and wonderfully made and God had good plans for us. This was all backed with excellence in academics, exposure to music, art, sports all teaching lessons that would inform whatever that purpose turned out to be.
  • I remember coaches that encouraged and included all. I recall parents that cheered the team, encouraged good sportsmanship regardless of outcomes, and left coaches in charge.
  • I remember a community of parents that believed kids were raised by a community and provided gentle correction and spoke truth and life to whichever kids were nearest.
  • I recall many parents and church members who bought meals, gave rides, bought groceries, paid school fees, and more in order to keep me safe and well and to keep me in the place where I felt safe.
  • I remember especially the parents who eventually weren't just parents in the community, but my parents - welcoming my dangerous mess into the midst of their family.
The dramatic things are extraordinary, but the daily things are too. There were moments I noticed that it was amazing, but many things didn't get much of my attention and nobody demanded recognition. They did it because it was right and good and they were filled with Christ. I suspect they set out to create a place where kids had an expectation of safety and love so certain that it didn't even cross our minds that it wouldn't be that way. They succeeded.

It has since crossed my mind often and it is still one of the places I feel I most belong in the world. It is far away now, but even if I'm in town for only a few hours I make it a point to drive past and I treasure the Sundays I am in town and can go home to St. John's for a service full of friends and familiar liturgy and hymns. I remain a work in progress, but when there is a glimmer of good in me it was likely encouraged, at least in part, there. I treasure that it is a place with staying power, still trying to give this amazing gift to kids today.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Who is fiercely reliable to you? What can you depend on? What helped form you? Where do you belong? What is so intrinsic to your existence that you don't even notice it?

Notice it.

I'm going to try to make an effort not just to notice it, but recognize it, and try to reflect at least some small piece of it to those in my world. Join me. It's all easier when we're united in it - when we make a tradition of it. Come on, try. I'll let you make up our handshake....


  1. Megan, This truly touched Pastor Tom and I this morning. We used it for our morning devotion. You are absolutely right that St. John's and its traditions are an anchor, a safe haven, and a place where Jesus is present with skin on. We thank God for St. John's and even though we've been away for 19 years, it still feels like home.

  2. ♪♪♪ Earth and all stars... ♪♪♪
    This is beautiful, Meg. Thank you for noticing and celebrating it.

  3. I am so glad you enjoyed it. You two were extraordinary leaders when you were with us in Waltz! Thanks for all you did and still do!

    Becky: one time this girl sang that song to me. Possibly while or maybe right before she got in a fountain. I knew I had to keep that girl close...

  4. What beautiful words Megan - from a beautiful person. God planted you on this earth for a special reason where He has used you to reach out to so many people. What an example you are to all of us in using those gifts and talents that God has blessed you with to His glory. You are right, God has done so much for us at St. John's. It has been an anchor and blessing to so many - and you are a true blessing that has left a lasting impression. Thank you!

  5. This made me reflect on where I belong, especially within my family. Last summer I went to Ireland to meet my dad's side of the family (which was truly wonderful and I plan to go back to connect more), but seeing them together made me wistful, being an outsider/newcomer. Then I realized I have exactly what they have with my mom's side of the (Polish!) family here in Michigan. I was very grateful not only to realize that but to get a glimpse into another for a moment. Belonging somewhere is so important.

  6. Megan -- this is beautiful and so true! Reading this brings tears to my eyes...

  7. No one knows you like someone who has known you since childhood...and there you are, my friend. My dear friend. Sigh. You made me verklempt. It's funny, as I was reading about this place from our childhood I couldn't help but see it all again so clearly. Thank you, for that. We were uniquely blessed, weren't we? Thank you for the reminder-as I need it from time to time.
    You, and that lovely place in Waltz, are part of the reason why I think that we're both screwed when the 25th rolls around. We'll be crying like babies. Don't fight it. Give in to the warm and fuzzy feeling... ;)

  8. I'm so glad it's making people think and remember to treasure experiences and relationships. That's the good (nonstuff) stuff!

    On the other hand, I didn't mean to make anyone cry. Fresh mascara for everyone! Sorry!

    Finally, Persi: I have no idea why you think I'd cry on the 25th. I don't cry. Psh. (I already chucked the travel size makeup remover pads in my take to the Mitten pile. To share with others, not for me...).

    1. I'm callin' shenanigans on the "I don't cry/I'm dead inside" bit. I seem to remember someone beside me at the Wailing Wall getting rather choked up, but maybe that was Yosef...

  9. Megan, I was so pleased to come across your Blog to read your reflections. God has obviously given you gifts to share your love for Him through words and music. We were (still are!) blessed to have you in our church family.

  10. Judy! So nice to hear from you! Thanks for your kind words. If it's a gift, I hope I can use it well. :)


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