Posts tagged liturgy

Review: Girl Meets God

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Review of Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life.  By Lauren F. Winner.  Chapel Hill, NC.: Algonquin, 2002.  320 pp.

As we’ve started this series on the Nicene Creed, some of you may be thinking about your own church background (or lack thereof).  In particular, if you come from a less liturgical tradition, you may wonder how less familiar things like the Nicene Creed fit in with your own spiritual life.  And if I’m lucky some of my blog posts have inspired at least a few of you to ponder the Jewish origins of the Christian faith and feel frustrated by the church’s lack of familiarity with its own background!  Well, if any of the above applies to you, how about an author that helps you explore both of these at once?

Lauren Winner is one of my favorite people ever.  She is hard not to like: young, funny, intelligent, and the author of some fabulous books.  One of those books, Girl Meets God, tells her unique story as a Reform Jew who converted to Orthodox Judaism, only to later convert to Christianity.  As an evangelical Episcopalian from a Jewish background, as well a scholar of American religion (who now teaches at Duke Divinity School), Winner possesses unique insights into both religions.

I would say Winner played a formative role in my life in college, as well as the lives of several friends).  Especially for us coming out of conservative evangelical Protestant backgrounds, Winner was a fantastic introduction to many aspects of Judaism, as well as to a more liturgical Christian tradition.

While admittedly, the book is a memoir rather than a systematic explanation of either Jewish-Christian relations or the Anglican tradition, it is still a useful starting point for the curious.  Additionally, it is a fascinating and uplifting book, plain and simple.  Anyone with an interest in young adult journeys in religion should appreciate Winner’s story, and many may even find in her a kindred spirit or a hero of sorts.  I know for me, Winner has become one of my “smart Christian” role models and an example of how one can successfully integrate various spiritual influences into a more robust Christian faith.

We believe; I believe.

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Πιστεύομεν…
We believe…

So starts the Nicene Creed.  Or at least the version from the Council of Nicaea.  Some ancient liturgical versions instead began in the first-person singular: “I believe.”  Modern recitations of the creed vary, not only by denomination, but even by specific prayer book edition.  And I think I like that.

I like it because I believe emphasizing the we and the I both matter to the Christian faith.  John’s Gospel recounts Jesus praying that we would all be one, just as he is one with the God the Father.  Together we are called the body of Christ, reconciled through the cross not only to God but to each other, built up into a new temple for God.

At the same time, each individual part of the body is considered significant for what it brings to the whole.   Jesus also emphasized, like John the Baptist before him, that merely being born into a Jewish family and following Jewish law was not enough.  Instead, one’s own personal repentance from sin and humility before God was what counted, and on this basis, Gentiles, too, could be included in the community of God.

Today I think we tend to err on one side or the other.  Sometimes we over-emphasize the we.  We rest of the knowledge that we are decent people who grew up going to church rather than owning our faith for ourselves and committing our lives to God.  We consider ourselves part of the Christian group without experiencing the spiritual growth that leads to a meaningful, active faith.  We forget that we are held accountable for our actions and neglect to include Christian teaching as a meaningful part of our decision-making processes.  It is easy sometimes to take our identity as Christians for granted because of the people around us—to resist becoming true followers of Jesus because it’s easier to stand on the fringes of the flock, hoping that will be enough.

On the other hand, we sometimes over-emphasize the I.  We think it possible to remain independent Christians apart from the community of the church.  We surrender to the individualism of Western (esp. American) culture, deciding that your problems have little to do with me and that my life is none of your business.  At best, our privatized religion makes us feel an obligation to people close by, such as our family and friends.  But to see ourselves as part of the larger church or society?  That’s difficult.  Without this sense of connection, we don’t love our neighbors so well, don’t value commitments to others, and don’t appreciate the legacy of church history.  We also miss out on a powerful sense of unity that comes from worshiping in a truly “together” way—rather than worshipping alone, even when surrounded by others.

I like saying the creed as an “I,” and I like saying it as a “we.”  I think we need both—our own faith commitment and a meaningful faith community.  With only one or the other, I think we’re missing out on a crucial part of Christianity.

This post is part of a series on the Nicene Creed.

Intro to the Nicene Creed

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We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

These words are probably either intimately familiar or extremely foreign to you, based on the tradition(s) in which you were raised—if you grew up in church to begin with.  For those of you less familiar, these four lines begin the Nicene Creed (this being the 1988 ecumenical translation—for others, see Wikipedia’s page on English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use).  The Nicene Creed, used in Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions (with only a few important variations), is one of the great historic creeds of the church.

I like the Nicene Creed for many reasons:  First of all, I love that many churches recite this creed as a community over and over again, joining together with Christians throughout the ages.  Secondly, I like the Nicene Creed because it is a bit more detailed than the older Apostles’ Creed, especially when it comes to discussing the person of Jesus.  Lastly, I like the Nicene Creed because it was crafted to help put some parameters around orthodox Christian belief—to explain what “true” Christianity was really about.  I think that understanding what Christianity has been in the past better helps us understand our faith in the present, as well as our hopes for the church’s future.

Below are the concluding two sections of the Nicene Creed.  I invite you to reflect on these words, which will guide the discussion to follow.  I will be reciting just a few words or lines per post, highlighting some of the aspects of the creed I find most interesting and meaningful, as well as telling a bit of the Nicene Creed’s story.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],*
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*We will get into it more later, but it is important to note that “and the Son” does not appear in Eastern Orthodox versions of the creed.

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