Friday, July 11, 2008

Habitualism - Part 1

[A word on the title: Habitualism is not a word found in dictionary, but I use it to mean 'not by faith, but by habit'.]

Darrin Hufford's recent posts reminded me of the many spiritual habits people can develop over the years, and foolishly mistake them as God's manifestations or interventions or the way to be in peace with God.

As a boy, I started sinning at least in the 7th grade (as far as I can remember), which included lies, cheating in the exams, sneaking out of home to play with my buddies. No one had to tell me those were sins, I knew it but I still did it and enjoyed it. I remember controlling and manipulating some of the quiet guys in my class to achieve many of my short victories among some bullies. By the time, I was in 10th, the world of sins widened, which included looking at some yellow magazines some of my 'courageous' buddies brought in, changing marks in my exam answer sheets, changing report cards (which parents ought to sign), listening to and spreading gossips about some teachers.

That was the story in the school, but I have another story too. Every Sunday, without fail I attended Sunday school. My parents gave due importance to Sunday School (but not as important as my regular school academics). During that time, every year, the teachers of the Sunday school honored the students who attended the most classes. If I remember correctly, I won that prize all most all years except one or two. Sunday school teachers saw me as a nice guy with a lot of interest in spiritual matters. I enjoyed getting noticed and being special.

My parents prayed every night. One person read Bible, mostly a psalm and all of us prayed prayers from a printed book. My mom memorized most of the prayers and she liked the people who memorized them, and encouraged me to do the same. Every evening I prayed. Some days I read Bible.

When I moved out of home to do my Masters, I still continued this habit. I remember praying every evening and make the sign of cross before I sleep. If I am disturbed on anything (nearing exams, for example), I prayed the Lord's prayer and Hail Mary three times rather than just one time. Those days I make cross signs 3 times each, from my forehead to chest and to the shoulders, then individual little cross signs on my forehead and chest. Wow! I
felt so good and I fall into sleep under the enveloping peace. By the way, there were few days that I was so drunk that I couldn't pray (usually Fridays and Saturdays) and I used to feel guilty about it. So the next day I doubled my prayer. In my regular prayers, I prayed to God in general, Jesus, St.George (The saint my parents loved a lot), Mary, All Apostles (I didn't want to miss out any blessings from any of them), and few of the local saints (the names you probably wouldn't recognize).

Not even a single cell of my heart knew God. I have learned all Jesus stories, parables in Sunday School but none of it, in any way or fashion connected my heart to God. None. But I still followed all my religious practices - prayers, church attendance, confessions, burning candles, pouring oil in the oil lamp in front of the church etc. I attended the yearly confession (during the week of Easter) to the priest and attended church on all special occasions - Good Friday, easter, pass over, Christmas and the memorials of saints.

My parents also showed me few ultra spiritual things such as 'remembering' God when we come across a sign of cross or a church building. I have seen them making the sign of cross when they saw church building or cross. I made the sign of cross when I saw the church, then when I entered the church, then when the priest touches my head and when they throw smoke (incense) over my face. I had no clue why I was doing them and never felt the necessity to ask the reasons. My grandparents did it, my parents do it, my relatives do it, then, why not I? None of them questioned, why would I? Just do it. It is required.

It didn't matter whether I believed a lie, it didn't matter whether I had a relationship with God, only one thing mattered was to follow the crowd, do what they do. Don't even think about swimming upstream, just go with the flow.

I picked up so much of what was taught in the church as part of my life, in other words, habits. I have to say that when I did those I felt peace. When I doubled my prayers some days I felt double peace. When I didn't pray my prayers, when I didn't make the sign of cross, when I didn't attend church, I felt guilty. So, it's not hard to figure out why I did it. I do it so I feel good. What other reason do I need?

[to be continued...]


Joel B. said...

Wow... great stuff about your history. I mean, not "great," but interesting to know about your religious history. I was never in the Catholic church but not that you mention it I can remember various 'habits' I picked up along the way as well. Various words or gestures to God that made me feel a little better about myself even though I really didn't know Him at all!

This is such an important thing to bring up, and I'm glad you brought it up here. I think many people do a lot of "religious" things or have various habits that make them feel more at peace in life but yet don't know the living God.

Our nighttime prayers with the kids have been somewhat like that. Simply repeating prayers and songs but not really knowing Jesus. I've gotten out of that way of doing things and I generally approach bedtime a little differently each time, talking to the kids, asking them questions, letting them talk, asking them what's on their minds and hearts, etc, instead of just repeating the same habitual words, and letting them know that God is always with them and in them, and it's not just something we do at night. It can so easily become a ritual.

Emotional habits are another big one that I think slips right under the radar in churches. There are many ways that people get caught up in emotions, and they develop the 'habit' of doing things to make those emotions rise up again and again, and as you say they mistake them for manifestations of God. I think there are entire church services that are built around habits like this.

Anyway, great post. Looking forward to more!

Bino Manjasseril said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It's interesting that you mentioned about the night time prayer. Thats exactly our story as well. At some point it became something like brushing your teeth every day. Something you have to do. If you don't do it, you don't feel good. So for a long time we dragged it, unable to really stop. Now we completely stopped it. But whenever we feel a need in the spirit to pray, we will pray and that prayer is much meaningful and heart felt. I do kind of the same thing with my kids such telling about Jesus when opportunity comes, asking them questions and encouraging them to ask questions.
We could teach them all nice prayers, spiritual disciplines, gospel songs and all, but if they don't know Jesus on a personal level, what good is it for them?

Emotional habits in churches... I have seen those literally in front of my eyes and I was also a victim of the same. Thank God, he showed me the truth of His love and grace,..