Friday, January 19, 2024

Lets make for a new tradition. . .

While there is no doubt that people start things with the intention of creating what will become a tradition, tradition by definition is not new but always old.  It is not invented but what is passed on.   Tradition is not judged by those who start it but by the generations of those who observe it until it actually becomes tradition and not simply novelty.

Starting a tradition is not something you or anyone can do.  You can certainly begin something but what you begin will not become a tradition until you cannot recall the time before it was.  That is what is so often missed.  Tradition is tradition because it is anticipated and expected -- it becomes a part of us so much so that if it is missing, we notice the absence and miss it.

While this is true of many things, it is especially true of worship.  The sad reality is that it does not take long to dismantle tradition and once that has happened, the same thing will become novelty.  Lutherans have certainly experienced this with worship.  From vestments to genuflecting to crossing yourself to elevation to the weekly Eucharist, these are traditional things that span our identity and have been passed down to us by many folks over many centuries.  But because they have dropped out of usage in so many places that they are no longer seen as tradition and instead become novelty.  That is the great danger of tradition -- losing it means not simply having to restore what was lost but working to make sure that which was lost becomes again the living tradition that shapes our lives today almost instinctively.

The same is true for catechesis.  Where creeds were once uniformly known by the faithful, even among creedal churches the ancient symbols have slipped from memory.  Listen to how the faithful confess a creed supposedly by memory and cannot even distinguish the Apostles' from the Nicene.  In the same way, it does not take that long before what is tradition passes from the body of tradition until it becomes a stranger to our piety and lives.  Even the Our Father can become lost to us.  Certainly Luther's Catechism, as esteemed as it is in our identity -- that Catechism is no longer within the fabric of our memory.  We may have learned to recite it by memory during our catechetical studies but now in later life they have sounds that echo through our memory but the content itself is almost lost to us.

That is surely the case for hymnody -- just as I have written not so long ago.  We have such a limited repertoire of hymns that we all know -- even within the Lutheran congregation.  Just the other evening I was singing a hymn with the old words of my memory only to find that pesky little abbreviation alt that informs me the words I knew have been garbled enough to make me stumble to sing them without the book.  

So when you read about somebody starting a new tradition, it is time for a smile and a little laughter.  They obviously do not understand what tradition is.  Tradition is not invention.  Tradition is preservation.  We are more fascinated by the all things new of Scripture than we should be and not interested enough in the passing down of the sacred deposit.  Perhaps this is as much a reason for Christianity's decline as anything.  Sometimes I fear in a minute we would trade off the well worn paths of our fathers and mothers in the faith for an uncharted course and be happy.  Sort of correlates with the great book title "amusing ourselves to death."  In any case, we have so confused and muddied the waters that it is possible to speak of tradition as something you create.  You may plant a seed but it takes generations to grow a tradition and only a few years for a venerable tradition to depart from our memory and piety and we become strangers to our own past.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"Starting a tradition is not something you or anyone can do."

All traditions have a beginning, that is they are started by someone at some time somewhere. Even the word "tradition" has an etymological beginning at the 14th century, from a 13th century Old French tradicion, and an earlier Latin traditionm going back to the Proto-Indo-European *tra-, variant of root *tere-" and dare "to give" (from PIE root *do- "to give").