• Stephen Hill


I am reconnecting with the sacramental and finding it immensely helpful.

A sacrament is something ordinary that takes on a far deeper significance when faith is injected into it.

I fully admit that I am not 'normal' or 'popular.' My expression is probably different than many people who read this blog. But, so what-here goes anyway.

Let me say something about the power of sacred objects and rites. Some strands of evangelical Protestantism have thrown the baby out with the bathwater here and have become, frankly speaking, extremely boring. For me, Sola scriptura, has become very dry and very dead.

If you believe in a sacrament it can bring tremendous benefits. I was brought up taking communion every week. It was a mystical experience for many in the church I was brought up in. I remember watching a man gazing at the emblems on the table. He may have been shocked to realise that he was closer to Catholic theology than he realised. For him the bread and the cup had a holy (wholly other) significance.

A famous Pentecostal who saw a lot of miracles was Smith Wigglesworth, the Bradford plumber turned preacher. He took personal Holy Communion every day. He realised the immense power of taking communion.

In recent times, I have often requested a communion service when I go somewhere to speak. I have discovered that the power of the Holy Spirit is particularly present whenever the gathered people participate in the 'rite' of Holy Communion.

Why has the sacramental become so attractive and useful to me? Here's why.

I have found a ‘trap’ that I can fall into is to become too self-absorbed. Always analysing how free or emotionally whole I am (or not), always looking at what triggers me. For me this has become a trap. I am caught in too much psychology. A helpful way out of this psycho-analytical navel gazing (which counsellors etc. seem to perpetuate) is to embrace the sacramental.

The power of sacred objects and rites can be used (if we have the faith for it) to draw off negative emotions and energies. It can be a release from being too much in our heads and emotions. To embrace the sacramental is to use the physical to deal with issues rather than everything being dealt with in the emotions and by mental processing. I get really tired of mental processing and really weary of my own subjective feelings. To my relief I have discovered that I can process my pain through the bread, the cup, the water, the oil, the stone, the soil, the body, the physical

In the journals of Thomas Merton there is an interesting example of how he used a physical object to deal with his anxiety:

He was called to the Abbot’s office to receive the news that his brother (a WWII pilot) was reported 'missing at sea'. Here is how he described it:

The letter was finished and we were in choir for the Mass, when Father Master came in and made the sign for ‘Abbot.’ I went out to the Reverend Father’s room. There was no difficulty in guessing who it was. I passed the Pieta at the corner of the cloister and buried my will and my natural affections and all the rest in the wounded side of the dead Christ.”

The context of this is that Merton’s brother had been reported ‘missing in action.’

My point is that Merton used the Pieta (a statue that depicts Mary holding the dead body of Jesus that had just been removed from the cross) to offset his anxiety about the news he feared he was about to receive from the Abbot.

This sort of device is not available in Evangelical Protestantism because Evangelical Protestantism (which includes the vast majority of Pentecostals) have rejected a sacramental spirituality, therefore pushing all issues into the mind and the emotions. All healing is through a process of self-analysis and resolution in the thinking and emotions. There is no external 'magnet' to draw away your negative energy. There is no physical emblem to push one’s difficulties and problems into.

For me the power of the bread and wine is this. By taking it, I can immediately internalise the living Christ by faith. I do not have to trust in my own emotional subjectivity, which can be up or down depending on what sort of a day it is. Being sprinkled with holy water or anointed with oil can bring an immediate sense of being cleansed or anointed. I have discovered that the Holy Spirit empowers the sacrament if we really have faith for it.

I listened to a speaker recently and he said that the Ark of the Covenant was merely a symbol of God’s presence. What?! A symbol?

Well it must have been a pretty potent symbol to destroy Dagon the Philistine god (1 Samuel 5:2-7). Did Uzzah (2 Samuel 6) die because he touched a symbol? I don’t think so.

Some people may be shocked at this, but I think it is better to view the Ark as having 'magic' powers than to view it as a mere symbol. Of course, the 'magic' power was actually the Shekinah of YHWH.

That is more how they understood it back then. The Ark had 'resident' power in it. Look what happened to Dagon, the Philistine fish-god in 1 Samuel 5:2-7. In the presence of the Ark, he fell over and was destroyed.

If I really believe the Ark of the Covenant was merely a symbol, it’s no wonder I am not seeing healing and the supernatural break out in my life.

In contrast to that speaker who believes the Ark was a mere symbol, I was listening to a very sophisticated Catholic archbishop (educated to the hilt) and he believes with all his heart that he is actually eating the real body and drinking the blood of Christ.

Forget about the theological arguments. What is the real difference between this Evangelical preacher and the Catholic Archbishop? The real difference is that one has rejected the sacramental and the other embraces it.

If you get slathered with chrism (a fragrant anointing oil that is blessed by faith) it can immediately open up your senses and take you from a bodily sensation to a spiritual reality. If you can believe in the heart that this is true it will be true.

I used to have a (opinionated theological) problem with being baptised more than once. Yes, maybe it is not the ideal. But some of us would probably benefit from experiencing a fresh rite of baptism. It may bring us greater breakthrough than many other things we have tried.

A person with a Catholic or Orthodox background does not have as big a jump to make in order to believe in the supernatural. They still retain a paradigm for the supernatural within their understanding. Every time a priest raises an icon or consecrates the the wafer and wine a miracle takes place. That is what they really believe. The physical elements are transmogrified (sorry, couldn’t resist using that word) into living flesh and blood. Devout Catholics believe this with all their hearts. As a result they have a narrower chasm to cross than the Protestant Evangelical who believes that the bread and wine are merely symbols to aid the memory.

In Orthodox spirituality icons are used as a way to keep the eye of the heart transfixed on God. Icons are an outward and material key to an inner door through which the heart passes into communion with God. The difference in what we doing in the ‘soaking prayer’ is that we have an inner icon, an icon of the heart, through which to enter the presence of the Divine. I have found that often the Spirit will give me a picture of the Lord Jesus to which I fix my attentive gaze. The picture then expands into more revelation. Jesus is placed within an environment, maybe by a lake or standing in front of a fire, and then the heart receives the words that He says. This heart-icon acts as a doorway into realms beyond. John, on Patmos, was ‘in the Spirit’ and he saw things, then he kept looking and saw more things, and the whole Apocalypse (which, by the way, means 'unveiling') unfolded.

If we are going to reclaim the supernatural I think we need to take another look at this stuff. Maybe you would like to take a fresh approach to it. Get in touch with your creative side and set up a wee sacred space in your house or garden. Bless the wine and drink it. Bless some oil or water and use it.

I think, for me, I am receiving help from these things because I am a lover of beauty, of art, of poetry. It suits my right-brained personality very well. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine by me. But maybe this will ring some bells (pun intended) for you and give you solutions where sermons, writing, counselling, journaling fall a bit short.

We get comforted by touch, by feel, by the smell and taste of coffee, by the odour of freshly baked bread, by the laughter of children. These can all be sacramental if we have faith for it, if we let our hearts embrace this reality.

Maybe you need to believe that the bread and wine becomes Christ when you pray over it. Or that a drop of water has healing properties. Maybe you can look away in faith to something else, to Christ manifested through the physical. Maybe that will be an avenue through which healing can come to you.

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