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Cranford: Begin a new habit to grow your faith

Cranford: Begin a new habit to grow your faith

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sunrise service

The sun rises during a sunrise service on Easter Sunday in 2017 near Waynesboro.

Intentional faith practices establish routines, explore questions and create sacred moments. Whenever we combine our daily, weekly and yearly spiritual practices, our habits form a lifestyle with God at the center of our story. The best time to start a holy habit is now. The habits we begin today transform how we experience God tomorrow.

April Cranford

The Rev. April Cranford, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, is a columnist for The News Virginian. Her column is published the fourth Friday of the month.

In the book “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg wrote fascinating stories and facts about habits. He reminded readers that the brain stores habits in the basal ganglia regardless of whether the habits are helpful or harmful. Over time many habits become automatic such as starting the car, tying our shoes, or walking the same loop in the neighborhood. After reading Duhigg’s book, I wondered if my faith journey had led to the accumulation of any automatic holy habits over the years.

As a child, I developed the annual habit of rising before dawn on Easter morning. My dad softly knocked on bedroom doors, hoping two sleepy daughters would join him at the community Easter sunrise service. My sister and I dragged our weary bodies into the car for the ride to town. Traveling along the curvy country roads in the dark, I hoped to catch a glimpse of the Easter bunny fulfilling one last delivery in the neighborhood. Although I never saw the Easter bunny, I did spot a rabbit one year hopping over the hill at Mount Lawn Cemetery. I always thought that celebrating a risen Lord among silent gravestones was strange.

Dressed in layers of clothes and heavy coats, we gathered at the top of the mountain. The hot chocolate warmed my hands and the glazed donut excited my taste buds. Multiple pastors from various denominations led the service, which was broadcast on the local radio station. I watched the pastors’ breaths as they prayed and preached. Our denomination, the Presbyterian frozen chosen, seemed to grow in numbers on those frigid mornings. Toward the end of the service, the sun crested over the mountain ridge with beams of sunlight that echoed our shouts of praise; “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”

In 2017, I traveled along the same curvy roads toward Mount Lawn Cemetery, not for a sunrise service, but for my father’s graveside service. Driving past the silent stones, I was drawn to the cemetery for the same reason that drew my father on Easter: to worship the risen Lord near the family members who have gone before us. My childhood impression of the cemetery as a strange place transformed to its being a sacred place. I recalled the weekly habit of reciting the Apostles’ Creed: an ancient faith statement written in the fourth century. As I looked across the graveyard, I thought about the Spirit who draws the universal holy church together, despite denominational differences, for sunrise and graveside services. I believe in the Spirit who unites the communion of saints, both visible and invisible, to worship the risen Lord.

As I sat near the open grave, my daily habit of reading scripture filled my heart with the words from Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I am grateful for the automatic holy habits that merged to comfort my grief and restore my soul.

Holy habits connect us to the holy story. Our physical, mental and spiritual habits help us step into the pages of scripture to experience the story in new ways. Physically traveling in the dark to a sunrise service can help us vicariously walk alongside the women carrying spices to Jesus’s tomb. Mentally wrestling, in prayer to God, with our story’s broken pieces may find us aligning with doubting Thomas in the narrative. Watching a child open a plastic egg for the first time in amazement may lead us to connect spiritually with the astonished disciples at the empty tomb.

On Easter morning, I will softly knock on doors to invite two sleepy daughters to attend a community Easter sunrise service. Our family will worship on top of the mountain. As one of the multiple pastors leading the service, I look forward to worshipping with the saints, both visible and invisible, as the universal holy church watches the sun rise over the mountain ridge to radiate and proclaim: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”

Holy habits enhance our faith at every age and in every season of life. There is no better day than Easter to resume a habit that has lain dormant during the pandemic or begin a new habit to grow your faith. May the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit draw you toward an empty tomb and a risen Lord today!

The Rev. April Cranford, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, is a columnist for The News Virginian. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The News Virginian.

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