This is a statue of John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop in this country and the founder (or, if you are Latin, fovnder) of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The statue stands near the front gate at Georgetown and before one graduates from the university, one tries to have one's picture taken while one is sitting in the lap of the blessed fovnder. Since it is against the university's rules to sit in the fovnder statue's lap, and since the statue is prominently placed in a busy area of campus that is located right next to the campus security gate, the leaping-into-the-lap-and-having-a-picture-taken-by-a-co-conspirator must be done quickly and yet with some significant planning. But the deed is done year after year, student after student, because it is a Tradition.

How do we get traditions anyway? At our house, for a while, if we did something once at Christmas, then it became a Tradition. It didn't take long for there to be way too many Traditions in relation to the number of days around Christmas for them to all fit it. We had to find ways to reduce some "traditions" (or nip them in the bud) or face the unsavory task of just saying no to the Nutcracker or skating or Moravian sugar bread breakfast or whatever.

A seminary classmate once mentioned that his parish church acquired a portrait of its patronal saint, and since a permanent display location had not been determined, it was temporarily propped up against the wall in a stairwell. Where it stayed for some weeks and then months. "Heaven help the person who dares to move it now," he quipped. Tradition.

While the Christmas and Saint Parish Patron examples are the kind of thing about which one shakes one's head, the Georgetown fovnder statue stories provokes a different kind of head-shaking. And by different people. You can supply your own mental image for who might say: "Kids! They try to keep the world from being so chaotic - they crave routine!" Or the one who laments: "Church people! 'That's the way we've always done it' is their usual rationale for nearly everything!" And of course this one: "Oh, those students, always trying to get around the rules!"

Actually, I am finding the students' tradition kind of attractive right now. Not so much about the getting around the rules part, but rather I am attracted to a kind of joyful tenacity that involves creativity, flexibility, and focus. (Obviously this does not include stupidity, I hasten to add; a tradition that is destructive or dangerous is not what I'm admiring here.) I am really attracted to being creative about keeping a tradition alive. About joy and fun and daring and tradition being all together in the same sentence. About valuing the tradition without having the tradition becoming an idol or a sacred cow.

Traditions come and go and they change. (Watch Fiddler on the Roof if you need a refresher course in how traditions change. And how hard it is to live through that change.) They must not become idols. They can be the source of creativity and joy. Once they become drudgery or demanding and draining of one's energy and resources, once they become the source of bad behavior and ill-feelings and hurt, then maybe it's time for a break.


stpatti said…
AMEN! From one who has often wanted to maintain, because it's too difficult to let go! Thanks, Penny