59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.

60But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed.

john-baptist-circumcisionZechariah, Elizabeth, and her family are obedient, “righteous”, religiously observant Jews. They follow tradition to the letter of the law – “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.”

But then, without hesitation, Zechariah and Elizabeth break with tradition. They choose for their son a name that is not part of the family heritage. He should be known as Zechariah in honour of his father; instead they name him John even though, as the cultural gatekeepers tell Elizabeth, “None of your relatives has this name.”

Zechariah and Elizabeth are responding to something deeper than tradition. Certainly, they honour the traditions of their belief system; they respect the rites and rituals of their faith. Zechariah is a priest.  But they understand that traditions do not exist to serve themselves.

Tradition is scaffolding upon which to erect the spiritual life. But when the structure becomes rigid and binding, instead of facilitating the heart opening that is the purpose of all spiritual practice, it restricts the flow of life. That which was intended to bring life, instead brings death.

When Jesus grew to become a profound spiritual teacher, he said,

The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27).

The sabbath is not an end in itself. The sabbath tradition serves to create space for human flourishing. In order to grow into the depths of the spirit, I need both the structure of tradition and the freedom of the inner stirring of the Spirit within my heart.

What are the traditions I practice which give shape and form to my spiritual journey?

What are the signs that a particular tradition has become a source of bondage rather than an instrument of growing more deeply into the freedom for which I was created?