Liturgy

A friend gave me the book Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey for Christmas. It is a wonderful and beautiful book of modern liturgies. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. I didn’t grow up in, nor do I now worship in, a liturgical denomination. I don’t remember my first exposure to liturgical worship, but it’s safe to assume it was late in high school, and was maybe only once or twice. This ancient form of corporate worship and prayer is novel for me. Though it might seem tired and rote for some of you, It feels exciting and fresh to me. As I’ve aged and had more experiences in a variety of denominations, I’ve grown to see the value in the myriad expressions of worship. I love the diversity that exists in the body of Christ, and while the form worship takes in a service has been one of the most divisive issues in churches, I am more inclined to believe that the variety of forms is something that makes the Church seem more like a real live body and less like a stone cold statue. As someone who tends to be more expressive (dramatic?) in every aspect of life, it is less of a challenge to my sensibilities to be in a demonstrative worship environment than it is to be in a tame, strictly-ordered service where liturgy is practiced.. The closest my tradition ever came to liturgy was “responsive readings,” and those in Sunday evening services about once every quarter. That’s the Southern Baptists’ idea of how to keep it fresh.

The book of new liturgies has captivated something in my mind. Maybe it’s because liturgy reminds me of the way the poetic writing in the old Puritan prayers (in The Valley of Vision, for example) first arrested me. Maybe it’s because liturgy feels more like real life…prayer and worship that imitates the common, repetitive acts of everyday, and yet, in some mysterious way elevates the mundane to holy. Regardless, what I’m discovering is that liturgy, when practiced with attention and intention, is a way to marry the high and holy ideals of art and worship and let them dwell together in ordinary men and women. Liturgy can be a mechanism for ushering meaning, God’s value, into places that would otherwise be void of it. More than ever, it seems as if finding meaning in the ordinary is imperative for our generation because all other social experiments we design to fabricate our own meaning, to create our own value, have failed. Darwinism, secularism, egoism, all the other “isms”…they have left us empty like a once-inflated, limp balloon. In some way, reading liturgies feels like the practice a counselor would give a couple trying to save their struggling, loveless marriage- do ordinary things for one another over and over by discipline. Then, one day, the couple will realize they are no longer relying on discipline, but desire. It’s hard to habitually perform acts of love without love actually kicking in at some point. Liturgy seems as if could be the ordinary act that rekindles a languishing flame of love back into one of holy passion. How long can one rehearse phrases such as “O Bread of Life, meet us in the making of this meal,” (A Liturgy for the Preparation of a Meal, pg 23) and fail to see when He does.

This line of thinking has made me start wondering, what are the things I do in my everyday life that I have labeled “meaningless”? What things have I stripped of value by doing them on autopilot without engaging my heart and my mind? What activities have I considered too profane and told myself that the King of the Universe does not wish to meet me in such lowly places as if he did not arrive through the womb of a peasant girl into a cave where sheep were born?

I have a few ideas of where I need to start writing my own liturgies, of tasks that need redemption from being categorized in my mind as too prosaic for Jesus. When I sit in the carpool line, when I wash my face, when I make a grocery list I need to be reminded of God’s with-ness. I need to develop my awareness that he wants to be with me where I am, that he thinks more highly of my work than I do, and that when I invite him to join me, I am transformed by his presence.

W