Monday, March 19, 2012

Liturgy Is Not The Problem

At least, I don't think so.

In some circles, it seems like the word "liturgy" has a connotation somewhat like the word "liberal".  "Liturgy" is a code word for everything that is wrong with the church:  ritual and repetition without meaning, doing the same thing over and over again.  Liturgy is boring and not spontaneous.  It is right up there with organ music and hymns written before 1980.  In many many church growth books out there these days, at least one of the steps is something on the order of "get rid of liturgy".

But, is this really the problem?  All worship has to have an order to it, just like most of us, when we travel, travel on roads.  Sometimes it is exciting to travel on rough terrain in a jeep, and at other times, the most important thing is simply to get there.  Absolutely, the journey is important, but I am not with those who say that the destination doesn't matter.  At the end of the day, the most important thing is that I arrive at home, and not somewhere else.    In the same way, I have been moved and fed by many different kinds of worship services, from high liturgies to Pentecostal praise services.  Liturgy is not rote repetition to me; it contains the richness of art and poetry and beauty.

One of the problems with liturgy, I think, is that those of us who are used to it take it for granted.  We travel this particular road from week to week; we're used to it.  Some of us are aware of why we take this road and the specific scenery to watch out for; others don't know why, and we have never taught them.  We may hold to liturgy too rigidly, using it to keep the presence of God away instead of to draw near.  We may hold to liturgy too loosely, not recognizing the beauty of the structures in the same way we don't always recognize the beauty in a sonnet.

Not everyone has grown up with liturgy, it may be argued.  But not everyone has grown up speaking in tongues, either, and I don't see Pentecostals casting that element of their faith aside, believing it to be odd and a stumbling block. 

Last week, I presided at several funerals.  The first one, on Monday, was for a dear man who had grown quite deaf.  Yet he came to church every Sunday, even though he could not hear one word of the sermon or the music of the songs.

He was fed by the words of the liturgy, which he recited week after week.  He was fed by the words of the Creed, and by participating in the Lord's Supper with his community of faith.

Liturgy may be a barrier for some, but for others, it is a door to the presence of God.  Some day, it may even be so for you.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Liturgy may be a barrier for some, but for others, it is a door to the presence of God.

That would be me. It is the most holy thing I know--to pray the liturgy, knowing that millions of people all over the world are praying something very similar. It is a gift, and if my church gets rid of it, they will be getting rid of something special. (I'll go too, but they probably won't miss the liturgical curmudgeon...)

There are thousands of churches one can attend that do not "do" liturgy. If you (collective "you") find it boring, why not just go to a different church, rather than try to destroy what others find spiritually meaningful?

Robin said...

You are much more flexible than I am. Give me high church liturgy any day. In my dreams, anyway.

Jan said...

I keep being drawn into liturgy more and more. That is one of the reasons I returned to the Episcopal Church.

Terri said...

The Episcopal Church pretty much defines liturgy, for better and for worse. I hope my efforts to creatively engage liturgy proves to be provocative...but I also experience the driest. blandest liturgy in the Episcopal Church...sigh. And people who like it that way because it's familiar and comfortable.

I guess for me, the idea that liturgy should be provocative, doesn't meld well with those who are looking for "comfortable" liturgy...but frankly I think being provoked usually opens my senses to the possibility of God.

Fran said...

This is such a great post Diane, I could not agree with you more. In my own Roman Catholic church, we get into some real liturgy wars, very few would say to be done with it however.

I love how you draw us back to the whole that is important. That many take liturgy for granted is very important to the conversation.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Since I'm in the choir, I can see the people in the pews each Sunday. I do wonder at the large number who don't sing, but I guess they don't like to sing, but maybe they have the book open and they follow along. But there are also quite a few who don't ever look at the book and never open their mouth. Are they participating? But what they do in their mind and heart is between them and God.

Sometimes there is a group of people in the front rows for a baptism who are clearly not used to this church. And they don't even realize that there is a hymnal under the seat. If I wasn't so far, I'd get up and show them the book. They do usually look bored.

Some people say that the pastor shouldn't interrupt the flow of the liturgy to state page numbers. But when there are people who are clearly new to the process, I think that if something isn't done to help them, then it is a set up for "your an outsider" and we KNOW what is going on.