Skip to content

Loving on some Liturgy

March 25, 2014



Liturgy-from the Greek word, leitourgia, meaning public worship.  Soul food, disciplining our spirits, participating in the work of God through active prayer and worship.  An invitation to participate, not just observe.  A dialogue and divine drama in which we are invited to be the actors.  An invitation to be part of God’s story and the story of our lost ancestors and saints.  (definition from the introduction of Common Prayer by Claiborne, et al).

I grew up Mennonite, as I may have mentioned before.  Back in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s when I was immersed in the Mennonite church, I learned about our church history.  In high school Bible classes, I learned how the Mennonites grew out of the Reformation in Switzerland, Holland, and Germany.  Like many during the Reformation,  Mennonite founders struggled with the Catholic church and what it represented in that age–the Inquisition, martyring heretics, Mass in Latin, relics, Purgatory, infant baptism, and the power structure of priests, bishops, and the Holy Roman Empire.

In the early beginnings of the Mennonite church, the home churches that met in secret to avoid persecution and martyrdom, liturgy was discarded along with all other things Catholic.  Anything contrary to the early Christian church, as described in Acts and Paul’s letters were set aside and viewed as man-made versus God inspired.  Mennonites were not (and still are not) liturgical.  These days, they follow the common lectionary of most churches, but liturgy is not a weekly occurrence.  Of curse, people complain with the order of worship is changed, but the responsive reading, weekly saying of the Lord’s Prayer, words said over communion are not set in stone.  There is space for the Spirit to move and influence worship on a weekly basis instead of being roped to tradition and set prayers and reading

My first introduction with liturgy came at a church I showed up at because the hill it sat atop of was covered with bluebonnets in the spring.  My church choices have been rather haphazard.  I often drove by this church on the way home from work and in the spring time, I noticed it more than usual.  The hill was awash of blue with three crosses sitting at the top of the hill.  I decided to visit this Episcopal church, knowing very little about Episcopalians, except that they were the American offshoot of the Anglican church, and the Anglican church was formed by Henry XIII so he could divorce a wife.   It didn’t matter.  I was drawn by the urging to think of God as I drove home from work and saw bluebonnets and empty crosses.

I must admit, I didn’t love the Book of Common Prayer the first time I encountered it.  I attended my small Episcopalian church for about a year, singing in the worship team (old school praise and worship with guitars and the like).  I visited some Sunday school classes, including one on joining the church.  I liked the common cup of communion and kneeling for prayers during the service.  Then I learned about the prayers and liturgy.  After my Mennonite upbringing, in which we were all called into the royal priesthood, being able to communicate with God equally–clergy and laity had the same lines of communication, I cringed when I told my prayers needed to come from the Book of Common Prayer.  I fled the community I was so gently and kindly being drawn into.  I returned to the small Mennonite church, were my prayers could be my own and not dictated from a book.

I didn’t stay long back at the Mennonite church.  The same reasons I decided to leave in the past remained the same, so I found myself looking for a church again.  Again I stumbled upon a church–this time a Methodist church downtown (which I ended up at because the first Methodist I attempted to attend that morning did not have the early service they advertised on the sign.  I remembered their was a Methodist church downtown, so I headed there).  Not all Methodist churches are the same (just like not all Mennonite and Episcopal churches are the same either).  This church was high church–big on liturgy, organ music, choirs.  I was drawn in because of those things and because there was no Book of Common prayer instructing me how to pray.  That church has stuck and my views on liturgy have changed.

For Ash Wednesday, I attended an Episcopalian church closer to my house.  As the priest said the words over communion, I felt myself relaxing into communion, taking big gulps of air and feeling like I was home.  The words were the same as those said over communion at my Methodist church.

My daily practice now consists of liturgy.  In the mornings, I say my morning prayers, staring every day with:

O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun.

and ending with:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you

May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm

May he bring you home rejoicing, at the wonders he has shown you,

may he bring you home rejoicing, once again into our doors.

I know in the middle of my time, I will read a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and an Old Testament reading.  I will pray for others and pray the Lord’s prayer.

It is a big, cleansing breath of air that sets (or re-sets in many cases) my day.  The same words ground me in who I am, whose I am, and who always goes with me.  As part of my Lenten practice, I have added evening prayers (compline) in which I can ask forgiveness for those things I need forgiveness for in my day and in which my sleep is blessed.  I never realized what a good reminder blessings for sleep and dreams could be for remembering that God is with us always, waking and sleeping.  For Lent, instead of midday prayers (at lunch), I am reading my little book of prayers:  Breath for the Soul:  Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister.

I need liturgy.  I need to be reminded over and over what my purpose in life is (to worship God and love others) and praying three times a day is what I do to keep reminding myself of that.  I am fortunate in that my day lends itself to that time.  I know when I return to teaching, I will be challenged to find the rhythm and the quiet for morning and midday prayers.  Part of my gift of being at home is having more control over my time.  I know this rhythm won’t work for everyo.  However, for this season of my life, it works for me.  It helps me come back over and over to striving to love God with my whole heart and soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself.  My prayers and readings make my faith a communal faith, not an individual faith.  While I pray by myself every morning and evening, I know that today, as I read about the Annunciation (Mary being told she would be pregnant with Jesus), Christians around the world are reading the same passage and praising God for sending Jesus to us through Mary.  As I pray my evening prayers, I am praying with the Northumbria Community in Ireland.  I am part of a community of saints as I pray the same prayers as others.  Although I am alone, my prayers join others who pray the same words, read the same Psalms, and follow the same liturgical calendars.  More times than I can count, the scripture reading at church is the same as one I have read the prior week.  When I spend more time with one scripture–both at home and then at church, I am able to become a deeper part of God’s story.

I am fortunate that my day lends itself to that time.  I know when I return to teaching, I will be challenged to find the rhythm and the quiet for morning and midday prayers.  Part of my gift of being at home is having more control over my time.  I know this rhythm won’t work for everyone.  However, for this season of my life, it works for me.  It helps me come back over and over to striving to love God with my whole heart and soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself

DSCN1250(Prayers come from Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and Okoro and Celtic Daily Prayer by Andy Raine and the Northumbria Community.  I’m also exploring the Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle).

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: