A Liturgy For All or A Lesson From Smells and Bells

The red-cloaked individual emerges from the curtains with a long pole. The chain dangling from its top ends on a basketball sized iron orb. Smoke is beginning to fill the room. Is this a Mortal Kombat role play? If so, I am not dressed appropriately.

I’m at church. An Episcopal church. The cloaked individual is an alter server called the thuriver. His weapon is one of blessing and is called a thurible. He swung the thurble three times as directed to him by the liturgical calendar. After making his way to the front of the room the weapon is used to bless the gospel book. Then he walks to the tall alter and blesses it with another sacred swing. One more swing toward the communion table. Then one long aggressive swing toward the congregation!!

“Get over here!”

“Liturgical” and “non-liturgical” are terms often used to define whether a church’s style is predictable and stiff (liturgical) or skinny jeans’d and U2’d (non-liturgical). But in fact all churches have liturgies. Larger church liturgies have communion sponsored by Starbucks and baptism brought to you by Paddock Pools but they nonetheless orient their life together via rituals. Simplistically, these weekly liturgies are an order of events meant to reorient us toward an intended way of life. Professor and farmer Fred Bahnson puts it this way,

“The music, the prayers, the bowing and rising, the incense—all of it was breaking down my defenses. That’s what good liturgy does…it stops your racing mind and turns you toward God.”

Good liturgy is designed — just like a building, car, or iPhone5S — to interact and influence the one that engages it. Good liturgy is a grand story made up of thoughtful rhythms that help us understand our place in it. The liturgies of a religious gathering are designed to influence a “Godly” way of life — prayer, confession, awareness of the Other. The thurble, prayers, and songs are not thoughtless or rote. Rather they are the repetitious weekly practices that form us.

In its most simple literary form, liturgy means “the work of the people.” We all do work. We all have rhythms (Taco Tuesday or morning prayer) symbols (a tattoo or a business card), and practices (yoga, meditation, or hashtagary). So whether we realize it or not, we are liturgical beings.

I have a way (values, objectives, etc) that I want to live. But there is always a gap between these values I espouse to and the values my life reflects. In order to close that gap I need an ordering of behaviors to form my life. Below is a sample of these rhythms — my liturgy. Some of my rituals have taken hold by accident and others have been intentionally designed. Some of them are enjoyable, others are mundane. But I need all of them to reorient me to the life I want to live and the man I want to be.

Sunday night dinner

Thousands of miles separating good friends — many of us can relate. During what were very transient years for my wife and I, we had one thing that remained. For nearly 7 years we have talked to our friend Jari on Sunday nights. What used to be Skype has turned into dinner on Sunday nights (because she moved to SF). We talk about our weeks, our missteps, our hopes, and cook fancy pants food. Life together in its most basic form.

Monday mornings

My schedule is always in flux and my tasks are always changing. For this reason I rise very early on Monday morning, and with a warm cup of coffee review my calendared week. I then try to imagine what the person living that week will need to be reminded of. I then select one word. I connect it with an image. I print it. I pin it to my corkboard. I meditate on and pray this word throughout my week.

Sunday brother text

In most church services there is a moment in time where you “pass the peace.” My brother and I do that every Sunday with something we call the “Sunday Brother Text.” It’s always a message of longing — how we miss each other, look forward to when we can get together again. Its also about bowel movements. It reminds me that in spite of all of life’s efforts, nothing separates family.

Coffee grinder dance

My son hated the coffee grinder and so like a good cognitive behavioral therapist, my wife and I decided to make the loud scary coffee grinder (like the scary snort) a positive experience with a massive dance party. Unintentionally this moment has been a great opportunity to stop being so GD serious and for me to recall that there are many things I am not good at.

The meal plan

Both my wife and I have a love of cereal. If left alone we would eat CTC (Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and Resse’s Peanut Butter Puffs for every meal. To avoid our carboholic tendencies we have a weekly conversation about the healthy dinners and lunches that we intend on eating. This conversation is boring and takes a lot of time and planning.

Goodnight smile

Studies show that couples who go to bed at the same time and do not have a TV in their room are likely to have way more sex and less divorce. We try to heed this advice (which means that I often miss the evening Sportscenter!). My wife and I try to be very present to each other in the evenings. Our best laughs, talks, and cries come in the evening before we slumber. And every night before I turn the light off, I say “big smile, please!” and I get the toothiest most beautiful grin. This is my benediction.

If you have been to a traditionally liturgous church service, you know that liturgy is rarely a tweet-about-it-hellofafun-time. To commit to the mundane of rhythms costs you something. But if you don’t design it (your finances, your marriage, your faith), and commit to it, your life will default.

Jarrod

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