Liturgy and the “Good Life”

Ok, So What’s Liturgy?

Liturgy sounds churchy and religious, doesn’t it?  Something practiced on a Sunday morning in a few churches that haven’t figured out how, or better yet, chosen not to let go of ancient outdated practices, customs, and traditions.

Well, yes, it’s that.  But it’s so much more.  We are all immersed in liturgies; those practices, habits, rhythms, routines, schedules that make up our daily life. Everybody has liturgies.  Expand your attention beyond a church service and notice how you move through a day and you will perhaps get a glimpse of your liturgy.

Eugene Peterson refers to the Eucharist, for example, as a ritual.  “Jesus’ most honored command produced a ritual – an ordered arrangement of actions and words the Christians reproduce wherever and whenever they want to ‘remember’ and ‘proclaim’ salvation.  There is more going on than I am aware of or can be responsible for.  Reality is larger than me.  A ritual puts me into the larger reality without requiring that I understand it or even ‘feel’ it at the moment.  It keeps us in touch with and preserves mystery.  For reality is not only larger than me and my immediate circumstances, it is also beyond my understanding.  Rituals preserve that mystery, protect certain essential aspects of reality from being reduced to the dimensions of my interest or intelligence or awareness.”[1]

So why is it so big a deal?  Because our liturgies shape us, often subconsciously, into who we are.  They reveal what we love, what we long for, crave for, as our ultimate objective.  Some version of what we call good life.  This immersion in liturgical practices extends far beyond the order of worship in a church service.  Becoming aware of that may enable you to take stock both of desirable liturgies and those liturgies that compete for your loves.  Our liturgies work on us at the level of the heart, the gut.  Your liturgies are determined by a master.  “Show me your schedule, I’ll show you your liturgy.  Show me your liturgy and I will show you your master.”[2]

A Story About the Good Life

Ever been passionately pursued?  Ever come stumbling toward home tarnished from the pigsty, staring at the dust rising from your bare plodding feet, rehearsing your excuses?  Your best hope is to be counted among the hired hands.  Then you glance up and see him.  Without need for dignity, he comes running toward you, both hands clutching his robe so he can sprint.  It’s your Father.  He’s been waiting for you.  He throws his arms around you and lifts you off your feet.  He kisses you and orders his robe to cover you.  Cover you from your nakedness, poverty and rags.  He means to do you good.

That’s an example of a story I can place myself into, allowing the images, the sensory stimulations to move me, bend me shape me toward a relationship I crave.

As human creatures, we are more than what we know, think or believe.  Yes, we have intellect and rationality, but we are more than ‘brains on a stick.’  We are what we love.  My loves are directed toward my version of the good life; how I define human flourishing; and are shaped and bent and formed in me by my little liturgies.

St. Augustine gives a glimpse of the good life that can be found only in God and is initiated by God:

“You have prompted him, that he should delight to praise you, for you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.”[3]

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, pg. 205, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005.

[2] Pastor Jeff Hamling, From a sermon, “What is Your Liturgy?”

[3] St. Augustine, Confessions, pg. 3, 2007, Published by Barnes and Noble Books.

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