Friday, May 22, 2015

A Liturgy for Living

Our church is doing a sermon series called Why Worship .  In previous weeks, we covered sacraments and proclamation/prophecy; last week, we looked at liturgy, which means the work of the people—not the work the pastor.  We were reminded that worship requires the participation of the whole community. There is an order of worship we follow.  Each time we gather together, we do things in a certain sequence intended to help lead us into God’s Presence—and then back out into the world carrying that Presence with us. These rituals are meant to bond us to meaning.  If we aren’t “getting anything out of” certain parts of the worship service, we may need to remind ourselves why we do what we do.  

In her message, the pastor reminded us there are two types of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is “our time”, the kind of time we keep on our watches and schedule-apps; kairos, on the other hand, is “God’s time”, or eternal time.  It is the "right" or "opportune" moment for us to encounter God. 

We live our days in chronos time but as people created in God’s image, we are created to seek and experience kairos moments. 

When we gather to worship as a community, we intentionally choose to give God some of our chronos, which we can control, in hopes of experiencing kairos, which we cannot.   

The liturgy we use in our worship services provide means that create space for those kairos moments to happen.  They are regular routines that followers of God have used for centuries to point themselves toward the Divine, sort of analogous to how a trellis helps to guide the growth of a tender plant.

The pastor also briefly touched on how we need order in our own personal lives. Although it wasn’t her focus, that was the part that resonated with me the most this week.  I have found myself in recent days feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the busyness of my life.  (How many can relate?) We did a round of spring-cleaning in our house recently.  We literally restored some order in our home—which felt really good after it was done!  But what I am seeking goes deeper than just cleaning up my physical home—I need to reorder my spiritual home.

I often say I need to find balance.  The reasoning goes that if I can just get the right ratio of activities, then I can do it all.  Seeking balance isn’t bad per se; the problem is that it tends to be self-focused.  I am trying to manage all the various “hats” I must where: spouse, parent, employee, church member, etc., and do them all well, so that life is easier and more convenient for me.  Also, when we seek balance, the sectors of life tend to get compartmentalized.  Spiritual life becomes just one of the compartments—when it should encompass all of the others.  Even if I manage to balance all the activities, where does that leave me?  Tired most likely!  But am I really any more certain about where I am headed?  Probably not.

I am fairly convinced that writing and storytelling are part of my calling; I've known that for a while.  In some ways, I already do these things.  I am a writer, editor, and “storyteller” for NASA.  Likewise, I’ve written many spiritual essays similar to the one you are reading right now over the past decade or so, and published them online and/or in print. I’ve also tried my hand in more recent years at creative nonfiction writing, taking several online courses, and producing some "really good first drafts".  All of these are partial expressions of who I am, but none of them are the complete picture.  I am fairly certain there is “more” I am meant to do, but struggling to discover it—and do it.

I think the “next step” involves a grand synthesis bringing together the writing I have done to date: a spiritual memoir perhaps?  A fuzzy vision emerges of what might be, but it quickly vanishes in the fog of uncertainty that seems to surround my life. Besides, having the time and energy to seriously pursue writing just doesn’t seem practical at this stage of my life.  I get discouraged and dismiss it as impossible.

I think the spiritual progress that I seek toward living more fully into my calling requires more than balance.   To get back on track toward the “bigger picture” that God sees for me, I need a firm sense of direction—I need order.

I was reminded this week of a time-honored spiritual practice that can help me if I would choose to pursue it.  It’s called a rule of life[1].  In light of our discussion of the role liturgy in worship, we might think of this practice as liturgy for living.  For centuries, these “rules” provided frameworks (like the trellis) that have helped followers of Jesus more intentionally pursue personal rhythms and guidelines that draw them closer to God and one another[2].  Developing a personal rule requires taking an honest inventory of who we are and what we really desire in life and then coming up with a rule (or if you prefer, a rhythm) that works for us. 

For example, if I really want to move forward as a writer, it likely won’t “just happen”; I will need to make a plan.  That is, I need to be clear about my goal, and then decide what specific and intentional actions I will take in the next month, year, etc., to move toward that goal.  For some reason, I resist making such plans like the plague. Why?  It’s a complicated answer but I think it’s because once I make a plan it has the potential of failing, and I hate failure so much that I resist even starting.  I figure I will just wait for the memoir to “just happen” and if it doesn’t it must not have been “meant to be”.

But I have come to believe that “meant to be” is a joint endeavor between us and God.  Until I am willing to do my part, my dream is likely to remain elusive—and I am likely to remain frustrated.

The liturgy that shapes your life will be different from mine.  It will be as unique as the individual God has created you to be, but as Christ followers there will be common themes that weave together, harmonies that join to make beautiful music. God’s hopeful and compelling vision of the Kingdom of God will begin to (re)order our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and provide the impetus we need to overcome our human tendency toward self-centeredness and motivate us to take action toward the noble pursuit of loving God and loving our neighbors as we work together toward the common good of creation. 

[1] Two excellent resources are the section on “Rule of Life” in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us, by Adele Calhoun, pp. 35–39, and “A Well Ordered Heart,” Chapter 12 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, by John Ortberg.  Ortberg discusses the difference between balance and order in more detail.
[2] An example of an ancient rule of life still in use today is the Rule of St. Benedict.

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