We all follow a liturgy.
I know that sounds strange, but I believe it to be true.
When I was in college, I remember people asking me if I attended a liturgical church. Liturgical was supposed to be a code word for “boring,” or “the pastor wears a robe,” or “they read all their words from a printed page.” Liturgical was to be avoided because it was the opposite of cutting edge and new. Liturgical meant outmoded, undesirable, and obsolete. And, because of the way liturgy had been defined by others, I was pretty sure that liturgy had nothing to do with my own faith and my own life.
Later on, when I was in seminary, we learned the Greek root words that formed the word liturgy. Laos meaning “people,” and ergo meaning “work.” Liturgy was defined as the work of the people. It’s something we do together in our life as a church body. It’s the rhythm, pattern, and flow of how we worship God. Our liturgy is the way we dress the sanctuary to mark the seasons, the way we eat together and enter into the story of Jesus, the way we read the Word and connect with what God is doing in the world. Liturgy is so much more than reading words on a page, or hollow ritual. The ritual enables deep meaning-making, and creates within our body patterns that form our lives.
Liturgy is the way we move, the patterns we follow, the things we do that form us as we live into the rhythm of our life together.
And, we can’t escape liturgy. Every community we are part of has liturgy. Our lives have liturgy. And those liturgies form us – in healthy, life-giving ways, or in destructive, life-taxing ways.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with the liturgy of my own life. Rather than my liturgy focusing on movements like Lent and Advent, my liturgy has circulated around the two major movements of my own daily life: busyness and clutter.
“Hurry! We’re going to be late!” leaves my lips far more often than I want to admit. On far too many days, the cry of “Hurry!” has served as the call to worship to the altar of busyness I’ve set up. And my evening prayer has sounded far too much like, “Ugh. I’m up too late, and I won’t get enough sleep.” Though it sounds like I’m suffering from a lack of schedule, or an over-commitment problem, if I’m honest with myself, I’m no longer as busy as I used to be.
Over the course of the last year, I have intentionally said “no” to things that needed to go in order to say “yes” to things that gave me life. I’ve worked hard against my people-pleasing tendencies in order to create a life that better reflects the values that are so important to me. And yet, I still find myself rushing. I find myself hurrying, stressing out, staying up too late, and wasting far too much time. Why? Because the hurry was my liturgy, and my liturgy formed me. As I once heard someone say, “Even when we think we aren’t being formed, we’re being formed. We may not be forming into the people we want to be, but we are still being formed.” My busyness was a long exercise in step-by-step malformation.
Now that I’ve cut out the over-commitment, I have to undertake the slow, and painful work of being re-formed as a person who lives, loves, and moves in step with the movement of God, rather than with the movement of the ever-ticking clock.
The liturgy of clutter began as my hymn of response at the conclusion of each busyness worship service. I was too busy to sort the mail, so I would put it on the counter. I was too frazzled from too many commitments, and so I didn’t put things away. Rather than gently stacking stones as a monument to the grace and faithfulness of God, I was piling papers as a reminder of busyness I was serving. The busyness and clutter worked together like a call and response – the busyness leading to clutter, and the clutter contributing to a busy mind and heart.
And the worst part about the liturgy of busyness and clutter in my life is the way those things have begun to form my kids.
Our liturgy forms us, whether it is the liturgy of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving around the Lord’s Table, or the liturgy of rushing so frenetically through life that we miss all of the blessings in front of us. The wonderful thing about liturgy in the church is that the rhythms are far from boring and outmoded. It is those very rhythms that lead us out of the unhealthy patterns we have established for ourselves. The rhythm of moving in step with the life of Jesus helps us avoid the patterns of this world so that we may be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds,” (Romans 12:2, NRSV). Journeying through the liturgy of the church year also helps us walk in step with the church around the world and the church throughout the ages, which reminds us daily that we are not alone.
Liturgy – the work of the people – really is work. It is a daily exercise in moving in step with a rhythm that is far different from the rhythm of the world around us. And we don’t always get it right. The liturgy of life in Christ doesn’t respond well to “hurry up!” But, as we move slowly and intentionally in step with our Lord, we will look back and see how far God has brought us. We will look at our lives and be overwhelmed with thanksgiving.