Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Holy Spirit in Worship...

Emily Scott, one of my liturgist friends, wrote an interesting piece for Episcopal Cafe Blog back in December:
Holy Chaos, or: What Episcopalians can learn from Baptists
Urban Holmes wrote that good liturgy leads regularly to the edge of chaos, a regular flirt with doom (Theology and Religious Renewal). These past weeks in worship, I’ve felt myself clearly standing dangerously on the edge of a precipice – nothing below me but God.

How often do we trick ourselves into believing that if we do everything right – if we use the right words and process the right way and bow at the right moments, God will be present in our worship? How often do we deceive ourselves into, as Aidan Kavanaugh so incisively wrote, “tam[ing] the Lion of Judah and [putting] him into a suburban zoo to entertain children (On Liturgical Theology)?

And how often to we believe, as we stand in the Narthex among the acolytes and choir members, that the cataclysmic Spirit of God just might thunder into our sanctuary, cracking open our familiar and comforting practices, and change the very lives of the people to whom we minister? How often do we trust that someone might be healed, that someone might be saved? How often do we trust our own ability to be the lighting rod to God’s presence and touch? .... (source)

This rings true for me. So much of the liturgy we do in the Church seems designed to leave as little room for the Holy Spirit as possible. When the Holy Spirit does show up, everyone seems surprised (no one more so, perhaps, than the priest). How remarkable that the best worship services I see happening outside of my own parish are often on the fringes of other communities: house eucharists sponsored by one congregation, the "early service" on a Sunday morning at another, the sort of worship we do at Synods and camp. The edge is where it's at.

That's why I think it's important to push the envelope a bit at regular Sunday services. I don't think you want to push people over the edge, but you got to make a gesture worthy of the boldness of the Gospel, ya know?

Sure, it's possible to find that edge in even the most ritual-notes-following, high-church, incense-burning, BCP-loving homage to Victorian Spirituality. I remember finding that edge at SMM a few times at the 11 AM Solemn Mass. But I think that we as clergy (and laity) need to do a better job of pushing ourselves to the fullest expression of prayer we are able to offer.

To do the opposite is to fall into a kind of apathetic, too-comfortable repetition that I see disturbingly often.

It's nice to be in a parish that appreciates us looking for that edge of faithful prayer together. I'm really excited about our plans for Advent!


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