Thursday, 18 May 2017

The reorientation of worship

Common worship, the congregation gathered in worship on the Lord's Day, is the fundamental structure for the nurture of spirituality and the practice of prayer.  But in North America we have experienced a century of subversive anti-worship: the sacred time and place have been subverted to religious entertainment, to the cultivation of pious narcissism, to a staging platform for messianic do-goodism.  But the fundamental need is to attend to God.  Christians are assigned the responsibility of meeting with their brothers and sisters regularly at a time and space set apart for that purpose, and that only.  If we use this precious hour for other purposes, however well intentioned, we betray our friends, our community, and our calling.

     The single most important thing I did for thirty-five years was stand before a congregation each Sunday morning and say, "Let us worship God."  I loved doing that, loved the hours spent getting ready to do it, loved entering into the action that followed.  And then my vocation took an unexpected turn and I wasn't doing it any longer. 

     What I've done for others all these years, I'm now having done for me -- and how I do appreciate it.  Every call to worship is a call into the Real World.  You'd think that by this time in my life I wouldn't need to be called anymore.  But I do.  I encounter such constant and widespread lying about reality each day and meet with such skilled and systematic distortion of the truth that I'm always in danger of losing my grip on reality.  The reality, of course, is that God is sovereign and Christ is savior.  The reality is that prayer is my mother tongue and the eucharist my basic food.  The reality is that baptism, not Myers-Briggs, defines who I am.

     Very often when I leave a place of worship, the first impression I have of the so-called "outside world" is how small it is -- how puny its politics, paltry is appetites, squint-eyed its interests.  I have just spent an hour or so with friends reorienting myself in the realities of the world -- the huge sweep of salvation and the minute particularities of holiness -- and I blink my eyes in disbelief that so many are willing to live in such reduced and cramped conditions.  But after a few hours or days, I find myself getting used to it and going along with its assumptions, since most of the politicians and journalists, artists and entertainers, stockbrokers and shoppers seem to assume that it's the real world.  And then some pastor or priest calls me back to reality with "Let us worship God," and I get it straight again, see it whole.

         -Eugene H. Peterson, Take & Read: Spiritual Reading:  An Annotated List, 27-28.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On using Prayerbooks and Hymnbooks

     I was reared in a tradition that scorned written and read prayers.  Book prayers.  Dead prayers.  Reading a prayer would have been like meeting an old friend on the street, quickly leafing through a book to find an appropriate greeting suitable for the meeting and then reading, "Hello, old friend; it is good to see you again.  How have you been?  Remember me to your family.  Well, I must be on my way now.  Goodbye."  And then closing the book and going down the street without once looking my friend in the eye.  Ludicrous.  The very nature of prayer required that it be spontaneous and from the heart.

     But along the way, I began to come across books of prayers that gave me words to pray when I didn't seen to have any of my own.  I found that books of prayers sometimes primed the pump of prayer when I didn't feel like praying.  And I found that, left to myself, I often prayed in a circle, too wrapped up in myself, too much confined to my immediate circumstances and feelings, and that a prayerbook was just the thing to get out of the brambles and underbrush of my ego, back out in the open country of the Kingdom, under the open skies of God. 

     In the process of discovering, to my surprise, alive and praying friends in these books, I realized that all along the prayers that had most influenced me were written (in the Bible), and that the lively and spirited singing we did in church was, for the most part, praying from a book, the hymnbook.  My world of prayer expanded.

             - from Eugene H. Peterson, Take & Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List, 22-23.