Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Life as Liturgy

Last week was anything but routine in my community. Hurricane Irma, which was Tropical Storm Irma by the time it arrived here, blew through on Monday and disrupted pretty much everything for the rest of the week. Lack of electricity, storm damage to homes, businesses shuttered because of no power, schools out for the entire week—and the story was not unique to our city. Our church housed 100 law enforcement personnel who were sent to assist, so going to work (thankfully the church never lost power) was a reminder that the order of the week was not business as usual.

Almost all our weekday events were cancelled because facilities were used to house and feed our guests. The one thing that stayed on the calendar was our weekly Taize service. I was grateful for that anchor because the activities of the week that help orient me to God through prayer and fellowship with my faith family were on an Irma hiatus.

It reminded me how much I crave order and consistency, and how much life anchored by these occasions of prayer and fellowship is an act of liturgy for me. The various gatherings for prayer, study and meals connect me to God and to my faith community.

Liturgy means “the work of the people” and that work occurred by means other than our usual activities. Our church did much of its “liturgy” last week in the kitchen, preparing three meals a day for the men and women who were making us their home base for most of the week. It was inspiring to see the hospitality offered and the dedication and abundance of volunteers.

I was also reminded that God breaks into routine and offers us the opportunity to wake up from the lethargy that can happen when our lives get so systematic that we go through them on autopilot. In the midst of the dis-order of the week, I had a couple of occasions of God showing up in unlikely ways and places. That I could recognize these for what they were I attribute to the regular rhythm of prayer that forms my own personal liturgical practice.

There are those who discount liturgy, seeing it as old and stiff, but I think a liturgical life gives us a framework that grounds us so that we recognize the Spirit where we might not otherwise. Just as a building needs good framing, a life of faith needs practices that provide order and rhythm, but with space for the Spirit to move through and awareness to recognize the Spirit’s movements. 

What are the practices, the routines that provide the framework for your life, that form your own liturgy? 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Where Are Your Roots?

One of my favorite Bible stories is that of Queen Esther. Recently, the Old Testament text for Common Prayer zeroed in on Haman, the “villain” of the story, who wants to have all the Jews killed because one Jew, Mordecai, would not bow down to him.

Esther 5:9-13 gives this account of Haman as he leaves the first of two banquets Esther has held solely for Haman and the king: Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them he splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

Haman’s happiness is completely dependent on what others think of him. He’s on top of the world when invited to Esther’s banquet, but then he sees Mordecai and is immediately angry because he doesn’t receive respect from him. This snippet of scripture emphasizes Haman’s roller-coaster mood swings. His pride, which leads him to want to exterminate all the Jews in Persia, becomes his downfall, which you learn when you read the rest of the story.

Haman’s pride is a caution to me to reflect on how I measure my worth. Does my sense of worth come from what others think of me? If so, I am forever insecure, because, like Haman, some will praise me and others will criticize me. People will not understand my motives for acting as I do, and no amount of explanation will change the minds of some.

If, however, I am rooted in Christ, then whether I am praised or criticized, I stand, because I know my worth is found in God. Like a tree that receives both sunshine and storms, I will continue to grow, because I am planted in the good soil of Christ’s love and grace.

Pride and its accompanying insecurity are rooted in fear and fear keeps us from knowing God’s peace and joy. If you look around at the world in which we live, you will see that fear is at the root of evil acts. So this is not a trivial matter. If we are rooted in fear, we will act in ways contrary to the teachings of Jesus. What may begin as a fearful thought eventually grows into an action that cannot be reeled back in.

Letting go of fear is a lifelong process. Growing closer to God can only happen as we let go of fear and entrust ourselves to God’s welcoming love. For God loves us as we are, and when we know this, we can know peace, not fear.