Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"When Will It End?"
When Worship Exceeds Its Temporal Bounds

In Silence and Honey Cakes: the Wisdom of the Desert, Rowan Williams quotes the author Annie Dillard as saying something like, "I don't like writing; I like having written." The blogger Glennon Melton (no relation) shared a related sentiment in an hilarious post in which she describes the moment a woman approached her while she waited with her children in the Target line. The woman told her, "Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast." Writes Glennon:
At that particular moment, Amma had arranged one of the new bras I was buying on top of her sweater and was sucking a lollipop that she must have found on the ground. She also had three shop-lifted clip-on neon feathers stuck in her hair. She looked exactly like a contestant from Toddlers and Tiaras. I couldn't find Chase anywhere, and Tish was grabbing the pen on the credit card swiper thing WHILE the woman in front of me was trying to use it. And so I just looked at the woman, smiled and said, "Thank you. Yes. Me too. I am enjoying every single moment. Especially this one. Yes. Thank you." 
That's not exactly what I wanted to say, though...What I wanted to say to this sweet woman was, "Are you sure? Are you sure you don't mean you love having parented?"
The honesty of people like Rowan, Annie, and Glennon has been a great gift to Rebekah and me in our conversations about the lives we live as individuals and together. What a gift, to be able to name feelings like these without shame and/or guilt...

Anyway, I began flashing back to these words midway through the litany of Old Testament readings this past Saturday night at the Great Vigil of Easter. After the initial excitement of the Great Fire and the myriad candles burning in the hands of those assembled, there comes the less sexy realization that we will be listening to Old Testament lessons for the next forty-five minutes or so. And we only read five of the nine available readings!
Jonathan Grieser, our preacher that night, named this reality in his opening remarks with a mix of truthfulness and sensitivity rooted in kindness: "If this is your first Easter Vigil," he said, "you are probably wondering - when will this end?" His honesty gave me permission to give life to the question that had begun in me sometime along minute thirty-six of the readings: what when God's People prefer having worshiped to the worshiping itself? How much of my worship is simply to have worshiped?

This question need not be a condemnation. Sure, people are vain and praying for show is not a new thing - should be expected - but I am certain the question is more complex than that. Exercise, for example, is something I do not enjoy doing but I enjoy having done, and my exercise would be a pitiful appeal to vanity on my part. No, I enjoy having exercised because of the benefit I experience/develop after. Surely it is the hope that our liturgy will continue to shape us and speak to us after the service is over. Moreover, the analogy with exercise reminds me to expect - indeed, to hope! - that the life of faith would not be without difficulty but would challenge me.

Still, there is something curious about the impatience that finds us all at one time or another in worship. (1) After all, for what else have we come? In that moment, we have arrived not just at the place from which we left our homes to be, but at that place for which our selves - our souls and bodies - were created. "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." I suspect that part of the reason for our impatience that we are so poorly practiced in being present. Just yesterday I sat down to eat my lunch and resolved to do nothing else but eat. No iPhone. No book. No notepad. The fork literally trembled in my hand. But after ten minutes of trembling and inner-turmoil, I discovered flavors in my cold Easter leftovers in their greasy Tupperware container truer than any I had tasted in years.

The Eucharist, for me, is the ultimate occasion in practicing presence. The presence of Christ challenges every priority that would distract me for the moment. What would I hold above this moment? The Eucharist simultaneously exposes my impatience as idolatry and holds my fragile and fragmented self in the love for which I was created. If I could believe this with my body, my life might look very differently. I might delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night. And who knows what else I might learn to enjoy that I currently despise - despise for its getting in my way of being someplace else; despise for its getting in my way of being someone else. This last thought leads me to believe that impatience in the presence of God names my refusal to love and be loved. This last thought reminds me that bold action and silent contemplation are not on opposing sides.

"Be still, and know that I am God."

Be still, my soul, indeed.
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(1) If you need proof of this impatience, insert an unexplained two minute silence into your next worship service; sit back, observe, and enjoy.

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