If you caught the irony of the title, you get bonus points. Give yourself an extra cookie tonight.
Liturgy, by modern definition, is a “formulary by which public worship is conducted”. Granted, no “modern” people I know use the word formulary – I didn’t write dictionary.com, I’m just quoting it. (According to Wikipedia, “Liturgy” is also an American black metal band, but I digress!) To have a private liturgy then would seem to contradict the premise of public worship.
The Catholic encyclopedia points out that the word is actually a composite Greek word that implied a public duty. A “leitourgia” in ancient Athens was a act of public service that a wealthy Athenian performed at their own expense. In other words, it came from the overflow of their own private resources.
Our public worship – our liturgy – should come from an overflow of our private worship. We need to practice behind closed doors what we present as our public face.
One of the things that I hear most often as an argument both for and against a liturgical style of public worship is that it is “routine”. The same things happens every week, in the same order with the same words and the same ritual. This can be dangerous if it simply becomes habit and something we can do on autopilot with no personal, mental engagement. But it can also be liberating as we free our minds from processing the “what is going to happen next” thoughts and engage in the “what is God doing in me now” thoughts. Many churches spend a great deal of resources (time, energy, money, talent, etc.), reinventing services with new, creative content every week. As a creative person, I enjoy this element of worship, but have recently felt this allocation may be out of balance.
In the many years that I have spent planing worship services (yes, I was one of those resources spent on the task!), I have seen a wide variety of responses to the various approaches to worship. One of my favorite moments (and it has happened more than once) is when I talk to one person who shares how they were incredibly moved by the presence of the Spirit in the songs and message, only to turn the corner and be told by another that it was the most dry and unfulfilling service they had been to in a while. I got to the point where I would ask them both the same question: “What’s going on in your life these days?” – or even more to the point, “How did things go getting out the door at your house today?”
We see both types to worship encouraged in the Bible. The Psalms encourage us to “sing a new song to the Lord.” Christ, in giving directions to his disciples at the last supper told them to do this “as often as they gather.” One reflects a creative God, the other reinforces unchanging truth. But regardless of the method or “formulary”, it has been my experience that consistent habits of private worship promote genuine, healthy public worship. What we do in our isolated moments of mediation and prayer can either light up or put a big old wet blanket over our “liturgy.”
For the past several weeks, I have been working on my own private liturgy. Simply put, its a routine of personal prayer and meditation that I use as a catalyst for my personal time with God. It’s a concept as old as Scripture itself, but has been as renewing as the spring rains that have been falling on North Texas.
This coming week, I’m going to share some details of the theme of each day as it comes. These are my own; they are not meant to be prescriptive, but you are welcome to all or some or none of them! My goal is to become a better follower of Christ in public spaces and I know that for all of us, it starts in the privacy of our homes – or in my case, the serenity of my bow deck at sunrise.
Here’s a preview of the week ahead:
Tuesday: Phamily (humor me, it had to start with “p”)
Friday: Pastors, Preachers, Parishioners