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Longing for Liturgy

lit·ur·gy: ˈlidərjē/ noun – a form according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted.

I grew up in a setting where liturgy meant the Catholic Church. It meant crossing yourself, standing and kneeling, giving the appropriate public response to the priest (which for some reason was never “Amen”). This was all according to some mysterious code that my aunts, uncles and cousins knew, but I was never taught. It all seemed so beautiful to me as a child, but we were good Protestants. My mom always affirmed the beauty of it and the validity of my Catholic family’s faith, but we attended a church where liturgy was at best considered not really worshipping and at worst feared as some pagan, anti-Christian darkness that we Protestants had escaped. To truly worship, there must be a long, oratorical sermon, good hymns of the Protestant faith led by a worship leader to piano music, boisterous, public prayer by the people in attendance, and lots and lots of “Amens.” In our church, we added the 15 verses of “Just As I Am” for the altar call. During this time, the worship leader (in my case, my abusive, step-dad) pleaded with us to come forward and privately confess our hidden sin to Jesus at the altar and “get saved.” Throughout my childhood, I “got saved” repeatedly to try to overcome shame that Jesus later revealed was the sin of my abusers. This period of unending private confession produced a deep bitterness toward the church as I knew it. The melodic liturgy and rhythms of the Catholic Church seemed much less stressful. When I returned to practicing my faith at 16, my sister introduced me to John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Prayer. This beautiful expression of mass captured me. My past longings for the peace that seemed to be present in my aunt’s way of worship suddenly exploded in the spiritual meaning of the liturgical words.

One might think at this point that I became Catholic. My sister did. She became a nun when I was in my early 20’s. (You should have seen the silliness of the honored, front-row-placed, Protestant family that didn’t know when to sit, stand, or kneel at her veiling.) My other sister went to Africa as a Baptist missionary. My mom left my abusive, step-dad-pastor and after being so proud of being a child kicked out of Catholic catechism for disagreeing with a priest, she turned to Catholic liturgy to salve her Protestant-abused soul. She never joined, but that was where she was able to worship Jesus. I found myself engaging with Jesus-followers of all backgrounds, looking for the liturgy in many ways of worship.

When we planted the Village, there were things I brought with me that dove-tailed well with the others that formed our particular expression of liturgy: a love of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles Creed, communion, confession (albeit, less private and more communal), music focused on truth above feeling, less oratorical talks with more authenticity, meals together, kids, etc. I love hearing again the meaning behind the elements of our practice as in Eric’s talk Sunday, not because our way is “right,” but because I love the beauty of knowing the spiritual meaning of any liturgical practice. I love engaging in our worship with a deep sense of the ways that it is our authentic expression of our belief in the gospel of Jesus and the communion available therein.

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