Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Comforted by Liturgy?

I am not typically one who migrates toward repeated liturgical prayers. By nature I migrate toward change, toward new things, toward spontaneity. Yet over the last 6 months I find myself comforted and encouraged by the morning prayers found at The Northumbrian community's website.

I can not quite define why I find this comfort in this season of life, and I am sure that most attempts to psychoanalyze this will fall short of describing why things are this way for me right now. Perhaps to know that it is is good enough.

Are you comforted by repetitive liturgy? Maybe you know why. What does it do for you?


Beth said...

Glad the Northumbria stuff is speaking to you! There's some interesting recent research on the neurology of liturgy/spiritual practice, showing how repetition of ritual over time creates healthy changes in the brain, engaging brain structures which study and discussion of spiritual ideas do not access. ("How God Changes Your Brain" is one book.)

As someone who's been praying the Office since about 1991, I actually wouldn't say it often comforts me - far more typically it is a challenging pain in the ass - but it has definitely pulled me away from focusing on my own preferences, become a sort of trellis on which relationship with God can expand and flower, and completely changed the way I engage with time.

It's also been interesting to watch the changes in people at MSH as they enter into this practice with us over a year or more -- we usually ask them to talk about it near the end of their time, and they all have insightful things to say.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Beth,

I knew you'd chime in! Thanks.

I have often developed my own liturgies over the many years. In some cases tied to extensions and adaptations of the Lord's Prayer, other times connected to the Hebraic names of God, but hey were far more fluid and improvisational than my current trend.

Now if this helps my brain that would be cool. Do you think that it will mkae me smarter?

Thomas said...

Personally I differentiate between repeating, repetitive, and regular, as regards liturgy. Brought up Methodist, I found my way to an anglo-catholic Episcopal parish, and fell in love with the liturgical year, its seasons, the dance of roles between Christ and His Church, celebrant and layperson, the re-minding and re-enactment of the events of the life of Jesus, and a sense of participation in the ongoing work-which-is-play of praising God and in that praise, sharing God's delight in us and letting it affect us - as a community, and as individuals.

Richard Mieux Benson, founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (an Anglican monastic order - see ), likened participation in liturgy to a painting - God gradually, brushstroke by brushstroke, point of color by point of color, shaping our lives according to His vision.

So for me, the repetition of the liturgy is useful in so many ways - helping my mind gradually get beyond a petty critique of one service or sermon or hymn, to seeing the larger trajectory of what regular encounters with Christ in community can and is doing for me, whatever my mood on a particular day. I find it freeing, as a layperson, and also as someone who has preached sermons - it all doesn't depend on an individual "performance," but rather on how God moves gradually - or swiftly - in the hearts of His people. We strive for an asymptote which, in combination with all the other myriad ways people worship God - approaches perfect praise.

All that said - I am now off to Soulfest to rock out!!

Pastor Phil said...

Rock out Thomas. Thanks for a great description of the place of liturgy in your life.

Beth said...

Yeah, LOL, it would be great if it made us all smarter! Actually the changes are more around things like slowing the aging process, reducing fight/flight response, increasing compassion. This research goes pretty much across religions, btw -- they've brain-scanned all kinds of people.

Thomas - dance, participation, work which is play, re-minding -- you're singing my song! Exactly what it's like. (I'm an Episcopal priest.)

Pastor Phil said...

Slowing aging is great, but I was really hoping for more brain cells.