By Micah Risinger
It’s not the same wheel
Being dressed all anew
Or igniting a match
After another so soon
Nor shiny-like novelties
Wrapped in a bow
Or marketing attempts
At an “authentic” show
It’s more like a well-trodden path
From the past
A votive pray’r candle
With light meant to last
A storeroom with treasures
Both new and quite old
A drama in which
We now all play a role
I have an unadulterated fascination with words; their origins, meanings, usage. I remember during my first year of college, I was visiting a local bookstore and came across a goldmine for a logophile, like myself. ’Twas a Merriam-Webster Language Reference Set, including: a dictionary, thesaurus, and vocabulary builder (I also added a rhyming dictionary for good measure)! Like I said, pure gold. After all, I believe there is a lot of power in words, whether written or spoken. For each person they evoke distinct feelings, memories and meanings.
For instance, when I mention the word liturgy, for some it conjures up negative past experiences in traditional church settings that many might describe as “dead” or “dry.” I can appreciate this sentiment, and understand how one could arrive at a distaste for the word liturgy, but I believe it is a categorical error to say, “Liturgy is dead.” Let me explain: liturgy is neither dead nor alive. However, liturgy can be true or false. Now, the person using orparticipating in the liturgy can be dead or alive (e.g. I’ll allow Mr. Bean to demonstrate: https://youtu.be/2SgqPejO7s0).
Nevertheless, liturgy is actually a Bible word! In the Greek, it’s leitourgia (li-toorg-ee’-ah), and it’s usually translated as “worship” or “ministry”; but it is a compound word or combination of words—leitos (people) + érgon (work)—which means “work of the people.” In other words, it is a form, a grammar, a track developed over a long period of time by a community and passed down to guide us. Liturgy shapes us, teaches us, leads us in a certain way. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, that’s fine for some, but it’s not for me.” Whether you’re aware of it or not, everyone participates in some sort of liturgy. And I mean everyone!
For example, we just concluded a liturgical season in our American culture that emphasizes consumption. Think about it. What did your life revolve around this past month; what kinds of conversations did you have?
- “Did you finish your Christmas shopping, yet?”
- “Why doesn’t my Starbucks cup look Christmas-y this year?”
- “What did you guys eat for Thanksgiving [or Christmas or New Years]?”
- “How many people did you have to entertain this year?”
- “Did you take advantage of the Cyber Monday deals on Amazon?”
- “I love that they play Christmas music everywhere!”
- “I hate that they play Christmas music everywhere!”
- “Get anything good under the tree this year?”
I think you get the idea. We all subscribe to some kind of liturgy in our culture. We all participate in rhythms, practices and traditions that shape us into something or someone.
I greatly respect Eugene Peterson. His wisdom, writings and pastoral voice have been a great influence on my journey of becoming more like Christ. I believe his translation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 capture well this concept of liturgy:
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30, MSG [italics added]).
Liturgy [or practicing Christ-likeness] is not meant to be burdensome or tiring but invigorating and freeing! Liturgical practices like formative prayer, reading the scriptures, receiving the sacraments (baptism and communion), observing a sabbath-rest, singing songs, giving generously, etc. are all ways of participating in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. They guide us in the “unforced rhythms of grace,” in which we are designed to live.
Liturgy—like the kind we participate in on Sunday mornings—helps us, as a community, develop cruciform [cross-shaped] habits that eventually become natural in our everyday lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. In turn, that transformation shapes not only ourselves but our friends, families, community and culture. This is the slow, subversive and quiet power of the kingdom of Christ that displays and reveals God’s will and ways on earth as it is in heaven. As in the poem above, it is “a drama in which we now all play a role.”
What role are you playing?