Liturgical Rhythms and Such

liturgical year w: words

i’ve been thinking a lot lately about about liturgical rhythms and their purpose/function/meaning in our lives, particularly the liturgical calendar.  well, that’s kind of a result of my job facilitating our sacred space student leadership group at school.  but it’s been a very personal journey of understanding as well.

one thing we’ve wrestled with on sacred space so far this year is, why are we drawn to a liturgical calendar, and what is the meaning of it for Christian formation?

i’ve heard questions/statements such as, “what if i want to read stories of jesus birth during lent and stories of death during advent?” or “it’s advent but my life feels more like lent.”  how do we hold the tension of real life and liturgical life?

one thing i want to address right off the bat: the word “liturgical” seems to carry a lot of baggage with it.  it has in some ways become equated with “ritual”, which i don’t think is a negative thing to be associated with.  but i do not think it captures the whole pictures of what is liturgical.  ”liturgy” means “work of the people.”  it describes the whole realm of our corporate and individual worship practices and theologies.  it implies that our spirituality, our worship, is not something that is just handed to us in rituals, theologies, and other practices that are floating all around us.  instead, it is something born of the work that we do through disciplined spiritual practice and engagement in community, among other things.

with that being said, what meaning does the liturgical year have for those who practice the Christian faith?  when we view liturgical seasons as rigid containers, we get trapped into thinking that just because it’s advent, we ought to be actively waiting for something.  or just because it’s pentecost, we ought to be dancing with joy and full of celebration.  reality is, however, that sometimes we are just not in those places during the times that the calendar says its time for.

how i have come to understand the formative piece is this – instead of being rigid containers that bind us to some aspect of faith that we may or may not relate to in that moment (ie., “its advent but my life feels more like lent”), the liturgical year brings meaning and intention to faithfully practicing all parts of the Christian faith.

during advent, we practice waiting because the rest of the year we will find ourselves waiting for things — new jobs, graduation, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, news about our health condition, marriage, and the list goes on.  what does it mean, as a Christian, to practice waiting in hope, with patience and anticipation?

during ordinary time, we practice finding God and joy in the menial tasks and daily aspects of our lives because the rest of the year we will find ourselves overwhelmed with the dullness of daily life — washing dishes, doing laundry, going back and forth to work, changing dirty diapers, cooking meals, playing games.  what does it mean, as a Christian, to find God and joy in menial tasks and daily aspects when our lives seem anything but ordinary, or when they seem overwhelmingly ordinary?

during lent we practice “purging what is superfluous in our lives and heightening, intensifying what is meaningful” (Joan Chittister) because the rest of the year we accumulate so much in our daily lives — information, STUFF, people.  what does it mean, as a Christian, to practice purging and finding new meaning when everything around us seems like something we need to hang on to?

when thought of this way, the liturgical year becomes something much larger and more meaningful than a rote structure that confines us.  instead, it becomes a way of living, a way of practicing faith which enlarges our capacity for faith and prepares us to handle the immense complexity of life as individuals, life in community and life as a whole.

if you’d like to learn more about the liturgical year and how it has been understood and practiced throughout Christian history, i HIGHLY recommend Joan Chittister’s book, The Liturgical Year.

liturgical year w:o words