Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Difference Between Then and Now

Mike asked me to unpack what I meant by the shift I described in the last post. It happens that another correspondent, Frazer, sent me two quotations from Doris Grumbach. She describes how I used to feel:

From Doris Grumbach's The Presence of Absence: On Prayers and an Epiphany (1998)

I hope you will understand and excuse my absence.  My respect and affection for you as my rector is very great.  My sympathy for you is even greater: a charismatic, loving man whose spiritual life must be severely tried, almost consumed by your duties as a church CEO, a leader, somewhat like a stage manager, responsible for the determination of the liturgy for an ever growing congregation, responsible for fidelity to the rubrics.  Perforce, you are a sincere believer in the often onerous role you have been trained for and ordained to. (p. 7)

And further on:

... due to my advancing age and crotchety disposition, I found myself unduly distracted by the programmed motion during the service.  The stirrings of the congregation, the riffling of pages and booklets and hymnals, the sounds of kneeling, standing and sitting, the perambulations ofthe assistants and the celebrants on the altar and the offering-collectors up and down the aisles, the progress of well-intentioned but unskilled lectors to and from the podium, the ushered parade to the altar to receive communion--I had not been able to find a way to blot out the constant bustle.  True, it was all in obedience to official rules of conduct, but for me it left no place to pray in silence, or listen, or wait for a sense of God.  "Be still, then, and know that I am God' is the familiar injunction in Psalm 46:11, but in church there was no stillness, no time in which to know Him.

A minor matter: most disturbing to me were the built-in interruptions to the liturgy itself.  Priests and Rectors most often prefer to make all their announcements of coming events--dinners and meetings, lectures and committee gatherings, parish suppers, and much else--in the middle of the service.  Having broken into the rhythm of the liturgy for these practical matters, some community-spirited pastors then inquire if anyone in the congregation has an announcement to make. Once, I recall, a full ten minutes at the center of the rite was occupied by items of social action and plans for the winter rummage sale.
. . .
So, the flow of prayer is usually halted in order to inform the congregations of the potluck supper next Tuesday.  God, if he has been summoned in the first moments of the liturgy, is put on hold.
I used to notice all these things too, as you, Gentle Readers, all know from past posts on this blog. But the insight that I had last Sunday was that I no longer am involved enough, or care enough, even to complain. Instead, going to church has become almost dystopian, as I describe in my new book. Even though the architecture of the cathedral is far more agreeable than a fast-food shop, and even though the music is glorious, the experience is the same:

"Recall the experience of eating in a fast-food joint. The interior is made of molded plastic in nursery colors. It is designed to make you feel as if you had entered a badly made television cartoon. (Life no longer imitates art: it imitates cartoons.) The lines on the floor guide customers like cattle, gently toward the slaughter. As you shuffle along, your steps unconsciously take up the rhythm of the background thump and hiss of the broadcast noise. There is a rising sense of isolation, unease, claustrophobia, incipient panic, and wild weeping. The only possible way to alleviate this extreme anxiety is to consume. You reach the counter: "A triple Vacuity, a medium Frozen Scream, and a large order of Lies, please." You are then provided with a blasphemous parody of what a meal should be. The hard plastic stall provided as a place to sit and eat mimics special chairs for children such as potty chairs; it pretends to offer a haven while in reality it assaults, removing all possibility of dignity, silence, thought, reflection, or genuine exchange with any other person unfortunate enough to have entered this dystopian nightmare. The only option is to shut down, to go through the prescribed motions: order, pay, munch (huddled and hunched) as quickly as possible, and depart.

"Fast food means not only fast delivery of imitation edibles into the hand of the corralled consumer; it also encourages fast, mindless eating. There is no time for consideration; if there were, we might discover how disgusting are the items saturated with fat, sugar, and salt that pervade the malign, addictive combination of substances that we are shoving into our mouths. The atmosphere renders impossible the time-honored value of meals as gatherings for appreciation of healthful, lovingly prepared food to be shared with conversation and the renewal of relationships."


Anonymous Anonymous said...


What you are describing is the only "way of doing" church I have ever known. Normal. This sense of interruption(s) where it would be useful/better to have none does not exist, not even as a memory.



2:37 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

I agree Mike. One more disgusting thing - the way guests priests co-presiding the celebration are introduced and get applauded. So un-necessary!

3:11 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Joel said...

(Life no longer imitates art: it imitates cartoons.)Ah, Baudrillard...

I agree with everything all have written here, but....
I am still at the but...

how can "it" be "done" without koinonia, i.e. participation in all the human brokenness and lacking?

Perhaps at THAT particular time, and that particular occasion, that "service" is the best that MAN has to offer, and it is THAT very offering that is accepted and glorified.

It has taken a lot out of me, physically, mentally, psychically, and (though I hate the word but know no other) Spiritually to let go of the glorious liturgies I gloried in at the parishes in which I served and several of those I attended. But ow, I see all that as a gift, it wa not mine, but a gift to be throughly in Joyed and then I was to move on, into somewhat of a desert, which in all its blahness, starkness, loneliness, is beginning to bloom, not with presupposed rains and flowerings, but paradise here and now, with joyous anticipation and present part-ticipation of the glorious Liturgy of Heaven itself.

Just thinking.... Wish you were were here.

5:42 pm, April 02, 2014  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Well, those of us on the fringe are a koinonia of the broken, etc. I too love the glorious liturgies, but what invariably goes along with that is the worst the institution has to offer.

I miss you too... thanks for your comments, always

5:47 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine this.

Christian Wiman, necessarily reading aloud his poem, Every Riven Thing, pausing for some announcements.

Who could tolerant such if truly listening?


6:13 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you seen the documentary film, Into Great Silence. ? After repeated viewings, there is the sense (in me) of, this is impossible to apprehend as happening in this day and age!

Yet ... there it is.

The seeing-it-through, DOING THIS, glimpsed in this film, is, in one sense, completely foreign, to my point of view anyway. and utterly beyond my poor imagination's capacity.

Yet, there, it is. And, there it is, somehow broken, as well.

So, why not here? How is here any other broken than there? In Zen practice it is said that a mature student makes the world moved in. In other words, there is no choice left, certainly none worthy of consideration. Or adulation. Such a maturity moves correctly, as one ought. And, doing just this is truly to be known as freedom. Sound to me like an accurate and fair description of Jesus, in this world.


6:43 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you read The Omnivores Dilemma written by Michael Pollan?

He suggests that one of the evolved mechanisms by which we decide what is safe to eat (or not) is the reaction, disgust. We avoid eating anything which provoke disgust by their very proximity. !!!


6:53 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Matthew said...

Wow - that's some parable. Once there was a woman who walked into... When they realised the parable was told against them they...
The tension for me is that I am one of 'them'(trying to serve two masters?)struggling with how the fast food joint might become...
Or would that require another parable?

12:11 pm, April 03, 2014  
Anonymous abigail Tingman said...

I was talking to an 11 year old from another culture the other day, and he said to me (don't remember what we were talking about) , "Oh the sangwich from Magdonul's ees so delilcious!" and then looked up at me with such genuine sincerity, his face glowing with appreciation. I remember feeling that way once too, on the first day of school when I was about 8 or 9. So, maybe the problem isn't the sandwich, it's me and maybe the problem isn't the church so much as the way I look at it. Blessings, a.t.

9:32 pm, April 03, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A point of view is just that.

Cut a sandwich into many pieces, consume them upside down, in any order that pleases. If such doing does not sustain, was it truly a sandwich?

12:27 am, April 04, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

it's fun reading all these smorgasbord ("open sandwich table") of comments :-)

12:45 am, April 04, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Perhaps, "then and now" portrays (stage four of loss) acceptance.


2:28 pm, April 04, 2014  
Anonymous abigail tingman said...

dear Anonymous (?),
Thank you for the response. I'm not so sure the sandwich metaphor is working but I think I understand. If we're not being fed or fully nourished, then why go? Yes, of course I agree with this. There are times I've attended church and feel that I'm leaving with less (spiritually speaking) than I walked in with. Yet, somehow we all feel just a little twinge of guilt about not attending, hence this ongoing discussion. Something in us longs to want to go... maybe? Blessings all. a.t.

1:12 am, April 05, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think ...

Your suspicion is correct. I am anon(?) Forgot to sign off.

... metaphor concerns all of life and the church is, in all its forms, a metaphor.

... we are social creatures and "the church" knows this well, exploits it with the "sin inherent" of non attendance. All the while this same church is immersed to its eyebrows in the paradox of in attentive ness. !

... feeling is a transitory form like thought and best seen through with a sense of detachment.

There is no free lunch? :)


5:11 pm, April 05, 2014  
Anonymous abigail tingman said...

Hi Mike,
Yes! It's a classic Catch 22.... We are fraught with twinges, either for nonattendance or for attending but not enjoying or for coveting another's enjoyment, or disdaining it (How can they enjoy this?) It's a mess. I like that you said that church is a metaphor. I've never looked at it that way before, and somehow it is very liberating to do so!!! To go or not to go becomes a true choice as the church (small c) isn't Church after all, at which Church we are always in attendance, by default. Thanks. Blessings, a.t.

11:01 pm, April 05, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To distinguish "church" as other than "The Church" is to fully endow the paradox of intention.

A metaphor is just that, at best it but resonates with ... and one metaphor is better or worse than another only superficially. The "churchChurch" is often quite confused about the nature of metaphor. Confused to the degree that it can believe it IS Selfself it's self, so to speak.

This is changing but it's ice sliding down a mountain.


6:44 pm, April 07, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who was listening on Calvary when God gave himself away? Each of us makes our own choice to stay or go or take a break from services of whatever hue. I still find him there despite what goes on.


9:10 pm, April 09, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's not all of it as I find him there (or he finds me) in and through what goes on. The liturgy in itself still means much to me.


9:12 pm, April 09, 2014  
Anonymous abigail tingman said...

I do so enjoy your comments as they require so many re-reads, on my part, to comprehend, at least in part. Yes, I do think the paradox of intention (had to look it up) does apply in the case of "church." The more they try or claim, the less they become. Quite so.
A little confused about "IS Selfself it's self" I think. Are you saying that they think they are exclusively the answer? I'm not clear. "Ice sliding down a mountain"
refers to ... turning to water, disappearing or becoming part of something else? Help. Thanks. at

3:37 am, April 10, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We are not talking so much about going to church of not going. We are not talking about liturgy. I think we are talking about what "happens within" ANY doing as having a seen or beheld effective ness. So you are right on in questioning who was this listening, who was this speaking.


I don't know of course what they think but what comes across is divisive, isolating for me.

SELFself and churchCHURCH is my way of playing with metaphoric image, nothing more. Playing with "s"' sounds as well. So, ice sliding down a mountain is the same. Sorry. ;)


3:38 pm, April 10, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last thought (from one of those I trust in these matters).

"Truly participating in a mature community is 'wearing away' on the rough edges of my inherent selfishness." Or words to such effect.

A Lenten resolve!


6:52 pm, April 10, 2014  
Anonymous Abigail tingman said...

Please do not apologize... as I said, I enjoy the challenge, and I did so love the imagery of ice sliding down a mountain!
I like your "last thought." The quote brought to mind something I heard once in church which was that God puts us together (in the church) in order that we can, like rocks in a tumbler, wear away each other's rough edges and be perfected. In other words, we are perfected by our imperfections or as Job states somewhere, healed by our afflictions. Bless! a.t.

9:50 pm, April 10, 2014  

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