Tuesday, March 11, 2008

III Liturgy in Truth: Transfiguring the Mind and the Heart

Sadly, for many churches, liturgy has become just one more program, one more commodity. The “liturgies” in these churches turn people toward narcissism and illusion instead of toward the truth of their divine nature. These churches seem to have forgotten that worship is precisely about being liberated from the prison of our own experience. Instead, their “worship experiences” present us with something we can grasp, that we can consume by reflecting on whether we enjoy them or not. Worship experiences do not encourage us to seek the face of God but rather to talk endlessly about whether or not they made us feel good.

In other words, what often passes for liturgy today leads us away from the truth we seek, not toward it. Such liturgy, so-called, is a contradiction of the way to God, of the central truth about divinity that historic Christianity has sought to express: that our life in God is not about self-preoccupation but rather self-forgetfulness. It is not a matter of whether liturgy makes us feel good or bad; good liturgy helps us to stop thinking about our selves at all for a time; it conveys us into a universe greater than we can ask for or imagine. [13]

Liturgy that gestures beyond itself toward silence and receptivity to the truth of God in our selves—transfiguration—affects us physiologically. It restores the linking of our sight to the ear of the heart, to our natural state in which all the senses come into balance and are integrated. This inner “ear” feeds the subtle senses that try to communicate to us the information critical to living our lives in truth. These subtle senses are tuned to perceive rhythms and cycles to an exquisite degree. They cannot function if exposed solely to the noise, mayhem, and linearity of contemporary urban culture. [14] We are only now beginning to return to an appreciation of how essential they are to our well-being. [15]

If you go out into the Alaska wilderness, these subtle senses come quickly to the fore. Your skin may report a change in humidity that can save you from being caught in a storm. The hair rising on the back of your neck can alert you to a bear hidden in bushes nearby. But these senses can help you only if you are listening, if you are paying attention. If you go out into the Alaska wilderness to impose your own agenda, you will die.

The same is true of the wilderness of God. It is not that God will strike you down if you don’t behave in a certain way. Rather, your spiritual senses will be dulled as your attention is turned from beholding toward the fantasy self, the image you are trying to present to other fantasy selves. In every moment we are given the opportunity to choose between this unreality and our substantial nature, our participation in the divine, and we must accept the consequences set in motion by our choices. [16]

Liturgy is an exercise in mutual beholding: beholding God and beholding one another through beholding God. If liturgical action elides into entertainment, or if certain individuals in the congregation (musicians, for example) want to use the sanctuary for showing off, or if any other agenda is substituted for liturgy, then Sunday morning is a waste of time for those who seek to worship in Spirit and in truth. [17] In such a situation coffee hour has more potential to be liturgical than a “worship experience,” for during coffee hour one at least has the opportunity of relating to someone else through words that arise from a shared silence.


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