Thursday, 8 November 2007

Mindless Worship? Yes Please!


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Originally uploaded by ShanniD
My default mode for worship is still the charismatic. At its best it can’t be licked. However I have over the years developed a taste for liturgy. But only if it’s done properly … and doing it properly means doing it mindlessly. Or at least it means knowing the words you are using so well that you don’t have to wonder how to pronounce them, what they mean and whether you agree with them. Set prayers and the like don’t really work unless you repeat them time and time again. It’s a bit like playing music, you don’t have a prayer of playing it to your best, expressively, with heart, if you are concentrating on getting the notes right.

I discovered this during my first spell at Northern Baptist College as a postgrad student in the 80’s. We had morning prayer each day and we used the same prayer day in day out. I started off hating it, resenting it, convinced it was a just another sign that the place was spiritually dead. I ended up really appreciating the liberty that those repeated words gave me to put my heart and soul into connecting with God. A bit like repeating a chorus in sung worship.

I had this conviction confirmed when I was introduced to the Northumbrian Community’s daily office. This too became a part of me. So I was able to use it to really pray. The oft repeated words carry their own meaning of course but the familiarity means that I have the liberty to weave in and out of the words other less than fully articulated yearnings, moods and gropings after God. A bit like speaking in tongues.

This is why I get hot under the collar with the way free churches tend to do written congregational prayers. Why do we have to come up with something different every time? It might be smart. It might be profound. It might pack our liturgy with fresh meaning week on week. But the novelty gets in the way. It is an overly rational approach to worship. Too analytical. Too much mind. No chance to put your guts into it. We end up falling clean as a whistle between the stools of folksy spontaneity and truly effective poetry. Typical, and deeply frustrating.

4 comments:

Catriona said...

I think this is similar in some ways to the logic of praying the Rosary. The idea is that you can pray the words intuitively and simultaneously concentrate on the various 'mysteries.'

Of course, the counter argument on both prayers and hymns/songs is that becuase they can be used without consciously thinking about them the meaning can get lost. I think I go for a middle course myself (well there's a surprise!)

PS Why are you posting so late or I reading even later? What sad people we are.

Glen Marshall said...

Catriona, you may be sad, I of course am cool - I'm posting late because of my rock and roll lifestyle. Last night's post was late because when I got back from band practice I needed to chill before going to bed man, sorry woman, er person, er dude - cat?

On second thoughts though why am I replying to your post before 7.00 am the following morning? OK I'm sad.

Catriona said...

Now if you were really an all round cool happenin' kind of a guy, you'd have been on you way out at midnight and rolling back in 6:43, so I'm afraid your street cred is blown!

Dick Davies said...

I love Cranmer

There - got that out of my system - and I thouroughly agree about made up liturgy - it tends to score highly on my crapometer.