Posts Tagged ‘liturgy’


Here we are in the middle of ordinary time, that long stretch of the church year between Pentecost and Advent.

Although the high liturgical seasons – especially Christmas and Easter – tend to steal all the attention, the truth is that ordinary time takes up nearly half of the church calendar. The long sequence of Sundays after Pentecost includes the whole summer and most of the fall. During these Sundays, the weekly lectionary texts prod us to think about how to live.

I go to a tiny, semi-liturgical church that has adopted the lectionary and the church year as a way of ordering our communal life. We are part of a denomination that traditionally resisted such things, but we have come to love the quiet rhythms (weekly and annual) that help give shape and focus to our time together.

Many of us are refugees from big evangelical churches that emphasized emotion over thoughtfulness; others came from church communities that prized rationalism over mystery. The liturgy – the Lord’s Prayer, the communion table, the cycle of the church year – helps us make space for all these things.

Although summer is a set-apart time for many people (especially in a city like Boston, which takes its cues from the academic calendar), it always coincides with deep ordinary time. In the midst of school vacations, travel plans, warm weather and looser schedules, we turn back to the Epistles and the Gospels, asking every Sunday: what kind of people are we going to be?

I like ordinary time as a metaphor for our lives. I have a friend who used to slip up and call it “mundane time.” It can sometimes feel like that, but it’s also where most of us live, most of the time. All of our lives contain high moments of joy and low moments of grief and fear, but we mostly live in between. It’s the same at church: while many of us relish the excitement of various holidays, most of our sermons and services, and the issues we discuss, are linked to our everyday, walking-around lives.

Here, in the longest and quietest (in some ways) season, we are called to live faithfully, to consider our instructions (and the story we find ourselves in), and decide how we are going to live. The altar color of this season is green, for new life and growth. If we are faithful (and sometimes lucky), we can experience growth in ordinary time.

I will always love the anticipation of Advent, the starry-eyed wonder of Christmas, the drama of Holy Week and the bursting joy of Easter. But I am developing an appreciation for ordinary time. The beauty of the everyday is particularly present in these weeks, as spring slides into summer and then summer turns toward fall.

Here in ordinary time, it is our job to pay attention, to do our best to live thoughtfully and wisely, to walk through this world with wisdom and compassion. To make these things ordinary, even while they remain mysterious and full of grace.

May it ever be so.

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darwins chai journal scone orange cafe

A couple of months ago, Stephanie tweeted the following:

Underneath the hustle of the productivity cult, it seems to me what we’re really aching for is liturgy. Small, sacred things on repeat.

I love that definition of liturgy, and I’ve been pondering it ever since. I especially like the idea of liturgy as daily rhythm: the small routines that give shape and meaning to our days.

I’ve written before about the liturgy of dinnertime (and, more broadly, of marriage) in my life, but I started wondering where else liturgy shows up in my days. What small routines, performed over and over, pull me back to the present moment, until the act of doing them becomes a kind of prayer?

My morning tea is the first thing that came to mind. After my shower, wrapped in my robe, I walk into the kitchen and hold the red teakettle under the tap, counting to seven or eight as the water splashes in. I turn on the burner, measure looseleaf tea into my favorite cobalt blue mug (or grab a tea bag, if I’m super rushed).

tea mug scone

I move around the apartment, tending to other details of the morning, until I hear the kettle whistle and rush in to take it off the burner. I pour the tea, let it steep while I get dressed and blow-dry my hair, then sit down (if there’s time) to sip it at the dining room table, with a scone or a bowl of cereal.

Sometime during the workday, or on my lunch break, I slip away to Darwin’s for half an hour with my journal and a cup of chai. This routine, too, has its own shape: I walk in, join the line by the front counter, greet the barista and order a medium chai (sometimes adding a scone or my favorite breakfast sandwich). I snag a table if I can, or perch on a bench or barstool if I can’t, and alternate between sipping and scribbling until it’s time to go back to the office.

When I get home after work, my brain is often fried – and even in our small apartment, there are always chores to do. Often, after walking in the door and dumping my bag, the first thing I do is sort laundry or tackle a pile of dirty dishes.

It doesn’t always feel sacred, and I sometimes grumble about having to deal with all this on top of a full-time job. But making dirty things clean is satisfying, as Anne Shirley often noted. And folding the warm, dry clothes, or lining up the shining dishes in the dish rack, brings a tangible feeling of accomplishment. After a day of clicking and typing, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

I worry sometimes about getting bogged down in routine, going through the motions of my life without really paying attention. (It’s so easy to do that when I’m clicking from email to website to Word doc, all day long.) But repeating these daily acts helps ground me – even if I don’t always realize it.

I also have a few daily “liturgies” that involve other people: blowing a kiss to my husband as he leaves for work, checking in with a friend or two via text message, greeting colleagues as we start the morning. And several weekly routines also help save my life: buying fresh flowers for my desk, yoga class on Monday nights, talking to my mother on the phone.

I wonder if simply naming these liturgies, becoming more aware of them, can turn them into a source of peace, a chance to truly connect with our lives as we go about our days. I love the idea of small, sacred things on repeat as a counterbalance to the to-do list and the relentless pace of modern life. I want more of that, please.

Where do you see this kind of liturgy showing up in your life?

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table with tulips dining room

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.”

My family has a complicated relationship with liturgy.

In the Baptist churches of my childhood, no one ever prayed the same prayer twice. The Lord’s Prayer, handed down to us by Jesus, was dutifully memorized but rarely prayed by generations of Sunday School children. At bedtime with my parents when we were young, and later at youth group meetings on Wednesday nights, my sister and I were encouraged to make up our own prayers, to speak to God as directly and casually as to a friend.

We used many of the same phrases over and over, of course: Thank you, God, for this day. Please bless our family. Please heal ______ (inserting the name of whichever family member or friend was sick or hurting). But our parents and teachers urged us to put those phrases together in new and creative ways.

Over time, I picked up the notion that it was lazy, almost cheating, to pray the same prayer day in and day out. God gave us brains: weren’t we supposed to use them to create new and unique prayers? Wouldn’t God, like our friends, grow bored with us if we said the same things to Him over and over again?

I’m back at the Art House America blog today, talking about the table prayer I learned from my grandparents. Click over there to read the rest of my post.

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I mentioned recently that the dinner table is central to our liturgy of marriage – so central, in fact, that it has its own liturgy. Inspired by Kari’s thoughts on the liturgy of parenting.

table summer dinner

The Call to the Stove
Hi, love. I’m on my way home.
Great. I’ll start the water boiling, turn on the oven, begin chopping vegetables, and/or assemble the ingredients for a soup, pizza or enchiladas. See you soon.

The Kitchen Dance
Can you hand me that knife? Pass the cutting board.
Is there any more chili powder? We’re out of garlic again.
That looks/smells delicious. Stir the soup, will you? Hand me the spatula.

The Setting of the Table
Do we need forks? Knives? Are there any clean cloth napkins?
There should be. Look in the other drawer.

The Breaking of the Bread
Mmmm. This looks delicious. Lemonade or water?

The Communion
How was your day? Tell me about your clients, your co-workers, your sessions.
I did some writing. Ate lunch in the Public Garden. I’m reading this great book.

The Holy Embrace
Thanks for making dinner. It was delicious.
I’m glad you like it.
I’m glad you made it.

The Clearing
Did you get all the dishes from the table?
I’ll wash, if you dry.

The Amen
Want some ice cream?
Yes. Absolutely.


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My friend Kari recently wrote about the liturgy of parenting. While I’m not a parent (though perhaps I will be someday), I’ve been thinking about the liturgy of marriage.

Liturgy is one of those scary church words, calling up images of incense and vestments, chanting and creeds, kneeling and praying and altars and the church calendar. It encompasses all those things. But more simply, Webster’s defines it as “a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observance.” I have heard it defined, broadly, as any sequence of things you do over and over again. My marriage has its own liturgy, one that stretches back four years and is stretching forward into an as yet unknowable number of days.

We wake up side by side, a few minutes before the alarm, and he reaches an arm over to pull me close. We curl into each other like a pair of quotation marks, until the piano music makes itself heard over the whir of the box fan or the oil furnace, and one of us (usually him) gets up.

I wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom faucet, over and over. I tease him, gently, about the clothes on the floor, the dark hairs scattered over the white sink. I tease because I don’t want to nag, because nagging never works, because I don’t want to start off our mornings sniping at one another. I have successfully trained him to make the bed (though I usually do it because he’s the first one up). And he (nearly) always puts his clothes in the hamper, because he can shoot them in like basketballs. He has always been one of those boys who will turn anything into a game of baseball, of basketball, of catch. I am thankful for small victories.

table with tulips dining room

The table is central to the liturgy of our marriage. I grew up in a house where dinner was on the table nearly every night, along with the expectation that we would all be there, together, to pray and eat and laugh and talk about our days. Now, four or five nights a week, six if we’re lucky, we face each other across the dining room table I’ve had since college. (At least once a week, we share dinner with friends, around our own table or theirs.)

We eat pasta and pizza and salad and burritos, soups and enchiladas and other homemade dishes (and, occasionally, takeout) off our red and blue dishes. We use the cloth napkins I bought right after we got married. Sometimes we light candles. We talk about our days, our families, what we’re reading, our jobs. And we laugh.

No one goes to the living room till we’ve either washed and dried the dishes or decided jointly to leave them until tomorrow. I usually wash while he dries, and we step around each other in the choreographed dance of the kitchen, the dance of providing, of tending our home, of creating nourishment to give one another.

We dance around each other in the late evening too, as we brush our teeth, change into pajamas, toss our clothes into laundry hampers or hang them up to wear again. His shoes multiply like mushrooms at the base of his tall hamper. My cardigans and jackets hang on hooks and doorknobs, and once every few days I gather them up and divide them between hamper and closet.

We flop into bed, each with a book. He tackles nonfiction tomes like Kissinger’s book on China, content to stay in one subject, dwell in one set of ideas, for weeks. I save the more cerebral reading for earlier in the day, and for bedtime reading I choose books full of gentle humor and quiet wisdom: Miss Read, Patrick Taylor, assorted middle-grade and young adult lit.

He always turns out his light first (I would read till the wee hours if I didn’t have a day job to go to). I read a few more pages, finishing my chapter, then click off my lamp and reach over to pull him close to me.

We curl into one another like a pair of quotation marks, until one of us shifts or rolls over. Still touching, still barely awake, we murmur, Good night. Sweet dreams. I love you.

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On Ash Wednesday

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

A sobering thought, especially on a sunny, bright blue, spring-warm Ash Wednesday. Nothing somber at all about the weather. But the noon service at the Church of the Heavenly Rest here in town was quiet and moving. I love that little nave, with its cool marble columns and gorgeous stained-glass windows, and its old, peaceful soul. Other than the accents, I may as well have been in England.

It’s been quite windy this week in Abilene, and I’ve sat out on my deck the last few evenings and let the wind whip over me. It’s felt like a cleansing agent, sweeping through me, emptying me of all the junk that builds up inside. I’ve asked God to let it leave me pure, like a clean white shell found on a beach, emptied and smoothed by the waves and sand. Such shells reflect light in a beautiful way, and they can be filled with good things. I want to be emptied of junk so I can both reflect and be filled up with Him…whatever that means, whatever it looks like.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
All desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden,
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit –
That we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy Name.
Through Christ our Lord,

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Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was the third time I’ve ever participated in an Ash Wednesday service. Coming from a non-liturgical background, I grew up with limited knowledge about the church year, gleaned mostly from books. I had a few friends who were Catholic or Episcopalian, but – let’s face it – most high school kids don’t take that stuff too seriously. Or they’re ashamed to talk about it if they do.

Two years ago, I joined three fellow students and a small crowd of older people at St. Giles’ Church in Oxford on Ash Wednesday. Last year, my roommates and I bundled up against the cold and went to an early morning service at Church of the Heavenly Rest here in Abilene. But yesterday I didn’t even have to leave campus. Our music department chair, Greg Straughn, decided to turn that day’s departmental chapel into an Ash Wednesday observance.

We had a few songs and two Scripture readings and read a prayer together. We stumbled our way through a short chantlike song, and then they dimmed the lights. Dr. Straughn told us we were free to go, or we could stay and pray for a few minutes, alone or with faculty members. He had a small jar of ashes, available for anyone who wanted to observe the Ash Wednesday tradition of being marked by a cross of ashes on the forehead or palm.

I wasn’t planning on going up there. I’ve felt so far from God lately that I sometimes feel as if I’m shouting across a canyon when I pray. What good would it do me to be marked by ashes? It wouldn’t change anything. A dark smear on my forehead wasn’t going to bring me back to Him.

But after sitting for a few minutes, watching as people bowed their foreheads slightly to receive the ashes, I got out of my seat and joined the line. And it was a quiet but powerful experience to have someone I know (Dr. Straughn is a professor and friend of mine) mark my forehead with ashes and say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I wrote a poem about it later that day. It’s still a work in progress, but perhaps it reaches into that experience more than my stumbling prose can do.

Ash Wednesday

Today this cross marks me as a follower
of Jesus,
a spirit housed in a body
made of ashes like these.
The edges are blurred,
smeared a little, like my soul –
broken, insufficient,
unsure, but still His,
walking down the road He walked
toward the light.

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