An Everyday, Ordinary Liturgy (Part 2)

LiturgyAs we continue to explore the idea of an everyday, ordinary liturgy, it is important to press into two questions:  what is liturgy and why is it important?

Our English word “liturgy” is derived from the Greek word, λειτουργία and means “the work of the people.” Originally this word was used to describe the public responsibilities of citizens, but eventually the Church co-opted it and begin to use it to describe the formal rites and practices of corporate worship.

Today we understand liturgy as the work that we do whenever we gather together as God’s People for worship. This work takes a variety of forms including things like: sitting, standing, kneeling, reading, singing, genuflecting, affirming, declaring, greeting, giving, listening and blessing.

Some people may be familiar and conversant with liturgy because of their background in the Catholic or Anglican tradition. But quite often, people tell me they come from a non-liturgical church background or current church experience.

To be honest, there is no such thing as a non-liturgical church. All churches have a pattern, flow and rhythm to what they do when they gather. I have noticed that even churches that claim to be “Spirit-led” typically have the same structure from week to week and service to service.

The important question is not, “Am I liturgical or not’” but rather “Is my liturgy good?”

Why is liturgy important?

Liturgy forms and shapes us. There is a Latin phrase, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi that is often translated
“as we worship, so we believe, so we live.” The prayers we pray, the songs we sing, the activities and actions of worship—they shape us and form us in conscious and subconscious ways.

Liturgy occurs both inside the walls of the church during corporate worship and outside the walls of the church in our everyday, ordinary lives. You don’t believe me? When is the last time you went to your local shopping mall or sports venue? These institutions adhere to formative routines and rituals that communicate important values and ways of viewing not only the world, but ourselves.

(If you are interested in exploring this concept, check out the work of James KA Smith on cultural liturgies and the way they shape and form both our desires and intentions.)

CS Lewis wrote about the power of liturgy to turn our attention to God (and isn’t that an essential to worship?):

“And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”  (Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer)

What is your experience with liturgy (both inside and outside the church)? Would you describe the liturgy in your current community of faith? In what ways has it formed and shaped you?

In the next post we begin our exploration of certain elements of the liturgy. We’ll start at the beginning with “the call to worship.” In the meantime, would you check out my Indiegogo project, A Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days. This book is designed to help the people of God live out the call to worship Monday – Saturday. This book has been percolating within me for quite some time now and with your help the dream can become a reality.

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