A couple of days ago I came across the musings of a new Episcopalian that I thought you might appreciate. Writing on his site Tertium Squid, Gordon Atkinson describes his adventures as a newbie becoming adjusted to the rhythm of Anglican worship. The part I found intriguing is in his piece called Let the big people say what needs to be said. After poking some fun at our constant processing and recessing and our standing, kneeling, and sitting, he defends a worship service that’s not immediately an open book:
Because here’s the deal: do you really want to go to a church for the first time and understand everything that’s going on? Do you really want to walk into the most sacred hour of the week for an ancient spiritual tradition and find no surprises and nothing to learn or strive for? Do you really want a spiritual community to be so perfectly enmeshed with your cultural expectations that you can drop right into the mix with no effort at all, as if you walked into a convenience store in another city and were comforted to find that they sell Clark Bars, just like the 7-11 back home?
I do hope you’ll give this a little more effort than that. Because something wonderful can happen when you stop trying to figure out what you should be doing in a worship service. When you admit to yourself that you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll just sit and listen. Because that’s really all you can do. And that’s actually a very nice spiritual move for you to make.
I highly recommend a spiritual exercise that I made up myself. I call it, “Closing your eyes and listening to an entire Episcopal worship service without speaking.” Without your eyes to mislead you, the room will shrink to its actual size. Everything will feel like it’s happening right at the end of your arms. Which of course it is. And you might even begin to feel that God is at the end of your arms. Which of course God is.
Let the big people carry the service for you. Let them say what needs to be said. Let them kneel and stand in all the right places. In this humble, listening space that you have entered, every small thing can become sacred. Even the sounds of the kneelers popping back into place can break your heart as you come to see that God lives in these moments.
I first tried the eyes closed listening exercise at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church here in San Antonio last year. All the things I’ve just described happened to me. At the end of the service, my mind heard a voice that said, “See with what beauty and grace my children are caring for these tender mysteries of worship.”
I think I may try this. I may choose a worship service during which I sit quietly and keep my eyes closed and listen for what God wants me to hear. I promise, I won’t be sleeping.